Q&A: Funke Abimbola

Roche’s award-winning GC and head of financial compliance for the UK and Ireland talks about maintaining a work-life balance, how she prioritises the many causes close to her heart, and why Elizabeth I is her role model.

What triggered your move in-house?

Funke AbimbolaI had initially qualified in-house, and loved the experience of being part of a commercial organisation. Coming from a family of doctors meant that I wanted to work directly within the healthcare sector. When I moved to Roche, it felt like coming home – law and medicine had finally met.

How did you go about building the profile of the in-house team at Roche?

Conducting an internal perceptions survey soon after I joined in 2012 was key to getting a sense of what our clients thought of us and what we could improve on. We then worked on improving our visibility across the business, providing branded training initiatives, partnering with the business and networking more extensively. We nominated ourselves for external team industry awards, and were recognised through a range of awards programmes. The business recognises us as an industry-leading legal team.

How do you demonstrate the value of your team to the wider business?

We partner with the business and are seen as being an integral part of it. We proactively horizon scan to ensure that we are ahead of the game. We manage organisational risk by implementing a range of innovative training initiatives using a host of different media, including filming. The external awards recognition has also really helped, as the business sees that we are consistently ranked as being a force to be reckoned with.

What would you say are the three main challenges in your role?

Being followed into the toilets for legal advice! I am in huge demand at work, and it is very common for colleagues to try and grab ad hoc advice as I am rushing to the toilets.

Juggling the sheer scale of my responsibilities at work. I wear so many hats in the office – I have legal, corporate compliance, financial compliance, data protection and senior leadership responsibilities for a key region within the Roche network. It’s no mean feat.

Saying ‘yes’ and ‘no’ to the right things, although 2016 was been a year where I learnt a lot about how to do this more effectively.

You have a large number of commitments in addition to your GC role. How do you maintain a work / life balance and manage your time? Is effective delegation essential?

Effective delegation is key, although I have core responsibilities that cannot be delegated. I have learnt where my boundaries lie, and have become much better at saying ‘yes’ and ‘no’ to the right things. I often wake up incredibly early to start working and find that uninterrupted time working from home goes a long way to helping me stay on top of things.

I limit myself to one to two speaking engagements a week at most, and rarely have speaking engagements on weekends. I also limit the amount of times I travel into London – it is an exhausting two-hour journey into London from where I work. I make a commitment to myself and my family at weekends to properly ‘down tools ’ and get much-needed rest and relaxation. I also switch off properly on holiday.

You are clearly passionate about many causes. How do you prioritise them all?

By focusing on those activities that will have the most impact. I have limited time and energy to devote to my causes, and am asked to do far more than I have time for. My core focus remains the legal sector and schoolchildren, with an emphasis on gender, race and social mobility issues. This focus helps me to prioritise what to spend time on.

What are your priorities for 2017?

I was promoted to GC and head of financial compliance on 1 January, so my priority is to develop into my new role and to support the development of my expanded team.

Outside of Roche, my priority is to continue broadening the impact and influence of my voluntary diversity and inclusion work. Being honoured as with a Point of Light award (which recognises excellence in volunteering) by the prime minister in October 2016 has been a major boost, and I hope more will come of this exposure during 2017. I will continue to expand my impact within the legal profession and with schoolchildren, and plan to partner with more organisations.

What keeps you working in-house?

I love being a part of the business and having direct input on the strategy of the organisation. I am a valued senior business leader within the organisation. To me, this is what being a commercial lawyer is really all about.

Who are your role models?

My parents, without a doubt – always so supportive of my goals and always believing in me and my potential.

I also have huge respect for Queen Elizabeth I, one of the greatest monarchs in English history. She ruled England for a significant period of time as a single woman and saw the country flourish in so many different areas. How on earth did she do it?

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