Jen, you joined Stuff in March to take over from the two lawyers who were exiting the business, and to finish off the process around the sale of Stuff by Nine (in Australia) to NZME. How did that pan out in the end?
Very differently. First, Covid hit and the business (like many businesses) was scurrying around trying to work through all the implications of that. Some of our publications were deemed "non-essential services" and so we had to halt printing and production of some much-loved NZ titles like “NZ House & Garden”. As you can imagine this caused a lot of consternation in the editorial and finance teams. The General Counsel of Stuff stayed in the company for another month or so to help the business through that, while also trying to transition me in - not an easy role for her. Oh, and second the CEO of Stuff, Sinead Boucher, decided to buy the company from Nine for $1.
That is quite a turnaround in your original engagement – what happened?
I went from answering endless due diligence questions in a sale process being run by Nine, to taking a phone call from Sinead to say, "Nine is going to sell me the company for $1 instead, so let's get going on that." We quickly engaged external M&A lawyers (Buddle Findlay) and KPMG was already involved at that stage too. The deal was signed within 3 weeks of that phone call and completed a week after that, all during lock down and around our respective study desks and kitchen tables. To further complicate things, we were preparing affidavits for Sinead simultaneously in relation to the injunction proceedings NZME brought against Nine in the High Court in an effort to get Nine back to the negotiating table. It was full-on but fantastic! I finally met Sinead in person for the first time on 1 July having been through this intense process.
Who did all the other Stuff legal work during that time?
My trusty side-kick Anthea Herron, also from Juno. When Stuff engaged Juno they asked for one full-time lawyer. I only wanted to work 32 hours per week (the M&A process being the obvious exception) and so Anthea also works for Stuff picking up 8-10 hours per week. I've known Anthea for about 15 years - she was at Kordia when I was at Spark so we had a lot of interactions. However, we only met in person for the first time this October when I was on a family trip in Christchurch which is where Anthea lives.
So how does that work? How do people at Stuff know who to talk to?
It works really well. I am the lead legal person if you like and if there is overflow, then I pass it over to Anthea to handle. Of course she's a trusted adviser to Stuff herself now so many of our internal clients instruct her directly, particularly if the matter is ongoing or the work type is what she has done before for a particular person (e.g. content licensing and property).
How do you measure whether that approach suits the business or not?
If it’s not working I expect people to tell me. I work right across the business in all areas and am very visible both at the executive table and at my desk (work and home as I split my time which is the best thing to come out of Covid). Stuff operates under a high trust, high engagement model so if the business isn’t getting what it needs from the legal function they have a clear mandate to speak up – which I welcome.
Are there any changes or new technologies you plan to roll out in the next 12 months?
Stuff is entering an exciting new phase of its life, clear from the shackles of an offshore owner. My plan is to provide Sinead with a view on what I think the legal team needs to look like going forward to enable and fast-track that new phase. The team will require agile lawyers who can find innovative, practical solutions to clear a pathway for the business’ success. I’d like to incorporate tech in that plan in some way, but I haven’t worked out what that might look like yet.