Can We Get Any Faster?

Technology is speeding up the C-suite. For Jim Edwards, that’s not necessarily a bad thing

Jim Edwards, Senior Vice President, General Counsel & Secretary

With an extensive background in the technology and defense industry, Jim Edwards currently serves as the senior vice president, general counsel, and secretary of Cubic Corporation, a defense and transportation-systems company founded in 1951 and employing nearly 7,800 people worldwide. The Cubic law department has five lawyers in the United States, one in the United Kingdom, and one in Australia. Profile recently sat down with Edwards to hear about the dynamic role of general counsel in this technological space.

1. What’s your background in the technology industry? How have you seen this change the role of the GC?

I’ve worked at several technology and defense-related companies over my career—Logicon, Inc.; General Atomics; Qualcomm; Kratos Defense; and some smaller companies. In 2008, I started with Cubic Corporation in its transportation group, which does fare-collection systems for subways, buses, and ferries around the world. I moved into my current role as SVP, general counsel, and secretary in 2012. And over the course of my career, what I do definitely looks much different than it did in the past. On a personal level, in my early years, we barely had a workable fax machine, but that technology allowed transactions to move beyond the speed of mail delivery. And now, with electronic technologies, transactions not only move faster, but attorneys by necessity are doing a lot more of their own work. They don’t need their assistants to do as much secretarial work, which frees the assistants to do more interesting and varied work within the law department. But the changes go well beyond this.

2. In what way?

The speed of business has increased dramatically. Cubic Corporation is an international business and we need to work at all hours to address issues around the world. The only way to manage this effectively and timely is through e-mail and the electronic transmission of documents. We’re also working with technologies to allow less flow of paper and create more efficient ways of getting information among our management team and our board of directors. All of these technologies have changed the way we handle our materials—how we make it secure, how we deal with our business team, and how we deal with outside counsel. Speed drives everything.

3. Speed is a result of technological change. Is it possible to qualitatively assess this change, or is your response more a matter of process?

When you respond quickly, you still need to take care that you’re responding carefully. Often, businesspeople in different parts of the country or the world are working on their own schedule, so we’re always facing different priorities. Our law department staff is very attuned to supporting the business units and anticipating issues in order to resolve or mitigate them before they get to be too big a problem.

4. What does this look like at Cubic Corporation, specifically?

Over this past year, our company has gone through material transition. The founder of the company, who founded it in 1951 and was CEO until he died in 2012, still owned 40 percent of the company when he died. We have had to transition out of the mode of having a dominant shareholder to having a more conventional shareholding structure. This has been an unusual project and a big effort, which also involved corporate leadership succession. Further, since we have a substantial presence in the defense arena, we have been dealing with both the anticipation of and the fact of sequestration. It is not yet clear how the budget cutbacks will affect the company. However, our defense segment has a significant amount of international business, which should mitigate some of the domestic budget pressure.

5. In the midst of these changes, what are some of the other issues you’re now facing that you haven’t had to face in the past? 

Cyber security and data privacy are growing concerns. Our transportation business deals with third-party personal information, so we work with our customers on maintaining a secure system to protect data privacy. Also, as a defense contractor, we have teams working very hard to maintain a secure IT structure. We are pinged every day by individuals and countries that do not have our best interests at heart. We’re also looking at our compliance processes across the company, to be sure we are structured properly. Those are issues layered on top of the usual concerns such as litigation risks, patent issues, FCPA, and corporate governance matters.