Legal Business magazine article published 19/4/18 by Alex Novarese: “GC Powerlist UK 2018: The Team Elite” – “It’s a team game at the legal elite but the mix of players is changing”.
Royal Mail Group
General counsel: Maaike de Bie
Team size: 50
Major law firms used: Addleshaw Goddard, Herbert Smith Freehills, Dentons.
Few in-house legal teams received as many nominations as the Royal Mail Group this year, with GC Maaike de Bie regularly cited by both private practice firms and other in-house teams.
De Bie’s reputation partly comes from her effective guidance of the legal team following Royal Mail’s 2015 initial public offering. ‘We all had to learn a lot about the business. Instead of telling the business what to do, it was empowering it to make decisions by itself. We were spending a lot of money managing our external firms. Now we’re taking a proactive approach to tackling fraud and debt. We have a finite amount of resources and we look for the best bang for our buck.’
Royal Mail is also well known in the in-house community for its pioneering use of a legal operations director. Until December 2017, Sarah Barrett-Vane was in the role, but she has since left to become a consultant. Her overhaul of the company’s billing system has proved transformational.
De Bie says: ‘I used to go to the financial officer of the company to ask how things are going. The person might say “I am sure you are doing great work”. After e-billing, we were able to say “we did 800 transactions for you”. I had all the data to demonstrate all the legal work we had done. It really helps you transform those conversations.
As part of De Bie’s broad transformation of the business, she has instigated a review of Royal Mail‘s culture. De Bie concedes that people ‘like being told what to do’, but says ‘it’s definitely not my leadership style’.
Greg Bott, director of Addleshaw Goddard’s consultancy arm, describes de Bie as ‘an excellent leader with a big impact’. He also singled out the work of Barrett-Vane, labelling her as a ‘legal ops pro who has done a lot of good work in a number of areas and who recognises the importance of meaningful data to help in-house teams make properly considered, evidence-based decisions’.
Uber Europe, Middle East and Africa associate GC Matthew Wilson adds: ‘The way in which [de Bie’s] taken a very traditional institution, transformed the legal function and played a significant role in transforming the business in the face of much more agile, unencumbered competitors has been hugely impressive’.