In the Spotlight: Stephen Drysdale, In-house Counsel - ZURU Group

In the Spotlight: Stephen Drysdale, In-house Counsel - ZURU Group

We talk with China based In-house Counsel Stephen Drysdale about working for a toy company, and the fact that his job is as cool as it sounds.

About ZURU

ZURU is one of the fastest growing toy companies in the world and is known for its creativity and new-age manufacturing techniques. Now operating offices in 18 countries and distributing to most major retailers in over 120 countries, ZURU has delighted millions of families all over the world with brands such as Bunch O Balloons, X-Shot, Rainbocorns, Robo Alive, Smashers, 5 Surprise, Pets Alive and Metal Machines. In 2018, ZURU launched its consumer goods division (ZURU Edge), with disruptive brands such as ‘Rascal + Friends’ nappies, ‘Dose & Co’ protein and collagen powders, ‘Me.’ period care, and ‘Nood’ pet food. This year, ZURU supported the New Zealand Government in its COVID-19 pandemic response, helping to source a range of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for front-line healthcare workers. Consequently, ZURU has launched its third business division (ZURU Health) to expand its healthcare offering to Australia, Canada, Europe and the USA.

Can you tell us about your role, what you love about it and what it is teaching you about yourself?

As ZURU’s In-House Counsel, I oversee a range of different legal areas including commercial transactions, regulatory compliance, intellectual property, and licensing. During my time at ZURU, I’ve worked on matters ranging from license agreements with the likes of Nickelodeon and KraftHeinz, to business acquisitions and international patent family filings. I am fortunate enough to be overseeing a team based in China, providing day-to-day support managing our IP portfolio of over 1000 IPRs, e-Commerce anti-counterfeiting measures (ZURU issued over 11,000 infringement notices in 2019 alone), and legal advice to our commercial teams. I love getting to work alongside the various business departments, and striving to provide clear legal recommendations that factor in commercial reality. The role has very much taught me to be able to work at pace – which is necessary in order to match ZURU’s pace of development!

What is life like practising as a New Zealand lawyer in China where you are based?

The nature of ZURU’s global business means that at any one time I could be working on matters in a multitude of jurisdictions. Fortunately, one of the roles of in-house legal is to act as a conduit between business teams and external counsel. I work very closely with a suite of external law firms and lawyers worldwide, ranging from IP specialists to regulatory compliance experts. This not only gives me access to comprehensive advice from those on the ground, but also the opportunity to gain a holistic understanding of particular legal issues – for example, how particular provisions in a licensing agreement should be drafted in order to achieve favourable outcomes for the business in multiple markets.

How do you build the role and influence of the in-house legal function across the organisation?

ZURU is a company that has managed to strongly maintain its entrepreneurial identity, meaning that it is the role of in-house legal to develop frameworks that provide structure to the business all the while still allowing the business the flexibility to grow and develop. The team focuses heavily on being a solutions-focused department, as we have seen great value in working alongside the wider business teams, and trying to break down the stereotypes of lawyers always been “handbrakes” to commercial success and development. Sharing our successes and learnings has also proven to be fundamental in furthering co-operation between legal and non-legal departments.

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

One of our biggest pain points as a small in-house legal team has been managing the influx of requests flowing in from various business units, and often from a various range of platforms (email, internal messenger, face-to-face, etc.). As a result, we’ve recently made the decision to invest in cloud-based matter management software. This should not only streamline business requests (i.e. form capture for common queries such as ‘jurisdiction’ or ‘contract type’ to help legal personnel quickly narrow matter scopes), but also ensure matters are actioned in a timely matter and are not missed. The document management features also ensure that contract versions are controlled, and correspondence is recorded in case of future disputes/discrepancies.

Is being the legal counsel for a toy company as much fun as it sounds? And how does Santa make it around the world in one night?

Working for a toy company is definitely more fun than it sounds (even though we don’t get to test out the toys nearly as much as I would like!) – and the recent expansions into fast-moving consumer goods and healthcare has only enhanced the day-to-day experience. As for making it around the world in one night? Just like ZURU, it all boils down to ‘preparation, preparation, preparation’.