Christine Loughnan, GC, Catalyst
           Christine Loughnan, GC, Catalyst

Can you tell us about your roles at Catalyst, what aspects you find most fulfilling, and what it has taught you, professionally and personally?

As General Counsel (GC) at Catalyst and a member of the senior leadership team (SLT), I'm deeply engaged in company decision-making, supporting the Managing Director to achieve strategic goals. My role involves providing trusted solutions and, at times, ensuring business safety. It's immensely fulfilling and a privilege, especially for a quietly successful New Zealand-founded business.

Professionally, I've learned a great deal. I need to underscore the importance of cultivating great relationships with the MD, board, and SLT peers. Spoiler alert: the GC role isn't about being the smartest person in the room. It's about being a trusted advisor and offering sound counsel. It requires strong relationship management and grasping people's priorities. Personally, I’m achievement-oriented and love my laptop. So, it’s been a step change to invest more time away from my desk to nurture these relationships.

With the GC title comes more opportunities to get involved, both inside and outside work. But you can't do it all. Personally, I've learned to prioritise, saying yes and no selectively. To steal a wonderful metaphor someone once told me. "You're juggling so many balls with work, being a partner, a parent, a friend, a family member and everything else in between. The trick is to know which balls are plastic, and which ones are glass. Then let the plastic ones drop". I made a list, starting small. For example, I stopped baking for events, no apologies. Baking doesn't bring me joy, nor does it affect my performance reviews. And from there, changes snowballed.

Can you share some recent challenges you've faced and the strategies you employed to overcome them?

Continuously simplifying legal and commercial advice is a strategy I’m always refining as GC. Clear messaging, supplemented with visuals where feasible, is key. Even with the best legal advice, unclear messaging risks losing your audience. So I'm always thinking of how to convey legal advice as solutions aligned with business priorities. The best example of this relates to how we helped deliver an uplift in profitability this past year. 

Like many NZ businesses, Catalyst experienced a drop in revenue during the pandemic, and subsequently faced challenging market conditions. In 2023 the business needed to quickly implement changes, increase resilience and ensure long-term profitability and sustainability. Rapidly shifting momentum required the entire SLT's collaborative effort toward a common goal. My role as GC encompassed governance and leadership, partnering with our CFO to implement a new delegation of authority and establish 10 simplified contract rules. These initiatives aimed to convey basic concepts simply to enable all levels of our business to understand, contribute and deliver change. The collaborative efforts of the SLT, sales, finance, legal, and other teams led to Catalyst's most profitable year in over five years. How did we message this? The legal part of this boils down to 10 ideas that fit on an A4 sheet of paper. Anyone in the company can quickly skim it and know what they need to do.

What trends in the legal industry do you see having the most significant impact on in-house legal teams in the near future?

The industry is grappling with so many things. The rise of generative AI, a constantly evolving cyber security threat landscape, climate change and, of course, the legal and regulatory changes coming with those things. This is coupled with a contracting of the economy, being felt particularly acutely where I sit in Wellington. Then we have a promising new generation entering the workforce with different expectations, turning some established ideas about career, inclusion and work-life balance on their head. That I think is going to be the challenge and the opportunity for the industry - how we nurture that emerging talent to help us meet the challenges to come and strengthen the profession.

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

Goodness, I work in tech. So many things are in the pipeline at Catalyst, especially relating to education, sustainability and helping us respond to climate change. For myself, I would love a virtual assistant that enhances personal memory and fact recall, and briefs you on your day ahead on your way to work. It would need to be personable, accurate, and highly secure - for me that means I would want it to be hosted in New Zealand and protected under NZ law.