Meet the portfolio lawyer with a love of sport – Ian Metcalfe
Joining us recently was Ian Metcalfe, former Managing Partner of Wragge & Co, who is now embracing a broad and varied portfolio career; in private companies, the listed world education and sport. He is a NED on the boards of Mercia Technologies PLC and Terberg RosRoca Group Limited, and is a governor of the Foundation Board of the Schools of King Edward VI. He chairs Rugby’s Professional Game Board, is SID on the board of the RFU and chairs the board of Commonwealth Games England. Ian was also a director of England Rugby 2015.
In case you missed it, here is a summary of what he had to say.
Ian hasn’t had a conventional career in law. He started as a legal aid solicitor in the early 1980s and went on to become a prosecutor. This allowed him to play rugby seriously (Ian played for Sale, Moseley, and toured New Zealand with England in 1985, as well as representing the Barbarians).
However, after being badly injured in his late twenties, Ian had to reshape his career. He wanted to stay in Birmingham but do better work, so rather than move to London as a prosecutor he decided to retrain as a corporate lawyer. He joined Wragge & Co, eventually becoming Managing Partner.
To keep his connection with sport he also moved into sports administration, mainly in rugby, and eventually joined the RFU Council, later chairing the Professional Rugby board and helping to organise the 2015 Rugby World Cup.
Ian always tried to maintain the broadest network possible outside his day job which stood him in good stead during his career. He believes that taking on the RFU roles made him a better Managing Partner.
He always tries to repay the courtesy, decency and respect he was shown on journey up, and says, ‘if you spread enough bread on the water some of it always comes back as ham sandwiches’. He is prepared to have a cup of coffee and a chat with anyone and finds connecting people together a joy.
On retirement from Wragges, aged 56, he was keen to have another career. The best bit of advice he was given was:
• Only do things where you can add value
• Only work for people you trust and
• Only do something you enjoy.
Odgers, who have the leading Sports sector headhunting practice in the UK, phoned him shortly after retirement to discuss the role of chairman of England Commonwealth Games. He was appointed after the Glasgow games, and rebuilt the board which he is proud to say is now 40% female and diverse in race, gender and experience. His job there is now to get the England team to the Gold Coast (Australia) in 2018 and the youth team to the Bahamas.
Ian’s other NED roles include an AIM listed public company, which he’d previously advised as a client. The chair, Susan Searle, didn’t want to use a headhunter and wanted someone She could trust. She chairs four listed companies, and was very skeptical about taking a lawyer on – regarding them as risk averse, obstructive and un-commercial. However, she was persuaded to meet Ian and she took him on. He quickly managed to change their views during a flotation, – external lawyers were used but Ian was able to interpret what was going on for the board.
Ian is also on the board of Europe’s largest waste-disposal vehicle business. The company is Dutch and Spanish and is family owned. They were looking for a NED who was recently retired, with legal skills and with links to Birmingham, where they owned a major UK subsidiary. He has found being involved with a global manufacturing business very interesting with all the issues around health and safety, anti-corruption, employee engagement etc. Ian is also a governor at his former school.
For most lawyers, the more obvious ways into the NED world are through the arts, sport, schools or charities. Health, too, though this field can sometimes be problematic. Any of these types of roles allow you to demonstrate a track record and credibility.
Q. How different was it being in the board room as an advisor versus part of the board room?
Lawyers sometimes suffer from a significant lack of self-confidence which translates into an unwillingness to say something in the boardroom, even when others are saying exactly what you’re thinking. As you build your confidence you realise that being a lawyer is a fantastic training ground for being a NED provided you spend time getting to know the business and read your papers. The people piece is too often forgotten in the boardroom, so lawyers can become the conscience of the boardroom.
Q. How should our profession counteract prejudice that we are weak on the financial side?
It is a communication issue. You need demonstrate your ability to read a balance sheet. Don’t duck financial debates. After all, most lawyers have to absorb a lot of client financial information during their careers. Create a debate. There should be a general wave of changed understanding.
Q. How important is the wholesale implementation of the Sports Governance Code?
The position was so bad in so many sports that Ian thinks it is a necessary step. There are still a lot of badly broken sporting organisations. There does need to be a better BALANCE of those who understand the sport versus those with business experience.
Q. Do you think your outside interests benefited your firm?
On reflection, while at times outside demands can be time-consuming and it is potentially irritating for your colleagues to read about you in the papers on something nothing to do with the firm, generally the firm got more than they bargained for – Ian worked even harder in his day job to compensate and certainly won more business because of it.