Congratulations on your recent appointment as Head of Legal Property at Manawa Energy. What is your new role like and what are you most looking forward to about it?

Thank you!

My new role is awesome – I am designing and building an in-house legal team here at Manawa. Manawa is one of New Zealand’s largest renewable electricity generators. It was formerly Trustpower, but in May last year it completed the sale of its retail business and the “Trustpower” brand to Mercury. Our focus now is on renewable electricity generation and development and servicing the commercial and industrial electricity market. It’s a company that has been through significant change in the last couple of years, but it has a clear eye on the future and it’s exciting to be able to play a role in that.

Having an in-house legal team is new ground for Manawa. As Trustpower, there was a sole legal counsel who predominantly assisted the retail business. As a result, the majority of business units who make up Manawa have never experienced having in-house legal support. I’m excited about the opportunity to demonstrate how valuable an in-house legal team can be and dispel a few myths about lawyers while we’re at it.

Can you tell us about designing and building the legal function there?

I was fortunate enough to first work at Manawa as a Juno lawyer. I was brought onboard to carry out due diligence on Manawa’s procurement of legal services – effectively trying to understand who was instructing who, for what type of work and for what cost. In the absence of an in-house legal function none of this information was commonly understood, or readily available. I got unique access to the business and Manawa’s external law firms and, from there, was able to paint a fairly clear picture of the model Manawa was using and the pros and cons of that approach. At the time, I didn’t expect that my recommended road map for change would end up being mine to implement, but having the luxury of that time to really get under the hood is standing me in good stead now.

My key driver in designing and building the legal function is to ensure it is fit for purpose and user-friendly. My role is not to create an army of lawyers, but a team that is small and perfectly formed to address the needs of the business. The following things are front of mind for me as I design the team:

  • Skill Mix: Manawa needs legal advice across a growing number of disciplines – construction, consenting, governance, commercial arrangements, finance, employment and property. With a small team it’s important to be really clear on the types of work the in-house legal team will do, and the work that will continue to be outsourced. I have elected to build my team with a commercial law focus. This will allow us to partner with the business on key strategic activities and displace a significant chunk of “baseload” work that has previously gone out the door. The team is currently made up of me, our property manager, Gary Valentine (who is a qualified lawyer and the fountain of all knowledge about Manawa’s various schemes), with a vacancy for another senior commercial lawyer. We are supported by an incredible panel of external lawyers who advise on those areas that are out of scope for the in-house team and have a deep understanding of our long-standing arrangements.
  • Cultural Fit: The establishment of the legal function is a big change for Manawa. I’m lucky to have a very supportive Exec team who are its greatest advocate, but I am aware we will need to prove our worth. My focus for the team is ensuring that we can demonstrate commercial nous and an ability to work with the pace and agility the business needs. The ability to work efficiently, pragmatically, problem solve and maintain a sense of humour are top of my list of attributes needed for the success of the team.

What is your biggest challenge and how are you tackling it?

I tend to be quite outcomes focussed and love nothing more than ticking things off my to-do list. When I first started in the role, I had a clear vision of what I needed to do and how I wanted to do it, so I jumped straight into action. What I overlooked was that I hadn’t spent nearly enough time articulating that vision to others - I definitely came in a bit hot! That challenge has been exacerbated to a certain extent by the fact that I work remotely – Manawa’s head office is in Tauranga and I’m in the Hawkes Bay. At the end of last year, I was frustrated with my lack of progress and knew I needed to rethink my approach.

Coming into this year, I’ve changed tack. I still have an extensive list of things I’d like to do, but I’ve redirected my energy into those tasks that I consider to be the building blocks of the legal function – building relationships with internal and external stakeholders, deep diving into all the areas of the business and bedding in policies and processes that provide clarity over what the team does and how we do it. I’m working on the basis that if I get the foundations right then (surely!) the rest will follow.

What do you love about it and what is it teaching you about yourself?

I love the autonomy and the appetite for change within Manawa. I think we have all worked in organisations where you have spotted opportunities for improvement, but it’s been hard to get things across the line. There’s often that sense of “if it’s not broken . . .”, or “but, we’ve always done it that way”, but at Manawa I have a blank sheet of paper. I can take all of my experience working with, and within, in-house legal teams and cherry pick the best features. So far there hasn’t been much that I haven’t been able to convince my boss to let me have a crack at.

Background photo credit: Manawa Energy