ILANZ, In-House Lawyers Association of New Zealand


Profile - Melissa Anastasiou, General Counsel, Spark New Zealand

Profile - Melissa Anastasiou, General Counsel, Spark New Zealand

By Nick Butcher| 20 September 2016

Melissa AnastasiouDigital disruption and what it means for in-house lawyers

Melissa Anastasiou is the General Counsel for Spark New Zealand and leads a legal team of around 20 lawyers and compliance professionals.

Ms Anastasiou has been with Spark, one of the country’s the biggest communications service providers, since early 2009.

Ms Anastasiou’s legal career began in 1996 at both the Wellington and Auckland branches of law firm Minter Ellison Rudd Watts. By the turn of the millennium, it was time to explore the world which led to practising law in the United Kingdom at London law firm, Linklaters, where she worked for about two years in Mainstream Corporate.

The next career move introduced Ms Anastasiou to in-house lawyering.

“Linklaters was a fantastic experience but it was very transactional and at that level, you didn’t get a lot of exposure to business leaders. I wanted to be in a position to have greater influence over business outcomes and to see things through, beyond a deal. So I in 2002 I took a role  at O2UK, which is the mobile business that was spun out of British Telecom and was subsequently  acquired by Telefónica” she says.  Telefónica O2 proved a good fit and it was about eight years before she returned to the New Zealand lifestyle to resettle with her two young children.

“I was approached by Telecom as it then was, back in 2009 to lead a legal team supporting the technology in the shared services division -  basically the area of the company that runs the network and IT platforms” she says.

Fast forward a few years to 2014 and Telecom embraced the digital revolution to rebrand as Spark to reflect being much more than a telephone company.

Melissa Anastasiou held various legal roles between 2009 and 2013 before being appointed General Counsel, and she now leads the legal team for the entire Spark group.

When asked “what do you do with your day", she responds “like most in-house teams, we do a really wide range of legal work. The team is structured to provide a full service offering to our business.  We’re engaged in all regulatory and corporate issues along with matters arising from our customer, supplier and partner relationships together with risk and compliance activities.  As Spark has evolved its digital capability we have also been involved in a number of new areas such as big data, media, and the management of risk around data security. Primarily, my role is to lead the team but I also get involved in many of the transactions we do”.

“In a market that is highly competitive, greatly impacted by digital disruption and constantly changing, the company has had to look at how to continue to grow revenue by creating  new businesses, and as such, our legal team has had to evolve our capability in completely new areas and to  rethink our role in supporting the business.” she says.

Digital Disruption and how it will affect the in-house lawyer

Technology is at the forefront of most businesses nowadays and two words that are fast becoming important to understand are Digital Disruption.

At the ILANZmini 2016 conference next month, Melissa Anastasiou and Rodney Morris of Spark will delve into the subject by providing some perspectives on what digital business means for in-house lawyers, along with the challenges and opportunities that will be created by Digital Disruption.

“We’ll be presenting the perspectives that we’ve gained as part of a business that’s well underway in its digital transformation journey and talking about what disruption means for in-house counsel.” she says.

“Our emphasis has shifted to how we can enable business outcomes in a rapidly changing environment and within legal frameworks that aren’t designed for business and technology as it is today. We need to be forward thinking in a different way – pre-empting where our business will go next and finding ever more creative solutions to legal issues created by disruption.

You need to shape the pathway as opposed to waiting until the obstacles are right before you,” she says.

ILANZmini 2016 runs from 11 to 14 October in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch.