Ben Sutton

In the spotlight: Ben Sutton

Hato Hone St John's General Manager of Legal & Risk, Ben Sutton describes his role as finding solutions to messy problems. We chat with him about settling into the role, the opportunities it offers and what would be on his technology wish list.

What does being General Manager - Legal & Risk for Hato Hone St John involve and what does a standard day look like for you?

To give the cliched answer - every day is different! As the GM of Legal & Risk at Hato Hone St John I manage four teams: Legal, Risk & Assurance, Privacy, and Procurement. Since starting at Hato Hone St John in July, I have been amazed at the huge range of services the organisation provides and the issues we deal with.

On the legal side, apart from the usual range of in-house matters (contracts, privacy, property, IP etc etc), in the last few weeks, I’ve also had cause to look at questions ranging from the use of radio frequency licences, how to manage property on government reserve land, contested wills and bequests, and even whether we can protect our Priory emblems under the Flags, Emblems and Names Protection Act.

That said, I will typically spend some time each week providing legal advice, working with and supporting my team members, participating in a wide range of meetings and committees, and carving out time to work on developing our legal processes and systems.

As I am still relatively new in my role, I am also spending time introducing myself around the business, and getting out of the office when I can to see the many different services we provide. In the last couple of weeks I’ve had a lot of fun out on the road with some of our great paramedics and helping out with our fundraising team at Addington Cup Day.

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

I certainly love the variety of the work, and being challenged to find practical solutions to messy, difficult problems. Having spent a significant part of my career working in the health sector, I think it is fair to say that the solutions to problems are rarely to be found in the letter of the contract and that the need to maintain services and relationships is paramount. I really love that I get to come to work each day, to help Hato Hone St John find good, practical, solutions.

Hato Hone St John is a unique organisation, with a history stretching back hundreds of years and providing an essential service to kiwis. We have been voted the most trusted Charity for the last eight years and so there is also a huge obligation to help maintain that public trust and reputation, which also very much informs how I work, and makes me proud of the work that we do.

In terms of what this role is teaching me about myself, as I said earlier, I have only been in the job for a few months, and I am still learning every day. Coming into the role, I made a deliberate decision to try to absorb as much as I can and trust that while it might not all make sense right away, it would start coming together over time. Also focused on trying not to stress too much about that sense of not being 100% over everything all the time.

Also, going from a sole General Counsel in my previous role, where I had huge flexibility about how I ran my day, to managing several diverse teams of subject-matter experts located across two cities, has taught me that I needed to get much more deliberate about how I do my work so that I am making the time to be available and present for my teams.

What have been your most recent challenges as head of legal and how did you address these?

The legal team itself is very small for an organisation our size, with only three lawyers (including me) and a privacy advisor. Add to that, two of us are new to the organisation, and so we are effectively reforming the legal function, clearing out a backlog of work, and looking at how we can work differently with the organisation. Positively, we see this as a real opportunity to reset how we work; and the challenge is finding the time to make the changes we want to, to be able to spend the time on the really valuable work.

One of the things we have been doing is taking a more structured approach to how we prioritise and allocate work. For example, having a specific prioritisation matrix we can share with our customers and dedicated times when we meet to discuss our workloads and allocate work around the team. We are also prioritising rolling out more self-service tools and information for our most frequent customers. I have also been looking at what reporting we are able to provide to the organisation to show the value we are adding.

We are also very aware that we have an opportunity to build new relationships with our internal clients, and I am keen to ensure that legal is seen to be a genuine business partner. So, making it easy for them to engage with us and that they have a positive, consistent experience when they do, has been a really important first step and focus for me and the team.

What is the one piece of technology (either current or yet to be created) that would make your day job easier?

The sensible answer here, would be a better matter-management system, but what really want is a teleporter, so I could get out to see my Auckland team members and colleagues around the country more often. While the rise of Zoom and post-Covid ways of working has definitely made it easier to connect virtually, I still find dropping in to see colleagues and have a casual chat over a coffee is often the most effective way to understand an issue.