Scottish Power’s Glaswegian head of legal Marion Venman is driving an international agenda of integration, with language lessons at its core
When Scottish Power head of legal Marion Venman joined the company in 2001 she might have expected to learn about power plants, but she did not think she would need the Spanish vocabulary to match.
Six years on, the Glaswegian lawyer was catapulted to head of legal following the £11.6bn takeover by Spanish energy giant Iberdrola, a deal that saw the legal team overhauled and expanded.
Now, Venman manages the combined company’s legal needs, from litigation and power plant planning to regulatory issues. But you are as likely to find her planning Spanish lessons for her team as wrestling with a tricky contract.
Merging and restructuring
When Venman arrived as the third corporate lawyer in the Scottish Power team in 2001 she was reporting to head of legal James Stanley and working on chunky acquisitions projects. Three years later Stanley initiated a restructuring of the legal team, creating two legal directors for the wholesale and networks businesses.
In 2007 it was all change again when the deal with Iberdrola – Spain’s second-largest power company – went through. The legal team was overhauled again and Venman, formerly legal and commercial director for the energy networks group, was promoted to head of legal and general secretary.
The ensuing few years have been a lesson in merging legal teams and speaking energy Spanglish.
“I wasn’t involved directly in [the Iberdrola deal],” she says, “but I thought it was quite exciting. I enjoy change.”
Venman now has four reportees and heads a vertically organised team, reporting to Iberdrola’s business legal director José Miguel Alcolea and chairman Ignacio Galán. The company’s four UK divisions – corporate, networks, renewable energy and generation – each have a legal team and a director who feeds in to Venman.
“I insisted all of my team get Spanish lessons,” she adds. “I take them and we have two classes – a beginners class and a more advanced one. José Miguel and I have similar views on professionalism and team-building.”
The legal teams in Iberdrola all get on well, she adds.
“We’ve got some good initiatives like the best practice-sharing programmes whereby six or seven senior lawyers, including ones from Iberdrola and the US, will pick a common ground topic such as metal theft, for example,” she says. “We get people from different teams to work together, find out what they do in other areas, produce a report and come up with recommendations. So they get to meet people doing similar jobs in different places.”
Panels – who needs ’em?
The switch to direct reporting has enabled Venman to see the importance of a single pool of external advisers across the group.
“We operate as one in terms of external advisers,” she says.
Prior to Venman having the role, legal directors reported to the chief executive. When she came in that was changed so now everyone in the legal team reports to her, with the team getting together every three weeks.
“In the past it wasn’t unusual for us to be talking about a piece of work we were going to tender on and not know about other firms we were using,” says Venman. “Now we don’t operate a formal panel, but you’ve got to have recognised suppliers or they don’t get paid. So every year we check the firms we use and individuals have to justify why they want to use new ones.”
Venman adds that she makes sure there is a “sensible, open and frank” discussion about external firms in terms of performance, fees and consistency, because previously the team recognised it was not maximising its purchasing power.
“I’m left to pick the firms I want to use and José Miguel has made a point of making sure he knows the individuals,” she adds. “At least once a year he will see a lot of the firms and visit them with me, and if there are particular issues or a piece of work I’m going to award I discuss it with him. Now, our London firm of choice is probably Linklaters for Scottish Power and the contacts there are strong in Spain too, so that helps to understand Iberdrola.”
At Linklaters Venman works with competition partner Eamonn Doran, corporate partner Simon Branigan and projects partner Charlotte Morgan. In Spain she turns to partner José Gimenez, who offers public and administrative law.
Of the 20 or so other firms she regularly talks to, some of which are smaller local players, she uses Shepherd & Wedderburn, often turning to competition partner
Gordon Downie along with partners James Saunders and John Grady for regulatory issues. She also instructs MacRoberts planning partner Moray Thomson for planning and property issues, along with environment partner Jamie Grant.
At DWF she uses corporate partner Wayne Lawrence and property partner Anthony McEwan.
Since the Iberdrola merger she has come to appreciate firms’ international expertise.
“It’s good if a firm has strong ties with its Madrid offices,” she says. ”You want someone the Iberdrola team is comfortable with, and to have teams you like and can talk to. Some of the things we look at could have a Spanish dimension and when you’re part of a global group you have to have an eye on what’s going on everywhere else. You’ve got to think ‘are there implications for the group?’ and if you’ve got external lawyers assisting you, you want to be able to say ‘leave it with us – we’ll phone Madrid’, without having to spend three days getting up to speed.”
Secondees and ‘the Marion call’
One of the most useful ways external firms have assisted Venman has been in the area of secondees.
“We’ve tried to drive down costs and some of that is using secondees more,” she says. “We ask firms
for them and have been largely
fortunate with the high quality of these. Provided they get on with everyone, they can become the go-to guy.”
The business has taken several secondees from firms including Shepherd & Wedderburn, which recently handed them a construction lawyer.
“We have a joke about the ‘Marion call’,” says Venman. “It’s when I ring firms and say ‘sorry, we like this trainee and we think he likes us…’ I’m sure they’re a bit annoyed for a while, but they get over it,” she laughs.
Position: Head of legal and general secretary
Reporting to: Operationally, to Iberdrola business legal director José Miguel Alcolea Cantos, and to Iberdrola chairman and chief executive Ignacio Galán in role
as secretary of the Scottish Power board
Legal capacity: 14 lawyers in Scottish Power, including two Spanish-qualified lawyers split across the four teams
Main law firms: DWF, Linklaters, MacRoberts, Shepherd & Wedderburn