Grant Dawson is general counsel and company secretary of Centrica, a UK-based utilities company which supplies electricity and gas multinationally. He won The Legal 500 UK in-house award for the best individual in the Energy field.
B U S I N E S S T H I N K I N G
EDITOR AND FEATURES WRITER
GC: Did you always know that you wanted to be a lawyer?
Grant Dawson (GD): No, not really, it wasn’t until selecting a degree course, and then I decided to do law, and during my degree I thought about going off to the bar to become a barrister.
GC: What was it about law that appealed to you?
GD: I thought it would always be useful to know a little bit about the law - perhaps not as much as I do today! But in many respects I thought it would be a useful degree to take and then decide whether I wanted to become a lawyer or just use the knowledge of the law as part of a wider interest in business.
GC: Going in-house is not a typical career move for a barrister; what made you choose that route?
GD: After being at the bar for about three years, first of all in chancery chambers, and then in common law chambers, I was offered the opportunity to go and work in a telecoms company, which was part of Racal Electronics at the time. It was actually working on the setting-up of Vodafone, so I decided I would have a change and see what working in-house was going to be like, in particular in a new industry - mobile telephones were pretty new; this was in 1983.
GC: What is the best thing about working for Centrica?
GD: Where I currently sit within in Centrica: I think it’s important for a senior lawyer to be part of the executive management team. Not only do I look at the legal issues - I also deal with the regulatory and compliance issues. As the general counsel of a business like Centrica, one becomes much more responsible for the overall risk, compliance and regulatory outcomes of the business, in addition to the legal issues and potential liability of the senior management. So for me it’s the broader nature of the role that is so appealing. Also l think the energy sector is an extremely interesting and important sector to be working in.
GC: What is your favourite part of your day at the office?
GD: I enjoy the executive meetings: whether we are reviewing business performance, approving transactions or capital projects, or considering strategy, new business development and general progress - all of those aspects.
GC: And what is your least favourite part?
GD: Probably making sure you’ve dealt with all your emails.
GC: What has been the highlight of your professional life so far?
GD: We’ve done some very interesting transactions over the years at Centrica. From the acquisition of the AA, which was a very complex transaction, to the hostile takeover of Venture, which again was
very interesting. The joint venture partnership which we put together with EDF on nuclear was very important and again, complex. So from a transactional perspective, those are a few of the highlights.
From a broader perspective, I think seeing some of the younger lawyers come up through the organisation, taking responsibility for different businesses and in a way, passing on to them some of the skills that they will need to have in order to guide management of the business for which they are responsible. I’ve seen quite a few lawyers and company secretaries go on and succeed in other businesses, at the top position, or in other parts of other organisations.
GC: What legal issues or challenges can you see coming over the horizon in the next few months?
GD: Right now, probably the biggest thing that we’re working on is the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) inquiry into the energy industry. There are huge amounts of work going on, with submissions to the CMA and preparing for the formal hearings which will take place later this year. That’s probably the biggest thing I’ll be dealing with this year.
GC: What do you expect from an ideal external counsel?
GD: We would expect them to be really expert in their field and have the requisite knowledge of the subject matter of the instructions. We look for them to bring added value to our deliberations that we would have internally. Whether that’s in the field of regulatory matters, or pure corporate matters, or transactional matters – it is about making sure you’ve got the best people on the team, and real experts.
GC: What do you enjoy in your free time?
GD: If I’ve really got free time then my real passion is to go off scuba diving somewhere. But that doesn’t always happen! So typically at the weekend I’ll be out walking with the dogs.
GC: What’s the most beautiful place you’ve been scuba diving?
GD: Probably the Maldives and the Philippines.
GC: Do you have a favourite film?
GD: I quite like the Bourne Trilogy.
GC: If you decided to give up practising law, what would you be doing instead?
GD: I think if I had my time again, I really do quite enjoy my scuba diving so if I had another career, it would probably be something to do with marine biology and marine science.
GC: Were you into the sciences when you were at school?
GD: No! Not at all! So it would be starting from scratch. It’s completely different, but I do enjoy going scuba diving and what happens to the oceans in the future, and what happens to the coral reefs, isan interest and a concern, so that’s my alternative career.
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