IRIS Legal gets new managing director – we get the first interview
Last Thursday (1st July) saw Doug Hargrove formally join the IRIS Software Group in his new role as Managing Director – Legal Services. However he had hardly got his foot in the door before Orange Rag editor Charles Christian was bombarding IRIS HQ with requests for an interview…
Charles: In the legal IT world (and in common with other niche vertical markets) there is a perception that it is ‘special’ and therefore very difficult for outsiders to understand not so much the technology but the idiosyncrasies of the market, the way of doing business and the politics of dealing with law firm partners. Have you encountered similar situations in your career and how do you plan to accommodate these concerns?
Doug: Although I haven’t worked in legal before, I do have extensive experience of working in idiosyncratic markets, in particular in the retail sector working with ‘symbol groups’ – such as the Londis and Spar chains of shops. All these are independent businesses but are governed by a holding group, so I am used to the concept of canvassing the views of many and dealing with situations where end-users and line management may be divorced from the people who hold the purse strings. I’ve also had similar experiences working for retail groups where we have had to negotiate with industry bodies, banks and regulators on such things as barcode standards and credit card ‘chip & pin’ compliance issues.
I suppose the key thing is that I’m a listener rather than a speaker. I only act after I have canvassed the views of people – and in the case of IRIS, that also means their law firm customers. Two other aspects I will be bringing into IRIS from my background is my extensive experience of working with user groups and focus groups which I think will add value to the groups already established. It is vital we deliver value to our customers, deliver benefits, rather than place so much emphasis on the features of our software and services. We need to have a relationship that works for both parties – the supplier and the customer.
Charles: We all know about new brooms but have you any pre-conceived plans for IRIS Legal or do you intend to sit back and listen before introducing any new policies/plans/strategies?
Doug: I was lucky in that before I formally started work with the group, I had the opportunity to spend several weeks with Martin Leuw and the executive team here to get a feel for the business. I also met with the Legal senior team and I can see that they are a strong team who are really adept at working together to drive the business forward, I am looking to forward to helping them to build upon the great progress of the last year. We also have a great depth of domain (legal and IT) knowledge within our business, with circa 300 staff dedicated to the sector. These people are critical to the success of our business and so I will be looking at internal communications, to ensure we have full engagement with our own staff and to make our decisions more transparent.
Basically, we need to ensure our own people fully understand our strategy because only then they will be able explain it and sell it to our customers. As I’ve already mentioned, one of things I will be doing is listening to the issues on the ground with the customers. However I also want to look at the way we handle account management. I believe we need to improve this to ensure we address not only real concerns but also perceived concerns.
Finally, and again picking up on another point I made earlier, while we obviously must ensure we have technically the best software on the market, I also want to ensure the quality of our support services are the best in the market and, above all, that our software delivers real value to our customers by being relevant and addressing their needs.
Charles: With IRIS Legal having seen a lot of changes at the top since the original acquisitions and consolidations, can you offer any assurances to the market that you are here for the longer term?
Doug: I’m not a grasshopper who jumps from job to job and I think my career path supports this. My first senior IT director role was with Budgens when I was 28 and I was with that company for 11 years in all. I then spent 7 years with the ABS/Anker group and then another 5 years with Torex, when it bought Anker. When I join a company, I stay to see the job through – and that includes (as with Torex/Anker) dealing with the inevitable changes the follow acquisitions. I’m now 43 years old and I do believe my experience in retail is relevant to the legal market. I have experience of working in a business that has been built by acquisition. And, I also believe there is a closer similarity to the retail and legal worlds than might first be realised.
Over the past decade, retail had had to become far more customer facing in terms of service levels, pricing, online shopping and 24/7 availability. The legal profession is about to face the same challenges in the wake of the Legal Services Act, with law firms needing to become more customer-centric. Certainly there are technology issues here but, as with retail a decade earlier, there will also be cultural changes.
Charles: Tell me more about your role at Torex, where I believe you held senior positions in the group’s main UK subsidiary. I obviously have to ask this as the main board level disputes at Torex are well known and still under investigation.
Doug: The problems at Torex, which came to a head in 2007, were exclusively a matter between the directors and non-exec board members of Torex PLC, the main holding company. Below that were a series of 5 operating companies – including the UK subsidiary of which I eventually became the CEO. I was not a Board Director of Torex. That was a successful company, with a workforce of 1800 and a turnover of £180 million, however that was the extent of my role as I had no executive responsibilities with the main board.
(We were unable to discuss the case in any great detail due to legal reasons and due to Doug being a witness for the Crown).
Charles: What would you like to achieve during your first 100 days at IRIS Legal?
Doug: I want to focus on those things that will improve the business: the products, the support, our people and our customers. I want to improve our relationships with our people and customers. And, I want to meet and listen to as many of our customers as I can – both those who have had good experience and those who are unhappy.
Charles: Based on what you already know of the market, what are your longer term ambitions for IRIS Legal?
Doug: I had a number of job offers on the table before I accepted the IRIS role but the reason I came here is because I believe I can make a difference. I’m not here for the short term. I want to make IRIS Legal not only the best and most successful part of the IRIS Group, I also want it to be the best and most successful supplier in the legal IT market. I believe IRIS has made a great start in offering more commercial and thought leadership whitepapers designed to help firms and chambers think more about the wider issues and how their IT strategies can support them in their goals. I would like to urge people to read these free documents and I intend to help the team produce more as they are of real value to everyone in the legal sector.