When it comes to technology and the law, its all geek to Sean Radcliffe, the new general counsel of Ciber Inc. As a college freshman in 1987, he was the first guy in his fraternity to have his own personal computer. Last month, he took up his first general counsel post at the global IT consultancy, based in Greenwood Village, Colorado.
He takes over for former general counsel Susan Keesen. Radcliffe is porting over from information services company IHS Inc., where he served as chief legal counsel and chief compliance officer. Before that, he worked as a senior attorney for telecom company WilTel Communications, and at one point launched a solo practice dedicated to tech start-ups.
I am, at heart, an admitted geek, says Radcliffe.
After growing up in Boulder, Colorado, Radcliffe attended high school in Tulsa. He majored in English at Oklahoma State, and earned his J.D. from the University of Tulsa College of Law. He clerked at Pray Walker during law school.
Between his time at Pray Walker and his associate years at Conner & Winters in Tulsa, I really got to see all aspects of the business world, he saysfrom acquisitions and IPOs to litigation and bankruptcies. These are important experiences and perspectives to bring to any business environment, says Radcliffe.
But he also put a longstanding interest in technology to work. As the Internet took off in the mid-to-late 1990s, he explains, I began to develop a niche as the guy who could talk to the small start-up companies. Though he doesnt claim to be an IT guru, for a civilian, I can run with the concepts and understand the language, he says. I can translate back and forth.
For a brief time, Radcliffe opened his own startup-oriented practice, Fogdog Legal Counsel. After the dot-com bubble burst, he re-directed his career path in-house and WilTel general counsel David Newsome, a former Conner partner, brought him into the communications companys law department.
The telecommunications industry was reeling from a sudden abundance of bandwidth capacity left behind by the many tech enterprises that shuttered in the early 2000s. This was a time when not many of those companies survived, Radcliffe recalls.
Working on WilTels own bankruptcy restructuring proved a career highlight. The legal team helped turn the company around under classic crucible conditions, Radcliffe saysa series of dynamic, high-pressure negotiations and litigation matters. It was one of the best experiences of my legal career.
For his next act, Radcliffe joined IHS, a technology-information company that was basically re-inventing itself. In 2005, a year into his tenure as a securities lawyer at IHS, the firm went public. His role evolved to encompass the companys intellectual property portfolio; he also doubled as chief compliance officer.
Every business needs to define what it means by compliance. Its not something that can be assumed, Radcliffe says. There is no standard out there that fits every business and every industry.
As a self-described governance geek, too, Radcliffe is proud of the fact that IHSs board formed a risk committee to guide the company on risk and compliance, rather than leave those issues to the audit committee. It really did not come into being until the board saw the need for it, he says.
Which goes to Radcliffes belief that while in-house lawyers have an opportunity to advocate for change, their ideas stand a better chance when senior business leaders get behind them. The idea is to advocate for something in a way that allows it to become someone elses idea, says Radcliffe. Thats a success.
At Ciber, Radcliffe already knows where he has his work cut out for him: finding more cost-effective, efficient ways to deliver legal services to the business. For the past five years, he says, our industry has been focused a lot on the billable hour versus value-billing. But Radcliffe says that the billable hour is only the symptom of a larger disconnect, which is that in-house counsel and outside counsel arent aligned on the same incentives.
Its going to take not only better relationships, but new forms of relationships with our outside counsel, he says.
Meanwhile, hes excited about learning the ropes from his new colleagues. Ciber is in the business of helping its customers deploying new technologies, Radcliffe says. And for someone with a lifelong love of technology, he adds, its like being in a candy store.