I have had the pleasure of getting to know Ian through his service on the Yale Law School Executive Committee with me. He has had an illustrious career where he has had to tackle critical issues at the forefront of technology and the law, including in his current position as Senior Vice President, General Counsel, and Secretary of BAE Systems Inc. BAE Systems employs approximately 32,300 employees in different locations around the world, and it generated sales of $10.5 billion in 2015.
Cynthia Cwik: Please describe your current position and the career path that led you to your current position.
Ian Graham: I am the Senior Vice President (SVP), General Counsel (GC), and Secretary of BAE Systems Inc., an international aerospace, defense, and security company headquartered in Arlington, Virginia. In this role, I am responsible for all of the company’s legal matters, as well as its compliance, contracts, ethics, security, and international trade functions. I also serve on the BAE Systems Inc. Board of Directors.
After graduating from Yale Law School in 1993, I started out in private practice representing defense and technology companies in their U.S. federal contracting activities. The lure of the dot-com boom in the late 1990s led me to my first in-house role at an Internet service provider (UUNET), which had been acquired by WorldCom. After the dot-com bubble burst, in 2002 I returned to private practice for several years in the government contracts, telecommunications, and corporate practice groups at Jenner & Block LLP.
A client in the compound semiconductor industry (EMCORE Corporation) enticed me to return to the corporate world in 2004. I then was recruited by Armor Holdings, a rapidly growing defense contractor at the time, to join them as SVP and GC in 2006. We sold the company to BAE Systems in 2007, and I was promoted to my current role as GC at BAE Systems in 2010.
Cwik: What has surprised you the most about your current position?
Graham: The breadth of the legal and business challenges that arise almost every single day is enormous. The regulatory and contractual landscape is constantly changing, and the current enforcement regimes are increasingly aggressive. Working with a strong, multidisciplinary legal and compliance team is essential to staying on top of those challenges.
Cwik: What background do you have with science and technology issues?
Graham: I have been interested in and involved with technology since childhood, learning to program computers at age 12 on the original Radio Shack TRS-80 personal computer. Later, while working at UUNET, my interest in the business and technology aspects of the Internet led me to work outside of the legal function for several years, managing the company’s telecom procurement activities and running a DSL business unit. Many of the legal matters that I have worked on over the years have involved complex technologies (airplane systems, communications devices, ballistics and armoring solutions, networking architectures), and I often found myself as the “go to” attorney when the technologists needed legal help.
Cwik: How do you keep up with advances in science and technology?
Graham: Over the years, I have tried to make up for my lack of formal science and technology training by being curious and asking a lot of questions. I read a lot about technology developments and tend to be an early “explorer” of next-generation technologies—some of which I adopt, many of which I don’t (after evaluating them for a while). There are some amazing technologies being developed, but applying them to real-world, practical applications that make a material improvement in efficiency or effectiveness—whether in life or business—is where the rubber meets the road.
Cwik: What do you see as the next big science or technology trend that you will have to deal with?
Graham: In the intersection of technology and law, I see profound challenges associated with the protection and managed sharing of electronic information. This has become a critical issue facing the world. The defense industry has been dealing with cyber-related challenges for many years, and other sectors are just now recognizing the threat to their businesses and their customers. The broad concept of “connected devices” creates a difficult tension—how to share some information with some (trusted, friendly) devices, but robustly protect all other information from every other device (including hostile ones). If large IT departments struggle with these challenges, despite their knowledge and resources, how are mere mortals to cope? Legal constructs can only go so far in a global environment of borderless data—both the technologies and the laws have to be synchronized.
Cwik: What keeps you up at night when it comes to your job? Why?
Graham: I sleep well most nights. A former boss and good friend once told me to focus on what I can control, and not worry about the things that I cannot. As a legal and compliance function for a large company, we try to be introspective and realistic about the present and foreseeable challenges. Risk assessments help to focus our energies on the areas that could materially impact the enterprise and need improvement. So long as we are continuously getting better in the areas that matter most, dealing with the occasional “stuff happens” is just part of the job.
Cwik: What is the best career advice you have received? What career advice do you have for people who want a job in a science- or technology-related field?
Graham: Professional careers are a marathon, and not a sprint. Take the time to network, ask questions, be inquisitive, and learn about new areas and issues (in the law and otherwise). Especially in-house, a lot of legal work is about connecting dots and issue spotting—and then leveraging others for the appropriate expertise to address them. Specific to the science and technology realm, spend a lot of time with the technologists and engineers, learning about what they are doing and how things work. If you have a basic understanding of, and genuine interest in, what they are working on ahead of time, helping the company navigate through any related legal challenges later will be much easier.