When it comes to dealing with change, Scott Offer, the general counsel and senior vice president of Motorola Mobility, is cool as a cucumber. That’s largely thanks to his childhood. With a father in Britain’s Royal Navy, Offer and his family moved frequently. He was born in Singapore, where his father was stationed during the conflicts between Indonesia and Malaysia in the early 1960s. Later, the family moved to Scotland and finally England. “I didn’t like moving as a kid—we moved every two or three years,” Offer says. “But in hindsight, it made me very resilient and flexible and able to adapt quickly.”
Offer’s resilience and innate curiosity eventually led him to study law at the London School of Economics and Political Science, University of London. After his studies, he joined a London firm, Boodle Hatfield, where he carried out his required two-year training contract. (Students in the U.K.’s law school system must complete such training with law firms before they can qualify for independent practice.) While at the firm, Offer worked on a variety of commercial work.
Offer finished out the last six months of his training in-house at Royal Dutch Shell in London, where the GC challenged him. “He gave me this huge stack of files, and with a cheeky grin, he said, ‘Well, get on with it,’” Offer recalls. “I soon found myself responsible for Shell’s nondrilling interests in West Africa. I was initially terrified and told them I wasn’t qualified. But he encouraged me.”
Offer says it was the exciting, hands-on experience at Shell that convinced him he wanted to pursue a career in-house. In 1990, he applied for and landed a job as deputy U.K. general counsel within Motorola Inc.’s European law department. Twelve years later, Offer moved with his wife and two sons to the Chicago area to work for Motorola’s Mobile Devices division. He became GC of Motorola Mobility in 2010.
Offer’s ability to acclimate and navigate change has been a boon to the company as it has tackled a series of projects and challenges in the past two years. Last May, Google Inc. acquired Motorola Mobility for $12.5 billion. Offer took a leadership role in developing the new management’s vision for the future of the company, which included a focus on agility and speed. He also guided the company through three major commercial and M&A transactions collectively valued at $11 billion in the latter half of 2012.
Q: What’s a typical day like for you?
A: The great thing, and it’s an honest statement, is that I really haven’t experienced a typical day in 23 years. But we’re always focusing on critical problem-solving. Our businesspeople are often developing technologies that are ahead of the law. There’s no legal framework for thinking about some of the stuff that’s being done. I have an M&A focus when that’s needed, a patent focus when that’s needed, a litigation focus when that’s needed. The wheel is constantly turning.
Q: Talk to me about the major projects you handled over the past couple of years and how you guided your legal department through them successfully.
A:We’ve had several phases in our recent developments. The first phase was transitioning Motorola Mobility out from Motorola Inc., which we completed in 2011. And then we had a short period of independence as a public company. Then we merged with Google and had nine months of regulatory approval to get through.
The one thing that has remained constant is people feeling uncertain as to what’s next. I’ve focused on saying, “You can’t control what the future holds, good or bad. Let’s just concentrate on executing what we do really well.”
One advantage of the situation we’re in is that the development plans can be extremely exciting. We’re able to take on things that stretch us. And essentially, what we were able to do was help the company be the right structure and format for Google. In this current phase, we’re doing the things we want to be doing as a company, which is focusing on new products and growth.
Q: What do you find most rewarding about your work?
A: There are two things. One is fixing really hard, seemingly intractable problems. The other is working with people on their own personal development. Mentorship is important because it gives context to what you’re doing.
Q: What do you find most challenging about your work?
A: The most challenging is dealing with uncertainty. You have to become used to that because that’s the nature of the beast in the mobile-device industry. If you ever think anything’s certain, then you have a false sense of security.
Q: What advice would you give to a lawyer who wants a successful career in-house?
A: Seek out companies that are doing interesting, innovative things or fixing important problems. They likely need legal support to help them grow. Have technical expertise and be able to apply that. Seek out companies that reward that. The key to being a successful in-house lawyer is the ability to connect the value of what the discipline brings with your own unique value. You have to become very versatile. You might get responsibility thrust upon you at a much earlier stage, and you have to get more comfortable making those risk-reward tradeoffs and advising on business issues and legal issues. You have to have more business savvy than in a law firm.
Q: What is your proudest moment as a lawyer?
A: I have two proudest moments. One was the day we stood on the balcony at the New York Stock Exchange and introduced Motorola Mobility as a publicly traded company. The second one was a year ago when we completed the merger with Google. We as a legal department played a great part in that merger, and it’s going really well. We’re operated independently, and yet we’re able to take advantage of each other’s skills. We meet with them regularly and try to learn from each other. They’re the experts in computer science, and we’re the expert in materials science and all the business related to that.
Q: If you weren’t a lawyer, what would your dream job be?
A: I’d want to be a drummer in an indie rock band.