“I work in-house as the Real Estate Legal Counsel for Nike in Europe. This primarily involves being responsible for Nike’s real estate interests from a legal perspective across Western Europe and Central and Eastern Europe. This involves negotiating retail and corporate leases across my region, as well as other real estate transactions, and providing the business with advice in relation to our existing portfolio.”
What made you decide to study law and become a solicitor/lawyer? Writing this after a stressful day is perhaps not the best time to answer! Academically I was more verbal than numerical and I knew that I wanted to do some post-graduate study. I read some legal modules as part of my non-legal undergraduate degree (I read economics), and found these challenging and rewarding. I think I enjoyed the academic challenge.
How long did you work in the UK before moving to (Abu Dhabi?)? I trained in a firm in the City and spent 2 years there post qualification before transferring to Bahrain (where I worked for 3.5 years). I subsequently spent a year in Abu Dhabi working on secondment to a client, before moving to work for Nike at their European headquarters in the Netherlands.
How did you find the experience of working in a different country, culture? Professionally, working abroad can be very different from the UK, both in terms of the technical side and the types of people you deal with on a daily basis. English is often not others’ first language, and the working culture in the Middle East is very different from the UK. In the Netherlands my work is pan-European and Nike is of course an American company. So the working culture is very different again. My role as Real Estate Counsel for Europe covers all of Western Europe and Central and Eastern Europe and the differences in business cultures and market standards across this region differ dramatically.
What were the highlights? As a relatively junior lawyer in the Middle East, being given the freedom to run multi-million dollar deals which would normally only be run by partners in the UK. Currently, negotiating deals in every corner of Europe is a real highlight and also a great challenge. It involves quite a lot of travel and instructing local lawyers in each of the jurisdictions in which we are operating. This involves me having to conduct commercial (as well as legal) negotiations, and make calls on risks that a private practice lawyer would not normally take.
What were the downsides? There are no real downsides now, except perhaps having to work harder and longer hours than I might want. But that is what we sign up for. In private practice I used to get frustrated with the lack of commerciality and business exposure, but none of that is relevant now.
You are now an in-house lawyer at Nike in Amsterdam, sounds like every man’s dream. How did that come about?Yep, it is pretty much a dream job as far as the legal industry is goes. I was approached by a recruiter about the position. I wasn’t actually actively looking to leave the UAE but the position was too interesting not to consider. There was a long recruitment process which involved around 7 interviews and a written exam.
In the photo you are playing in the Nike team at the Amsterdam 7s. I assume working for Nike they provide lots of opportunities for sporting activities outside of work? Sport is in the DNA of Nike and this something which runs through the company at all levels. Many of the employees have played sport to a high level and most people here have a passion for sport to a greater or lesser extent. The sports facilities at the European head office are fantastic, far better than the average health club. The facilities at the world headquarters in Oregon are on a different level altogether. There are organized sporting events across a range of sports and everyone is encouraged to participate. In the words of Nike’s founder, Bill Bowerman, “If you have a body, you are an athlete.”
Do you think it is important for lawyers to have hobbies and sporting interests? I think it is vital to have wider outside interests and things you like doing. I don’t think it matters what they are – they could be sport, music, art, anything really. I’m not saying there is anything wrong with having jurisprudence as your outside interest, but it doesn’t do it for me!
How would you describe yourself? Pass.
What is the best experience in life you have had so far? I cannot pinpoint one. I suppose travelling the world and seeing what’s out there.
How important is it to have a healthy work-life balance? That is a personal choice and a little different from saying it is important to have outside interests. Personally, it is important for me. However, I know other people who do not have what I would describe as a healthy work-life balance, but have fulfilled lives as their career is what drives them more than anything else. Perhaps a happy medium is best but it depends on the individual.
Jonathan is European Real Estate Counsel for Nike,
with overall responsibly for the real estate assets
of Nike and its subsidiaries across EMEA.