| Westfield Corporation
Since Leon Shelley joined Westfield Corporation in 2005, the Australian shopping centre operator has sold around half its portfolio globally. In the UK, it has shed eight centres to concentrate on its flagship strategy – two sites in London with a third planned for Croydon. This is not a hard-luck story, however. Westfield has seen its revenues grow year on year and has recently completed a £600m extension to Westfield London in Shepherd’s Bush. Shelley, now director of corporate and general counsel (GC) for the UK and Europe, says the company was prescient in spotting the shift in the retail market. ‘Retailers will always need flagship stores in capital cities and other strategically-strong demographic locations. We got ahead of the market by focusing on these prime assets.’ A further sign of Westfield’s growth is its ongoing development of the new £1.4bn complex in Croydon, part of a longterm plan to regenerate the area. Westfield’s proposed merger with French property investor Unibail- Rodamco is an indicator of how retail is changing, says Shelley. ‘Over the last decade there has been a shift in power toward major retail brands who take a very strong negotiating position against shopping centre owners and landlords. The wave of mergers we are seeing is an attempt by owners to take some power back.’ Bricks-and-mortar retail is facing an even bigger threat: e-commerce. Last year Westfield relaunched its technology division, OneMarket, to focus on bringing shopping centre owners together, including those operated by its rivals. ‘[Amazon’s] advantage is in the number of potential customers it has access to,’ says Shelley. ‘To ensure we stay meaningful as an industry we need to recognise that and get in the game now. By working together we hope that shopping centres will be able to compete with online retailers on a more even playing field.’ The legal team’s ability to keep on top of these numerous trends caught the attention of nominators. Ashurst’s global head of real estate, Hugh Lumby, comments: ‘One of the great teams I’ve worked with in the course of my long career is Westfield. They are absolutely phenomenal. Leon Shelley deserves to be recognised as a standout figure in the market, but his entire team displays the same qualities. They have led the company through a whole series of very complicated real estate deals. It is rare to see a legal team driving a business forward and taking difficult decisions, but like all successful businesses, Westfield has put its lawyers at the front to facilitate deals.’ The team’s ability to engage with the business has been fostered by Shelley’s approach to management. ‘If a junior lawyer asks me a question, I refuse to answer. Instead, I say: “Come back with an answer and I will tell you if that answer is correct.” It’s a very good way of training people to be independent. We don’t carry any passengers here and it is one of the reasons why our lawyers are held in such high esteem. They are embedded in the business, sitting in the development, leasing and construction teams. I would go so far as to say that some of our development lawyers are better developers than the developers employed by other companies in this sector!’ Standout figures within the team include deputy GC Amanda Beattie, described as a ‘brilliant lawyer’ by Lumby, and GC for leasing Philip Sorensen: in Shelley’s words a ‘seasoned negotiator’ who has been instrumental in the Westfield Milan project, Italy’s largest retail and leisure destination.