Stockland in House Legal Department

Katherine Grace joined Stockland in 2014 as General Counsel and Corporate Secretary. Prior to her current role, she was General Counsel and Corporate Secretary of the Westfield Retail Trust. In 2014, Grace was a key member of the negotiating team responsible for executing Westfield Group`s $29 billion restructuring with Westfield Retail Trust. Previously, she held positions in private law where she worked for various companies and financial institutions on landmark developments in Australia and overseas, as well as Multiplex, Pacific Capital Partners and Valad Property Group. The role of the General Counsel has evolved significantly over the past 15 years, with many Advocates General expanding their engagement with business beyond oversight of legal and regulatory affairs to broader governance and risk specialists. As a result of the Royal Commission on Banking, Superannuation and Financial Services, the prudential review of APRA`s CBA and the recent consultation on compensation arrangements, the role of the General Counsel has evolved both at the board table and in the organizations in which he operates. End-to-end process review and assessment, risk appetite, consequence management and stakeholder engagement are all areas in which General Counsel play a strategic role today. While this creates excellent opportunities for counsel to broaden and broaden their roles, it also increases some of the traditional tensions for general counsel, who are both confidential and trusted advisors to their directors as well as active members of their management teams. In addition to the work of the legal team, I am also responsible for all risk management functions at Stockland, and we have focused on integrating our three lines of defence risk management and have implemented some key initiatives, including disguise, labour, health and safety, and crisis management. Additionally, over the past 12 months, my team has focused on our customer-centric roles, not only in terms of the processes and systems used to manage customer engagement, but also in how our customer-facing employees are evaluated and rewarded. For legal teams that primarily work with internal clients, this increased focus on voice and client experience is a great opportunity to assess their own stakeholder engagement from a new perspective. The General Counsel not only wears many hats, but also becomes an important facilitator of engagement across all business units. Indeed, it is clear that, according to the findings of the Royal Commission on Banking, Superannuation and Financial Services, risk, compliance, legal, financial and human resources functions must work together not only to understand how risks and rewards work in their organizations, but also to think strategically about the medium- and long-term consequences of the processes and systems that The organization has put in place.

It is becoming increasingly important for legal, risk management and compliance teams to understand compensation policies not only at the executive level, but for all employees. It was also interesting to observe the debate on some practical aspects of boards in the post-hayne environment. Many general counsel also serve as the company`s secretary and include board and committee meetings among their many functions. Following cross-examination by senior administrators on the nature, content and purpose of the minutes of the board of directors of the Royal Commission on Banking, Superannuation and Financial Services, there was much discussion about best practices for protocols. This was a welcome debate, as one of the many challenges for corporate secretaries is that due to the confidentiality of their content, there are few opportunities to share and discuss the format of board and committee minutes. In August 2019, the Australian Institute of Company Directors and the Governance Institute of Australia issued a joint statement on board minutes, summarizing key principles and legal issues. Stockland is an active real estate developer, manager and operator and over the past two years the legal team has played a key role in many major transactions, including the acquisition of multiple development sites for our residential and logistics operations. We have been instrumental in implementing our commercial asset divestment program and have executed key joint ventures, including our A$5 billion blueprint community in Aura on the Sunshine Coast and Melbourne Business Park, which will be Melbourne`s largest logistics hub when completed.

Our in-house residential transfer team is the market leader in the adoption of PEXA, and as the largest residential developer in Australia, we are committed to embracing technology to deliver great results to our clients when buying homes. Legal counsel are increasingly assuming responsibility for risk management functions within the organization they serve and, depending on the size and nature of the organization, are closely associated with or have responsibility for human resources and cultural functions. While this can create real synergies in identifying, assessing, and embedding consistency in the approach to risk in the organization, practical challenges that balance this for general counsel who run cross-functional business units include independence of their role, duties as practicing lawyers, and solicitor-client privilege. She has implemented a variety of initiatives, including the launch of a graduate program, detailed roadmaps and toolkits on key legal and regulatory areas, the development of internal precedents, and training. Grace notes that “as an in-house legal team, we add value by going beyond legal advice and working with the company to resolve business issues. We bring our professional perspective and expertise in managing our legal risks to seek opportunities and overcome business challenges. Legal advisors are lawyers who work in-house in organizations and provide legal advice on legal issues.

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