Sumo Group General Counsel, Steven Webb
Sumo Group General Counsel, Steven Webb, gives some insight into his own in-house legal journey and life as an in-house lawyer in the computer gaming industry, and we pick up some useful advice for lawyers thinking of moving in-house.
Before you became Sumo Group General Counsel, what attracted you to the legal profession?
It was a pure fluke! I originally left school at 16 and joined the Merchant Navy as a deck officer cadet, intending that to be my career. While I learned a huge amount and saw a lot of the world in a short time, I quickly realised it wasn’t for me long-term. Not knowing what to do next, I returned to school and did A-levels. At the end of those two years, I was still not sure, but met a law undergraduate while selling deck chairs as a summer job. He convinced me that a law degree was fun….
What factors made you choose to work at Sumo Group?
I did some consultancy work with Sumo for a few months leading up to its IPO in December 2017. I was helping get the company ready to be listed, but quickly picked up lots of other projects. By the time of the listing when the CEO asked me if I would join permanently, we had both had the perfect opportunity to get to know each other. The business is so positive, with hugely engaged colleagues in a market that is dynamic and growing – it was an easy decision to say yes.
What particularly positive things keep you engaged there?
One of the best things about being in-house is the chance to really understand a business in a way that isn’t possible in private practice. I knew nothing about the video games industry, so on a steep learning curve, but that’s exciting
How has the Sumo Group changed since you became General Counsel?
The most obvious is going from private-equity owned, to listed on AIM. That has brought with it a whole host of new requirements, many of them in areas I cover. What has made this much easier is that strong desire from the Board to follow best practice. Alongside this, the business has continued to grow significantly, adding lots of new and talented staff, new studio locations and making acquisitions.
How has the organisation helped you in your role?
It’s a very friendly, open and non-hierarchical place with everyone focused on getting the best outcome for the business. Those conditions always makes work more straightforward and rewarding.
What key advice would you give to anyone thinking of moving in-house, or just starting out on that journey?
Think carefully about what you like and don’t like about your current role and what you are good at and not so good at. Will being in-house have more of the things you like and play to what you are good at? Dismiss any notion that it’s the easy life, with no clients and no time sheets. There likely won’t be time sheets, but your customers will be your colleagues, standing in your office looking for advice and decisions on the spot. They will expect that when they are working, so are you. On the flip side, think about how rewarding it can be if you are fundamental to the success of the business you work in, how every day will be entirely different from the one before and how empowering it is to be able to make decisions, rather than just suggesting options.
You’re looking for an in-house lawyer at the moment. Can you tell us a little more about what has led up to that?
Sumo has grown rapidly since it was founded in 2003, from 13 people then to over 500 now. The business will continue to grow and we need to look ahead to make sure it has the resources necessary to achieve our ambitious plans. There is a lot of ground that needs to be covered in both the legal and governance areas. This is an opportunity for someone to develop with the business.
What aspects of the role make it particularly attractive for someone considering a move?
It is a new role in a small team. The right person will get responsibility and challenge straightaway and will be dealing with the senior team in the business. Sumo is a young, dynamic and expanding organisation, so now is a great time to join and be part of that. Other lawyers that have worked with me will attest to the fact that my approach is to be open, informal and inclusive. I am always happy to guide and advise, while wanting anyone in my team to demonstrate that they can and will reach their own views first. I am always looking for opportunities to give my team exposure to interesting projects and genuinely want to get to the point where others have the knowledge and experience to do my job.
What particular projects have you enjoyed working on?
Acquisitions are always interesting, so buying The Chinese Room was fascinating. It is a video game developer with a pretty unique portfolio and it also gave us a base in Brighton, which is renowned for video game talent.
What is the best piece of career advice you’ve been given on the road to becoming General Counsel at Sumo Group?
When I was feeling particularly frustrated with a lawyer on the other side of a deal Peter Smart, the former managing partner of Walker Morris, told me I should dictate the letter I wanted to write and get it typed (you can see how long ago this was!). He said I should then read the letter, tear it up and write the appropriate response. It was great advice then, and even more pertinent today when the ability to respond to emails instantly often leads to communication that clearly hasn’t been well thought through.
What do you like to do when you’re not in the office?
I have always enjoyed sport, particularly football and running. I still try to play football every Thursday evening and, since my 50th birthday, have taken to running the occasional marathon. I will be trying to get round London again in April 2019 with my son – hoping that he will wait for me!
What song was No1 when you qualified?
September 1989 clearly wasn’t a vintage period for popular music – Ride on Time by Black Box.
What was your first non-legal job?
Aged 15, carrying cases for holiday-makers at the Butlins in my home town of Filey. No pay, so entirely reliant on tips and the “perk” of eating in the staff canteen.
Who would you most like to get stuck in a lift with and what would you ask them?
Barack Obama. I’d ask him what he would say if Michelle told him she was running for President.
Do you have a hidden talent? If so, please share.
With so few talents, I can’t afford to keep any hidden.
Favourite film or play.
To Kill a Mockingbird.
Catcher in the Rye.
Favourite holiday destination so far, and where next?
Anywhere in the Alps in winter (both). And next is the Alps!
Top 3 things on your “bucket-list”?
Learn to play the piano. Learn to speak German. Winnebago tour of Canada.
Besides being a lawyer, if money were no object and you knew you couldn’t fail, what would you most like to try or do?
Write a novel, probably based around characters I have come across in my working life.
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