New Zealand Law Society - Corporate cray-diver takes on big ask 'work trip'

Corporate cray-diver takes on big ask 'work trip'

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Matt Wilson
Matt Wilson

When in-house lawyer Matt Wilson goes on a "work trip" later this year it's sure to be a full on gig.

Just appointed to a newly-created role as corporate relations and legal director for DB Breweries – which brews Rugby World Cup sponsoring partner Heineken under licence in Auckland – Matt's work trip includes hosting key customers at the RWC in England in September and experiencing Heineken's global sponsorship programme.

To say he's looking forward to it is an understatement.

But before then Matt - who turns 36 on Sunday - and his freelance graphic designer wife Anna, expect their second son to be born any day now, a brother for two year old Henry.

"Yes, life is busy," he says.

Matt Wilson
Entry to law
Graduated LLB from Canterbury University in 2002. Admitted 2003. 
Corporate relations and legal director at DB Breweries, Auckland. 
Speciality area
Public affairs, communications, sustainability, intellectual property, DB's property portfolio, managing disputes and corporate governance.

Away from the corporate world Matt enjoys getting out blue-water fishing and scuba diving for crays from a 5.5m runabout he shares with his father at Matakana, north of Auckland.

"We keep the boat at Dad's place at Matakana and it's perfect for two or three of us to get out for a dive."

"One of my workmates has a place at Whangamata on the Coromandel and we get out diving there too when we can."

"When we dive on holiday in Fiji it's about being a tourist underwater – here it's about bringing home food…"

After graduating Matt worked for Russell McVeagh in Wellington for two years and Auckland for a year, before joining leading UK-headquartered "Silver Circle" law firm Ashurst in Paris for 18 months.

He worked as a finance lawyer in Ashurst's international finance team.

"I loved Paris…the work and conditions were challenging but the city was great to live in…"

There was no opportunity for diving in Europe but he and his future wife Anna – who had lived in Europe for seven years and was based in London - did a lot of travelling."

"France is always a huge favourite…Especially Paris and the southern villages."

He joined Belgium-based BNP Paribas Fortis bank in London for a spell during the global financial crisis before the couple returned to New Zealand to be closer to family.

"It was a good time to be a lawyer working in a bank because we had to start looking at stuff that normally does not come to light, such as market disruption clauses…"

"That stuff is normally put "out the back" and forgotten, then suddenly it's the most important stuff out there."

Returning to Auckland Matt joined DB's legal team, then moved into public affairs and headed up the company's corporate relations team.

"For two years I was not doing any law at all but now the teams are back together again."

Attracted to in-house lawyering by the commercial aspects, Matt says he's never been a great black letter lawyer.

"I've always liked the commercial aspects and was looking to expand into corporate relations, to get a wider perspective of the business. I was on the cusp of going into sales briefly until this new option came up."

"I appreciate the ability to fall back on a lawyer's core skills to give black letter advice but the enjoyment for me comes in the commercial nuances, which is why I enjoy being in a brand-led company such as DB and Heineken, where reputation is absolutely paramount."

"Often someone will come with an issue they think is a legal issue but it's more often a reputation issue - where the bigger issue for the business is what might this mean for our reputation as opposed to what's the legal risk…"

With Heineken, for example, he says the main product is the name of the company and also the name of the family who own the company.

"Anything that impacts negatively on that name is going to have a huge impact…"

"Being in a highly regulated industry such as alcohol, reputation comes down to the ability to engage meaningfully with stakeholders."

"Which goes to how you protect your commercial freedoms and right to operate and do business."

"From a sustainability reporting perspective the biggest issue we face as an industry is misuse of alcohol. We need to be addressing that head on and looking for partnerships and opportunities to address misuse of alcohol…Otherwise we are just hiding from our biggest commercial risk…"

A fan of prison-set US comedy drama Orange is the new Black, and US dramas House of Cards and The Wire "the greatest tv show ever made and my benchmark for everything else that comes along," he struggles with program standards on local tv.

His favourite reading is Amitav Ghosh's The Ibis series (Sea of Poppies and River of Smoke) which encapsulates the colonial history of the east at the time of the 19th century opium wars.

The third book Flood of Fire has just been released.

Calcutta-born historical writer Ghosh, is the son of a retired colonel of the pre-independence Indian army.

Matt's father is a New Zealander born to a British father and New Zealand mother on a tea plantation in Sri Lanka, and having travelled in Sri Lanka has a feel for life at the tail end of the British Raj.

"You can't compare life here with life in Europe but after we came home to New Zealand I went on a successful fishing trip to Great Barrier Island. On the way back it was great day and I was sitting in the back of the boat…"

"Suddenly it all made sense – this is why I'm in the right country…"

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