General Counsel Interview – Bosch UK

Here to talk about his General Counsel role, his leadership in the sector, compliance, Brexit and ‘the Internet of Things’ is Jonathan Burton, Head of Legal at Bosch UK & Ireland. Lawyer Monthly hears from Jonathan on the challenges and complexities involved in heading up the legal team at Bosch, how the internet and advent of technology is changing the landscape of said challenges, and on the future goals and prospects of his legal career.

 

Can you tell LM briefly about the extent of your role, what it looks like day to day, and the kinds of exciting jobs you engage with?

Whilst I’m sure this could be said for most in-house positions, no one day is the same – which is why I enjoy it so much. Bosch is involved in so many different businesses and always looking to innovate and expand into new areas, so the role is constantly evolving. In terms of day to day, I have to circumvent the M25 most days, so I tend to leave pretty early to avoid the inevitable gridlock. A typical day starts with a meeting with the team to discuss priorities for that day and any shared learning points. The day is then divided between case work, meetings with management and communications with colleagues in Germany. Given the nature of Bosch’s business we are involved in very exciting projects from autonomous driving, to smart homes and Industry 4.0. Never a dull day in Bosch HQ!

 

Do you have a team around to help you in these matters? How do you manage this team?

I have a fantastically hard working and talented legal team in the UK. The vision for the legal function in the UK is to maintain “A friendly, accessible team which provides commercial and creative solutions through its unconventional and adaptable approach.” To me the “unconventional and adaptable” element of this role is in surprising our clients with a fresh approach to legal issues. The best example of this is seen in a recent training we organised – having a Star Wars theme and raiding my boys’ Lego collection!

 

What recent legislative developments have significantly affected the way you work in your role? Has Brexit been a potential for change at all?

We are currently planning for the implementation of the GDPR in 2018, which will impact the majority of Bosch’s businesses in the UK. As for Brexit, we are monitoring developments and keeping up to date with our customers and trade associations. It is still too early to say what is around the corner, but where we have historically relied on our membership of the European Union for certain protections, this may need to be established in the UK and might require additional support.

 

Are there any ongoing projects which you have had to recently oversee and provide particular legal leadership towards?

We recently acquired a business in Bristol (Kliklok International Limited) that manufactures packaging machinery for the food industry. Having come from a corporate background in private practice, the interesting aspect, from an in-house perspective, with these transactions is what we call the PMI (Post Merger Integration) process. At a law firm the deal tends to end when the bible has been completed. Being in-house provides the opportunity to meet a new team and assist in developing synergies with the wider organisation to achieve future success.

 

What would you say is the biggest challenge of being Bosch UK’s Director of Legal Services?

The biggest challenge is the ever-evolving nature of our business. Bosch is focused on exploring disruptive business models and constantly developing new products and solutions. This brings with it new challenges. The key however, is not to dwell on these, but to focus on the opportunities that the new business areas bring.

 

Despite certain challenges, what are the overall rewards, both personal and professional, of your role?

I get to work with incredibly talented, dedicated and knowledgeable people every day, from all over the business. It is an environment which drives constant innovation and as legal director I am one of the first to learn about the new products, services or concepts. Bosch is owned by a charitable trust, and the culture that this brings flows through the organisation, making it a really inspiring place to work.

 

You also serve as the Compliance officer for Bosch UK & Ireland; what kind of complex considerations do you have to make on a daily basis and how difficult is it to oversee compliance governance throughout the entirety of the company?

We introduced a ‘Compliance Dialogue’ last year, which saw us move away from lecture style presentations and put the emphasis on open communication within teams on compliance topics. Compliance now features on all agendas of the various board meetings, but also at general team meetings throughout the region. I try to use real life examples and case studies as much as possible, and get our employees to discuss potential compliance issues encountered in their daily business lives.

 

The Bosch Group has over 4,200 employees across 40 locations; what are the biggest difficulties in managing these employees, from a legal perspective?

Actually we have around 5,300 associates throughout the UK. The biggest challenge is getting around to see the different businesses, and being a visible and not just a virtual presence. We get the most out of our function when we build relationships with our employees and become that trusted business advisor. This works best by getting out there and fully understanding the various businesses. It’s not unusual for our lawyers to pop up at sales conferences or trade shows, and we regularly attend training on the products themselves.

 

How would you say the ‘Internet of Things’ is changing the priorities and considerations of in-house counsels around the world? In regards to this, what risk management steps would you define as paramount to the safe future running of the business?

The active presence of Bosch within the ‘Internet of Things’ is certainly having an impact on the legal team. We are working on projects involving industry 4.0, energy, mobility, smart homes, and smart cities. Each involves new business models and a greater emphasis on data protection, privacy, cyber security, software and intellectual property, than ever before. Whilst there is support available from the wider Bosch function, we are receiving more training in these fields and building closer working relationships with external law firms.

 

When you first jumped into this role, what were your career goals and professional ambitions? Have these changed since you began in 2012?

On joining Bosch my main objective was to understand the organisation as quickly as possible. Bosch has an enormous amount of acronyms to describe everything, including: business divisions, financial terms and HR matters – some of which are intuitive and others left me scratching my head. The first challenge was to master these! Overall, my ambition was to further the legal department’s progress on being a strategic business partner as well as maintaining our governance role. This hasn’t really changed.

I have contemplated moving towards a CEO role in the future and the advantage of my position in Bosch is that you gain such an oversight of all the various businesses with the opportunity to influence at that level.

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