Every week at Crafty Counsel we focus on getting to know more about one of the members of our in-house legal community. This week we speak to General Counsel Ed Walker from Abellio. Abellio is a transport company operating in the bus and rail passenger transport markets in the United Kingdom (UK).

Abellio General Counsel, Ed Walker’s best career advice is to be yourself

Community Spotlight with Ed Walker, General Counsel, Abellio

Strengths and challenges

Ed describes himself as a Jack of all trades and says he has “worked everywhere”. He has worked in insurance, tobacco, distribution, fashion, fuel retail in Africa, oil refining and now in the bus and rail industry. He says one of his strengths is getting into a new industry and quickly finding out how it works and the people that make it work and to “add value fast”. Ed is simply not afraid of a challenge and it has been a theme of his career to go into challenging industries or ambiguous situations.

He says he has faced many obstacles in his in-house legal career journey, but he feels that the only way that he, and the rest of us, can survive is to adopt the mentality of, “take off the jacket and hang it up”. He believes that at the end of the day we should take our jacket off, hang it up, tell ourselves we did a good job, and then we will be ready to “take on the next challenge”. Ed believes that without this ability working in challenging and high pressure situations will inevitably impact your mental health and well beingHanging up your jacket requires you to also put down your phone, laptop and iPad and ensure that they are in a separate room at night, on a separate “peg”, so that you can truly switch off before the start of another busy day. Difficult to do in practice but vital to survive..

Career highlights

Ed says the peak of his career so far was having the opportunity to live and work in the Nordic countries for six years. He was based in Copenhagen, Denmark, and says it was very important to him that he showed his Danish colleagues that he truly cared about them and their culture.

So, every Monday for 18 months, Ed had an intensive three-hour, one-on-one Danish lesson in order to become fluent in the language. Ed says learning Danish helped to show the team the he is one of them and he earned the team’s respect by actually speaking their language.” He goes on to say that this “amazing opportunity” changed him as a person and a businessman.

Talents and hobbies

Apart from speaking Danish, Ed’s talents and hobbies include running, singing and presenting a radio broadcast for his local youth football team. Ed recently ran the Brighton Half Marathon and says he’s currently the fittest he’s been in his entire life after far too many years of focusing only on working!. Ed has a small, somewhat cheeky, grin on his face as he describes how if he could have an alternative job, “it would be something on stage or on TV.” He says, “Singing allows me to be on the West End Stage a little bit in my mind and dream of what could’ve been. Or what could be!” Ed says his current role has been the toughest job of his career so far, and going to singing classes, and presenting his irreverent football broadcast, are his secret weapons to help him de-stress and feel refreshed after a difficult day.

What are you most proud of?

When asked what’s most proud of, Ed laughs and says, “I survived! I can still laugh!” He then gets a little more serious and goes on to explain that every crisis is an opportunity for somebody like him. 

“It allows you to go into an organisation that’s actually never seen somebody operate in a true General Counsel role, and to be able, through a crisis, to transform the perception of what we do, what we can do, and what value we bring.”

Ed Walker

He says his position and influence in the organisation have changed vastly since the pandemic, and this gives him room to build. However, importantly Ed says that he is learning to just be proud of Ed Walker. At the start of his career he felt he was trying to be what he thought people wanted him to be. However, in recent years he has come to understand that in business people buy real genuine imperfect but authentic people and that he should be proud that for the last 20 years people have “bought” Ed Walker and what he brings uniquely to the role.

Coolest thing in legal at the moment?

Ed says he is a “big fan of legal spend management”, which he also says “has come a long way”. The fact that AI can analyse legal spending, produce a narrative, and “tell you stuff” is “incredible”, says Ed. He says he would like to be excited by more innovation in legal, but shares that he is disappointed that legal, particularly in the UK, has not progressed as much as it should have done in the last 10 years “. An example of where Ed feels the UK’s legal market can improve is when it comes to how law firms operate. He says they still think value comes from acting as “advisors instead of operating as businesses”. He wants advisers but he wants law firms to be hungry for something more meaningful to their clients.

Best advice you’ve received?

Ed Walker on the best advice he’s received during his career in legal.

The best advice Ed has ever received was from a partner at Burges Salmon in his early career who said, “This career of yours is a marathon, not a sprint… You’ve got to pace yourself.” Ed says he has constantly failed to take that advice, but his wife is his secret weapon and reminds him that he is allowed to stop sometimes, the same way that the Burges Salmon partner did roughly 20 years prior. “We’ll get wherever we’re meant to get to [in our careers], but [we] don’t need to do it at 100 miles an hour.” But, Ed says he’s still learning to take this advice to this day.