Christine very kindly agreed to be our first interviewee of 2016, returning after a few years to let us know how life has been with Freeths and to offer her invaluable advice after 40 years working in law.
Christine Oxenburgh – Freeths LLP Transcript
What’s your name, position and where do you work?
I’m Christine Oxenburgh, I’m a partner at Freeths and I work on New York Street in Manchester. I describe myself as the fan cleaner because it’s my job to stop it sticking, but if it sticks, to get it off again.
Describe your business in one sentence.
We are a free-thinking national law firm that thinks differently, gets results and builds trust with our clients.
What have been the highlights of your company so far?
Well, if you look on our website, we’ve got quite a lot of awards and the ones I think I’m proudest of are last year, we won the UK diversity award and we also were in the Sunday Times Top 100 best companies to work for which means it must be a pretty good place to work.
What qualities do you need for your industry?
Quite a lot of people think that lawyers are really fusty and boring and we live in ivory towers and all that sort stuff but that’s not very modern. So the modern era needs to encompass technology and what clients actually want and to be able to do that you have to have the right people with the right culture who are not going to follow down the tramlines, going to think for themselves and embrace what today’s modern world gives us so that we can look after our clients properly.
Why would businesses choose Manchester?
Oh goodness! Where on earth do I start? Right. Let’s go back to Mancunians, Manchester people. I was born in Manchester. Quite a lot of people that work in the city come from good Manchester stock. So you think what we’ve got in our history and where we came from, so we’ve got the Pankhursts and we’ve got the co-operative movement, we’ve got great actresses like Maxine Peake. There’s a great history of people doing good things. So nobody ever made things better by following the rules and Mancunians won’t follow the rules. Think about Peterlee – Peterloo. Think about Peterloo. So that’s what we’re built on.
And then you look – we’ve got a great infrastructure. Yes, alright the city’s a real mess at the moment but that’s only because it is going to be better. So we’ve got railways, we’ve got the roads, we’ve got the airport nearby, we’ve got some pretty good office buildings to work out of. We’ve got the biggest centre for students for tertiary education in Europe, so we’ve got the brains as well – all we need to do is keep them here. So there’s just such a fantastic background for somebody to want to come and have their business in.
And you can have a bit of fun as well when you’ve finished.
Who are the most influential people in the local business scene?
Well, Sir Howard Bernstein and Richard Lees are a given. Tony Lloyd – I don’t think he’s made his mark yet. I’m a big fan of Dame Nancy Rothwell who is the Vice Chancellor of Manchester University. She’s also on the board of AstraZeneca which is an important company for our region, and she’s on the Council of Science and Technology. So, if you take Sir Howard and Richard, they are sort of overtly influential but she must be very influential behind the scenes. And I don’t think we should forget people like Michelle Saidi who is the leader of Manchester Youth Council because she’s only 18 but she’s already making her mark. So what she’s doing, the public aren’t going to see but she’s going to influence those the public do see. That’s who I’ve got in mind.
Any advice for startup companies in Manchester?
New companies starting up should always do their homework. So you will start a business – very often you will start it with someone who is a friend so you probably like each other when you start out. A lot of the work I do is sorting out businesses that are failing because the partners or the shareholders aren’t getting on any more. And so at the beginning, you need to imagine what it is going to be like if you don’t want to work together anymore and build your framework. You should take advice, get every grant going and every piece of assistance that the government will give you that you can find. And ships and ha’p’orth of tar – if you don’t take advice from your bankers, from you accountants, from lawyers, you might not have a good structure to start with. And the whole idea – if you’ve got a good idea you need to be able to turn it into money because we don’t go to work as a charitable institution, we choose what we are going to do and enjoy making what we are going to live on. So a good idea doesn’t necessarily become your lifeline.
Who are some local companies you would recommend?
Well, when you say recommend, there are two sides to recommend. One of them is would I recommend that somebody buys from them? And I don’t want to deal with that because you only buy from the people you like that suit you, so it’s got to be for you. But if you look at companies I would recommend to look at to see if you want to emulate them, if you’re proud of them, you want to use them as an example about how Manchester is great, there are quite a lot.
Now what I’d like to think about are the ones that are sort of home-grown. And we’ve got quite a few of those. So we’ve got Peel Holdings, we’ve got Bruntwood, and Barretts are quite big news around here, even though they started in the North East. And then you’ve got other people in technology industries like A&S and UK Fast but they’re the names that are already known and from the work I do, I know there are lots of businesses whose names are not so well known that really are great and they’re going to go in fantastic places. If you look in the technology sector, there are lots and lots of them because it’s one of the core industries of Manchester now and there are so many I think will go far.
What’s the main benefit of working in Manchester?
Well I’m a big fan of Manchester. I was born here and then I’ve been around the world a bit. I spent 12 years working in Hong Kong which is possibly one of the world’s most exciting cities so to come back to Manchester, your expectations have to be managed. This city has such a fantastic buzz, I really love it, and the the difference between London and Manchester for me is in Manchester, I can get in and out quicker so I can have the buzz in a shorter time. I love where I work, I love being in the city, I like the buildings in the city, the new and the old in juxtaposition to each other and the business here is great. There are some fantastic businesses to look after and the work for me is challenging and just excellent. So why wouldn’t I want to be here?
Your favourite place to eat and drink in Manchester?
My favourite place to eat and drink in the city is probably where I’m eating and drinking at the time because I quite like doing that. I’ve got some favourite places, I like Fumo, I like Restaurant Bar and Grill, I’m just about to try Gino D’Acampo’s new restaurant but there are some great places to eat. We haven’t got a Michelin Star but I don’t really care so wherever I am.