Can you give us an overview of the legal function operating model at Chorus and how it supports the work of the company.
The General Counsel’s Office at Chorus is comprised of 2 legal teams and a risk, audit and compliance function with a total of 18 people including lawyers, legal execs, compliance managers, risk and audit managers and administrative support. General Counsel and Company Secretary Elaine Campbell leads the team and we have people in Wellington and Auckland.
The Regulation and Competition team, headed by Airihi Mahuika, advise the business on the complex set of legal and regulatory commitments that apply to Chorus including the Commerce Act, the Telecommunications Act and Chorus’ Open Access Deeds of Undertakings. From 2022 Chorus will operate within a new regulatory framework for fibre (a building blocks model or ‘BBM’) similar to the model that currently applies to other infrastructure industries, like electricity lines businesses.
The Corporate and Commercial team, led by Carl Allwood, cover a broad range of activity across Chorus including supplier and customer contracts, product development and offers to market, Crown funding, disputes and litigation, property, board governance and policies, company law, NZX and ASX listing rule obligations, corporate financing. With the wide scope of the Corporate and Commercial team, our operating model is focused on supporting high value or strategically important transactions and providing the business with tools and templates to enable them to complete the majority of lower risk or repeatable transactions independent of the lawyers.
We have recently restructured our risk, compliance and internal audit function to reflect increasing demands in this area and the addition of some more resource to support that demand. This team provides advice to the board and executive on risk management, looks after compliance with significant obligations including Chorus’ Open Access deeds and manages the internal audit function.
What do you see as the key challenges facing the team and how do you plan to address these?
Telecommunications is an industry that is subject to constant technological disruption – the pace of change over the last 10 years is enormous and telco services, particularly broadband, are becoming an essential utility like power and water as more and more of kiwis lives are lived on-line. One of our challenges is advising the business in a fast changing environment against a complex regulatory backdrop that includes obligations inherited from before Chorus was created as a wholesale open access service provider. The implementation of the BBM regime with the Commerce Commission and the wider industry drives a significant volume of complex work and is a massive task that touches all areas of our business. Chorus has nearly completed the build of the UFB fibre network which has been our primary focus since 2011 so the company is changing culturally and strategically from a network builder to a focus on innovation, optimising our fantastic fibre asset, finding new revenue streams and exploring market adjacencies all of which create new opportunities and challenges to keep the legal team on their toes.
What do you do to build and enhance the influence of the in-house legal function across the organisation?
We are lucky that from the early days of Chorus demerging from Telecom, the legal team have had a seat at the table designing and implementing our strategy and navigating risk. The current GCO team have been fortunate to build on that foundation and we get great access to the Chorus Executive and key decision makers. We operate as business partners (in fact that is in some of our job titles) and are focused on delivering clear and succinct advice in a way that clearly identifies boundaries but also offers pragmatic solutions to often complex problems.
Our people are relatively senior so where they are the subject matter experts on an issue or transaction we empower them to engage directly with senior management rather than requiring those conversations to be mediated via the Assistant General Counsels or General Counsel. Even though lawyers will have areas of expertise, we don’t assign lawyers to particular business areas. One of the key benefits the legal team can provide is an end to end view of an initiative that allows us to catch cross impacts in different parts of the company. For example with a new product offer, a lawyer who understands our customer contracts, what it might mean for our outsourced supply chain, the regulatory overlay from the Commerce Commission or obligations to the Crown, and can knit all of these elements together is of huge value.
What are the skills and attributes you look for when recruiting new lawyers for Chorus?
The Chorus values are “Courageous, Authentic, Curious and Collaborative.” Add strong technical legal expertise to that list and you have the key things that make successful lawyers at Chorus. A sense of humour, a willingness to roll up your sleeves in a new area of law and ability to deal with pressure are also helpful! We also like good bakers and those with esoteric knowledge in service of the daily 5 min quiz.
Are there any changes or new technologies you are planning to roll out in the next 12 months?
We are regularly looking at tools that free us up to focus on high value strategic work, and have some initiatives underway particularly in the corporate space to streamline some of the administrative burden of managing the corporate calendar as a dual listed entity. Like a lot of other in-house teams it’s a challenge to free up time to focus on business improvement initiatives but anything that allows us to reduce repeatable work, devolve autonomy for transactions to the business owners and focus on the interesting stuff gets priority.