Occupation: Director Legal Affairs at Independent Retail Europe, based in Brussels
What were your favourite subjects and who were your favourite teachers at School?
My favourite subjects at school were German, History and Biology. My favourite teacher was Mr Hiepko who gave me a passion for languages, especially German which I use every day in my work.
What further study have you undertaken since leaving School?
When I left School I did an undergraduate Joint Honours Law Degree (LLB) in Law and German, a Masters Degree in EU law (LLM) and the Legal Practice Course (LPC). During this time I also spent a year in Innsbruck studying German, Austrian and EU law.
What does your job involve and how did you progress to your current role?
My current job is very varied. At its core it involves leading a team of legal/policy/communication advisors to analyse, and respond to, EU legislative developments affecting the retail sector.
In terms of day-to-day business, it means going into the European Parliament and explaining to Parliamentary committees, MEPs and their advisers why certain changes to a piece of legislation, proposed legislation, or policy are needed. This tends to be quite political. On a more legal note, I also frequently work with the European Commission and national authorities to advocate why changes are needed to certain EU or national policies. This can be in areas of competition law, food law, product safety, agricultural legislation or contract law.
Another important and enjoyable aspect of my job is to develop and guide the longer term strategy of my current organisation.
Our team has to be able to do all this (at the very least) in English, French and German to cater for our European customers, and also for the multitude of nationalities and languages spoken in Brussels. I think our staff speak at least English, French, German, Dutch, Spanish to business standard and we all know a few words of Finnish, Swedish and Italian due to the pan-European nature of our work.
In terms of how I progressed to my current role, I moved to Brussels after finishing university as I accepted a job as a legal adviser in a trade association in the financial services sector. I worked there for three years before being offered a job as Head of Legal Department in retail trade body. I was then promoted to my current job ‘Director Legal Affairs’ after a couple of years of working there.
What/who influenced your career choice?
Two main factors influenced my career choice. The first factor was my education. As I was choosing what subject I wanted to study I knew I wanted to continue to speak German so that meant I had to find a course whereby I could combine German with another subject. The other subject I chose was Law. This was because of the media presence of the law during the passage of the Human Rights Act as I was applying for university courses. I wanted to work in Brussels as I have always has an international outlook. I visited Brussels when I was about 13 years old, felt the international vibe of the city and decided there and then that I wanted to live and work there.
What/who has been your biggest inspiration?
My inspiration comes from different aspects of my life. My personal inspiration comes from my family – to do well for them and make them proud.
My professional inspiration comes from the Managing Director who first hired me in Brussels. I learned almost everything I know about my profession so far, from him. I still get a lot of motivation when I look back at his ambition, dedication, resourcefulness and strategic thinking to transform an organisation. My first boss was by no means perfect but I find it is also extremely important to learn from people’s faults.
Which skills do you consider to be essential for your job?
It is essential to be able to communicate complex problems in a simple, clear and logical way.
It is necessary to have a research ethic and keep up-to-date with developments in your market (in my case retail). This ensures that you are credible when discussing issues with policy makers.
Have an attitude where you don’t simply accept the status quo. You have to be prepared to disagree (as long as you have some clear justifications) with policy makers and politicians.
Language skills are a pre-requisite to work in Brussels.
What do you like most about your job?
The international atmosphere; the ability to influence the political/legislative process; and the opportunity to build a well-functioning trade organisation.
What is your biggest challenge in your current role?
My biggest challenge is convincing people of the importance of engaging with the European legislators in Brussels. When we engage, we can achieve a lot. Businesses and consumers receive great benefits of being part of the European Union. Benefits include less red-tape for businesses wanting to sell to other EU countries, higher food and product safety standards for consumers; huge amounts (billions of euros) of financial support for regenerating our urban and rural areas from EU structural funds.
If we don’t care about what happens in Brussels, we cannot ensure that the legislation produced is useful to business or as beneficial to consumers as we would like. Moreover, we wouldn’t have access to the huge amount of funding that has been used to regenerate cities like Manchester, Cardiff and Birmingham.
What do you consider to be your greatest career achievement?
Redefining, restructuring and re-motivating my current organisation into one of the leading trade bodies in the EU, and the most successful EU level retail trade body.
How did Bolton School help you to be successful in your chosen career?
Bolton School gave me the confidence to believe in my abilities. I remember a quote from my favourite teacher after I received an exam result I wasn’t happy with. He said, “talent and personality always succeed in the end”. This gave me a lot of confidence. Indeed, Bolton School gives you a great start in life, but the onus is on each individual to use their own personalities to make best use of the education and life lessons that Bolton School provides.
What advice would you give to our pupils interested in your field of work?
Learn a language. Contact me if you are interested in a career in Brussels as I am happy to help.