A Smart Pairing

Senior vice president and head of legal Eric Adelson received his bachelor of commerce degree in finance from McGill University. He worked in business for a few years before heading to law school at the University of Toronto, and he spent five years doing corporate and securities law in a private law firm before deciding he wanted a different kind of lifestyle and joining an investment-management firm, where he stayed for seven years. He joined Invesco Canada in 2008 and today reports to the general counsel of Invesco Ltd.

Invesco’s Eric Adelson closes the gap between legal and business

One of the best pieces of advice Eric Adelson ever received was this: When you’re in a group meeting, listen before jumping into the conversation. That way, you can tailor your message and be more effective.

The approach has served him well as senior vice president and head of legal for Invesco Canada. A subsidiary of global investment-management firm Invesco Ltd., Invesco Canada offers a wide array of investment options to meet the varied needs of retail and institutional clients in Canada, including offerings such as actively managed products, passively managed products (index products), and products with differing levels of risk that produce a steady income stream. Adelson helps the firm’s business as a whole by focusing his team to assist with larger endeavours.

His responsibilities include supervising a team of four lawyers in Canada, working with regulators in Canada, and providing legal advice to Invesco Canada and to global affiliates with interests in Canada. A typical day for Adelson entails reviewing regulatory developments, consulting with his team, talking with the president of Invesco Canada, and handling any problems that client-facing departments such as the client-administration group need assistance with. The legal team also works with marketing and with the product-development group on promotion of the company’s products. “For new products, legal does an analysis of risk,” Adelson says. “We write up the disclosure. We draft agreements.”

$409.6 billion

Assets under management (as of September 2008)

$811.8 billion

Assets under management (as of August 2014)

5,900

Employees globally

900

Employees in Canada

Perhaps most importantly, the legal department helps portfolio managers achieve their goals, though not always in the way they might have originally envisioned—because legal can often foresee obstacles along the original path. “They want to get from point A to point B, and we help them find the best route to get there,” Adelson says. “We don’t tell them what to do; either we provide legal reasons why they can’t make the investment they want to, or we explain how they can achieve their goal by different means. It’s like heading to a shopping mall a mile away: you think you’ll just walk there, but once you get going, you can see that there are obstacles, like heavy traffic, impeding you. We would just find another way for you to get to the mall.”

Because Adelson is also on Invesco Canada’s executive committee, he estimates that 30–40 percent of his job really has more to do with business than with legal issues. “You’re involved with all the business initiatives,” he says. “From an intellectual perspective, there’s real value in that, and it’s interesting to participate in running the business. In a way, you’re sort of helping determine what questions to ask the lawyers.”

The vision of Invesco is to be one of the world’s leading investment-management firms. Adelson feels that one of his greatest contributions has been his effort to work collaboratively with the company’s business functions to achieve this goal. “Once business decides what it wants to do, legal helps them get it done,” he says.

“When I started at Invesco, there wasn’t a great relationship between the legal and investment departments,” Adelson adds. “When different parts of the business don’t have good relationships, they may not consult with legal when they should, which can lead to problems for the company. I worked hard to rebuild the relationships with the business in general—and particularly with investments—and I think I have succeeded. In fact, there’s a leadership team for investments that meets monthly, and they asked me to join them for these meetings. That was a big deal.”

Another way Adelson has contributed is by helping get the president of Invesco Canada engaged with regulators. “Now they invite him to participate in panel discussions that they didn’t before,” Adelson says. “So now we have a more prominent voice in the industry.”

Adelson hopes to continue improving Invesco’s business as a whole from the legal side, and being in-house only helps him do that. “For everything you do, you can understand why you’re doing it,” he says. “You work with a lot of areas of law, but the strategic context is always the same because everything is for Invesco.”