Can you provide an overview of your role at TradeMe including the legal function operating model and how it supports the work of the business?
I head up the Legal, Regulatory and Risk team at Trade Me. As well as having the more traditional general counsel and company secretary responsibilities for the Trade Me group, my team leads procurement, government relations, risk management, M&A and our insurance programme.
During my time at Trade Me we’ve established a business partnership model. Each area of the business has a nominated contact who is their first port of call. The legal business partner gets to really understand that part of Trade Me’s business - they take time to know that team’s strategy, work plan, customers/suppliers and risks. Legal work is still shared around the team, after considering who has capacity, who has relevant experience and who wants to do the work (including from a learning and development perspective). We’ve found that the business partner model has been truly valued. It’s helped us to be more relevant and focussed in our advice, and we’ve shifted the nature of the work we do to more proactive work.
What have you loved about your role?
Gosh, there’s lots I’ve loved about my 3 years at Trade Me. It’s fantastic working with truly exceptional people, who are smart, fun and passionate. I’ve enjoyed working with and developing very capable lawyers, who will go on to do great things.
I‘ve enjoyed supporting my team both at Trade Me and outside of Trade Me too - e.g. one of my team went on a secondment at Sharesies, another has recently been appointed a director of Harmoney and another team member sits as an industry member on the independent Advertising Standards Complaints Board.
At a personal level, I’ve enjoyed the complexity and variety of the role. Plus I’ve enjoyed the culture at Trade Me - it’s an informal and fun environment where you’re encouraged to bring your full self to work.
What have you found most challenging?
Managing and leading through significant organisational change.
I think most in-house legal teams have more work to do than time available and need to constantly prioritise. In general terms, our team prioritises by living all of Trade Me’s values, by focusing on Trade Me’s strategic priorities, and by building relationships across the business (including building a common understanding of how we’ll prioritise work). For example, we have a working agreement with other teams to ensure we’re on the same page, which I’ve attached in case it’s of use to other teams. (It’s built on the charter and heat map generously shared by Auckland Council and designed for them by Juno Legal.) See the Working Agreement here.
In 2019 we were acquired and delisted from NZX and ASX, we changed our debt holders and group legal structure (including appointments of all new directors), a new Chief Executive started, there were changes to organisational structure, and changes to our vision. It was particularly challenging for our team to remain focused on priorities when Trade Me was going through this significant organisation wide change. Big changes lead to uncertainty, which makes it harder to identify the important work. The relationships we had built across the business helped us to navigate through this period, as did a team culture with high psychological safety.
How do you see the role of today’s in-house lawyer evolving?
The role of in-house lawyer goes a long way beyond advising on the law. I like the phrase 'critical friend' when considering how the [in-house legal] role is evolving.
As in-house counsel we need to work collaboratively with the business, but we also can’t be afraid to have tough conversations when needed. The goal is to build strong relationships and a track record of delivery, so that in the moments when challenging situations come up you are trusted and listened to.
What is next for you and why the change?
I’m leaving Trade Me in March to become the Chief Executive of the National Office of the Cancer Society. The National Office works to support the regional Cancer Society divisions, assists with national cancer advocacy, research and fundraising, and so much more.
There’s a few main drivers for the change. From a values perspective, the Cancer Society does important mahi and I agree with their mission - of reducing the incidence and impact of cancer in Aotearoa. I’m sure most people who read this will have a cancer story, and I’m keen to help create a future with less cancer.
From a professional perspective the role is a move away from law, but I can see how many of my professional skills and my collaborative leadership style will translate. I think the role of general counsel is great preparation for working with a core team, with a wide stakeholder base. I’m looking forward to it.