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Infosys’ Rosamund Browne: the importance of self-belief, resilience, and collaboration
02/09/2021
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Rosamund Browne
Authors
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John VDLD
John van der Luit-Drummond is editor of International Employment Lawyer

“I’m a very curious person,” replies Rosamund Browne when asked to summarise her “unusual” legal career. Over two decades, Browne has moved between employment law practices and legal departments at some of the world’s leading law firms and well-known multinationals. Currently, she is the global head of employment law, assistant general counsel, and UK compliance officer at Infosys, a global leader in next-generation digital services and consulting and an employer of more than 260,000 employees in over 50 countries whose efforts contribute to the company’s $14.2bn in annual revenue.

“I’ve been lucky. Not everyone gets the opportunity to move between in-house and private practice at different stages of their career in the same way I have,” she continues. “Every lawyer has a toolkit, but you need a slightly different one depending on whether you’re in-house or private practice, and every time you move, you end up sharpening your toolkit. While I have moved around, my husband’s been with the same firm for nearly 30 years. I don’t think one approach is better than the other. They’re just different. But also, I had three children and relocated internationally off the back of my husband’s job. I was the trailing spouse trying to keep my career growing after having three children in the space of three years. This has had a significant influence on my career choices at various stages. It has also taught me the importance of self-belief, resilience, and collaboration like nothing else.”

Consecutive short maternity leaves and international relocation with a young family halfway around the world meant Browne, in her own words, had to work her way back up through the ranks of the legal profession. But while such a route might “not be everyone’s cup of tea”, she believes it has made her a better lawyer and certainly a better leader.

From London to Hong Kong

Admitted to practice law in England and Wales, Hong Kong, and the Republic of Ireland, and with 20 years of international employment law and management experience under her belt, Browne has advised some of the world’s largest employers across the gamut of employment law issues, including mobility and immigration, disputes and litigation, deals, cross-border investigations, policy initiatives, corporate governance, and data privacy in Europe, the Middle East, Africa, Asia-Pacific, the US, and Latin America.

After graduating from the University of Manchester with a BA in economics and social studies, and completing law school at the then College of Law in London, Browne began her career as a trainee solicitor, qualifying in 2002, at RadcliffesLeBrasseur, a mid-sized, three-office law firm. But despite aspirations of qualifying into the London employment practice, she was pipped to the post by another trainee who qualified six months prior to her. “They didn't have enough spots and although they offered me three other seats I decided to stick with what I really wanted to do,” she recalls. Her decision to hold out for an employment law and litigation role soon bore fruit when an opportunity to join UK telecoms giant BT as a newly qualified (NQ) lawyer presented itself. “I now realise, with hindsight, that it was quite an unusual move  – at that time – to go in-house as an NQ. But I was like, well, this is the area of law that I am passionate about and what I really want to specialise in.”

This was all stuff you wouldn’t normally get as a junior lawyer

Any worries that Browne might miss private practice were soon dispelled. “It was the most fabulous opportunity in terms of just phenomenal quality work,” she says. “I was working on multimillion-dollar commercial disputes as well as complex employment matters; I was sent to an arbitration in Paris my second month and, a few months later to court in Italy, then I was sent to negotiate with trade union reps. This was all stuff you wouldn’t normally get as a junior lawyer. I absolutely loved it.”

In 2004, and after two years at BT in the UK, an opportunity arose to take part in a reverse secondment programme with Bird & Bird in Hong Kong. With the chance to continue honing her burgeoning toolkit overseas at a leading international firm, Browne did not hesitate to accept the offer. The decision would change her life forever, beginning with a rekindling of her private practice career when, after six weeks “twobirds” asked Browne to stay on in its litigation and employment practice. With BT’s blessing, she accepted the offer. “I was in my mid-twenties and Hong Kong is one of the most fantastic places to live and work in the world. It’s the heartbeat of Asia.”

Two years later, Browne was on the move again, this time joining legacy firm Barlow Lyde & Gilbert to work on some of Hong Kong’s hottest big-ticket litigation at that time before she received a call from her former boss and former global head of litigation and employment at BT with an interesting offer. Under his plans, Browne would set up a new employment and litigation team for the telecoms giant in Asia-Pacific. Over the next four years, she did just that, building the department from the ground up in Hong Kong and expanding into India and South Korea. So successful was the move that BT promoted Browne to Chief Counsel (their youngest ever) and added a US-based team to Browne’s expanding portfolio.

Relocation, relocation

It was during her second stint at BT that Browne had met and married Paul Browne, Simmons & Simmons’ partner and former head of financial markets, Asia Pacific, and now head of structured finance and derivatives, UK, and the couple had their first son, Freddie. Pulled between the competing pressures of her job and young family, something had to give. “While pregnant with Freddie I think I went around the world on planes two or three times due to the demands of my role. I ate a lot of dodgy plane sandwiches to deal with dreadful morning sickness” she recalls. “Then, after my second son, William, was born, that’s when I thought, ‘I need to change tack, not forever, but for now. I was spread very thin and I wanted to be there for my children. I didn’t want to miss out on them growing up.”

So, in 2012, Browne decided to once again return to private practice, this time as a senior associate at DLA Piper, to work with Pattie Walsh (then head of the multinational firm’s Asia-Pacific employment practice, now a partner in Bird & Bird’s global employment practice), but under certain conditions. “I said I didn’t want to be a partner and I didn’t want to be working all hours. Three months later, I was asked if I was sure that I didn’t want to be put up for partnership and whether I would like to work full time! I was then pregnant with my third child Alexander, and so it is fantastic to see how far international law firms have embraced diversity, but for me, I just knew that whilst it was an opportunity of a lifetime, with three children under three on the horizon, the timing was wrong.”

“While I agonised about the decision at the time, I am very lucky to have the benefit of a trusted network of peers and mentors who have supported me enormously over the years. The best advice (in my view) that I was given at the time and which I share with others on a regular basis now is that it is ok if your CV looks a bit like a game of ‘snakes and ladders’ for a period when your children are small; however, it is always best to try to keep your seat warm, if you can.”

So Browne moved to work with Duncan Abate, head of Mayer Brown’s Asia employment and benefits group. “Duncan knew I didn’t want the responsibility of partnership or running a team at that time but still wanted to do great quality work. He was absolutely brilliant, so supportive and, after about a year, we did start having conversations about the next stage of my career. However, Paul had an opportunity to relocate back to London that he very much wanted to pursue. He’d done 14 years in Asia by then, and I’d done 10. He felt that if we didn’t go back then, we'll probably never go back. So after much discussion, we made the move back to the UK.”

With a four-year-old, two-and-a-half-year-old, and an 18-month-old in tow, the family returned to the UK in the summer of 2014. Browne accepted a position as in-house employment counsel at avionics and tech specialists Rockwell Collins (purchased by United Technologies Corporation in 2018). Despite the somewhat more junior role compared to the positions Browne had held in Asia, her endeavours at the Cedar Rapids-headquartered MNC won Browne an individual award at the 2016 ACC European Counsel Awards.

However, feeling a little overqualified for the role, she left after two years to become assistant general counsel for EMEA at immigration law giant Fragomen in 2016. A two-year stint at the international firm led next to her joining Infosys in September 2018 as the EMEA employment law lead and, over the following three years, she has swiftly risen the ranks, first from EMEA employment law lead and UK compliance officer role to interim global head of employment law, a position that was made permanent earlier this year, along with her appointment as assistant general counsel.

A seat at the table

Assuming the reins of Infosys’ global employment law team has been a challenge, Browne admits, with the promotion coming as it did at the start of the covid-19 pandemic. Like many others who took on new responsibilities before coronavirus forced the world into lockdown, the opportunity to meet and build relationships with key Infosys stakeholders was significantly curtailed, she explains. And yet Browne is still able to find a silver lining in the cloud that has hung over the globe for close to two years. “The pandemic has been truly awful for all those affected, but for employment lawyers we’ve had a seat at the table in helping HR and the business make some of the most fundamental decisions,” she says. “Further, for international employment lawyers, you rarely now get an issue where just one jurisdiction is in scope. You’ve got to have an international perspective.”

Fortunately, Infosys’ in-house employment counsel are truly international. Comprised of seven different nationalities, speaking seven languages and spread across mainland Europe, UK, North America, and India, Browne’s 15-strong team (soon to be 20 as Browne has headcount to hire five more employment lawyers) responds to a huge range of employment-law related queries, deals with disputes and provides transactional support in the more than 70 jurisdictions around the globe that Infosys has interests in. No small feat, as Browne is keen to stress: “Employment lawyers have never been in so much demand as they have over the last 18 months. I don’t think there are any of us who have done a nine-to-five during that period anywhere in the world. Everyone’s been absolutely flat out, both in private practice and in-house.”

I haven’t forgotten what it’s like to be at the sharp end or what it’s like to juggle multiple priorities across the globe

With economies beginning to reopen, Browne believes employee wellbeing and mental health will continue to be important issues for employers to consider in the post-pandemic world. For her part, Browne takes the well-being of her team seriously. “As a leader, it’s really important for people to see you as accessible. I don’t want to see anyone on emails or calls at the weekend and I really want to know if people have been. I vigorously push back if requests come through for my team to make themselves available at weekends while also trying to lead by example. I’m really protective of my team,” she says.

“I’ve spent a great deal of time over the past 18 months, not only having lengthy one-on-ones with my direct reports, but as regularly as I can I also do skip-level reviews with the wider team as well. It’s not that I want to check up on what people are doing; it’s because I won’t run into them by the coffee machine or at lunchtime and due to the pandemic we haven’t had an opportunity to have an ‘in-person’ international off-site. I’ve done the job of everyone in the team as I have worked my way up from being the most junior lawyer to the most senior in the team at different organisations during my career. I haven’t forgotten what it’s like to be at the sharp end or what it’s like to juggle multiple priorities across the globe.”

And juggle, she does. In addition to the management of a global team, Browne also has her own caseload. So, how does she manage her work-life balance? “You have to be super organised and think hard about how you plan your day. My day starts with email exchanges or calls with Australia and then I slowly move through Asia-Pacific to India. I catch up with our Americas team around lunchtime when they come online. I tend to leave Europe for the afternoon. And then, if I work too late, Australia’s back online again,” she explains.

“A good week for me is probably 60 hours. I do at least 12 hours a day, but some weeks can be more challenging than that. I don't think senior legal jobs, whether they be in private practice or in-house, are nine-to-five, if I’m honest with you, because of the global nature of international business. When it comes to work-life balance, it’s more about managing the merge between the two. However, I try hard to take regular exercise – even if it is a quick run around the park in the rain – and carefully ring-fence my weekends. So, if I work till midnight on Friday, afterward I will switch off. I need to be a present parent at the weekend because our children have so many sports matches and training sessions and the weeks are so full-on. There’s probably only been six times in the past three years where I’ve worked a weekend. And that’s only because there’s been a really pressing issue. But, six times in three years, that’s not too bad.”

We’ve got to be careful about employee wellbeing, especially if you’re not seeing somebody day-to-day

As employers and employees begin to square off in a battle over the future of work in the post-pandemic world, does Browne have a preference for long-term working arrangements? “I'm a huge advocate of hybrid working,” she says. “It really aids a more diverse approach to the world of work; it enables people to spend more time with their loved ones, take more physical exercise and avoiding being stuck on planes, trains, buses and in traffic jams commuting. But, as human beings, we need to come together from time to time too; to meet up for some face-to-face interaction. And, again, we’ve got to be careful about employee wellbeing, especially if you’re not seeing somebody day-to-day.”

Improving diversity and inclusion is another burning issue large employers are increasingly being forced to tackle, and Infosys is no different. The tech giant recently announced a target of 45% female representation in its workforce by 2030. At present, around 38% of the company’s 260,000 employees are women. “I’m passionate about diversity. In view of my own experiences and all of those who have supported me and continue to support me, I will do anything I can to help the business and HR teams with their diversity initiatives,” remarks Browne. “It is so important to have a diverse leadership for there to be role models for current and future generations.”

Self-belief, resilience, and collaboration

Having zig-zagged between private practice and in-house roles throughout her career, what advice would Browne give to those employment lawyers contemplating their next career move? “I’ve had great quality work and experiences wherever I have worked, which has enabled me to build the capabilities for my next role. When you go to a new organisation, it is important to show that you know what you are doing from a technical legal perspective. However, you’ve also got to build trust with people through collaboration. That said, fundamentally, you should do a job that excites you. You’re at work a long time, so doing good-quality work in a supportive environment with people that you like is hugely important. If you’re not then, in my view, you won’t be happy and you won’t grow.”

On the topic of new opportunities, Browne is expanding her team and currently has headcount to hire five employment lawyers across mainland Europe, UK, Canada, and India; what are the top three traits she looks for in a candidate? “Number one is work ethic, which is a ‘given’. Natural talent will open the door but it is hard work that gets you where you need to go. Everyone in my team works really hard, supports each other and works collaboratively across multiple time zones, cultures, and languages. Number two is learnability. The world is constantly evolving and you need to be re-educating yourself, constantly up-skilling and being open to new learning opportunities and processes. The third trait is self-belief and resilience. If you don’t believe in yourself and build that resilience ‘muscle’ then, it’s going to be much harder to achieve your goals.

“No one has a good day every day, where everything goes as planned,” she continues. “It’s how you deal with that. I say the same thing to our three boys. It’s how you pick yourself up and treat others when you don’t win your football match or don’t get the swimming medal you think you deserve. How do you move forward? It’s the same in business.” It is also why it is so important to have a network of peers and supporters to act as a sounding board, give you honest feedback as well as a boost when you need it.”

There is nothing more rewarding than seeing people grow and reach their potential

From her perspective, what is it about working at Infosys and employment law, that Browne enjoys the most? “Fundamentally, for me, it’s the people that I work with day-to-day. I work with some of the nicest people and the best lawyers I have ever come across in a truly international environment. Also, if you’re a curious person, then there’s a lot to keep you stimulated with an unlimited number of great quality opportunities for training and upskilling as the business expands.

“I find investigations and litigation fascinating because they are both strategically challenging and there’s a lot of law involved. That said, more recently, I’ve worked on a number of large deals and policy issues so it’s good having that contrast. As a leader, I enjoy building teams and nurturing talent. There is nothing more rewarding than seeing people grow and reach their potential. I have been so fortunate throughout my career to have had so much support from so many people – there are too many to name (although hopefully they will read this and know how I grateful I am!) However, as a result, I am extremely conscious of the need to give back and help others.”

Looking back at her career to date, at all the disputes and transactions – both large and small – that she has contributed to, what achievement is Browne most proud of? “I love my job, but our three children are what I’m most proud of,” she replies. I am also incredibly lucky to have married my husband, who is not only a contract law ‘whizz’ but equally good at doing his share of unstacking the dishwasher, laundry, and homeschooling, particularly over the past 18 months. We both have full-on jobs, but the kids keep us completely grounded. There’s nothing like an eight-year-old who wants to relay every detail of his winning penalty kick in his football match. You don’t want to miss those kinds of moments.”