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Written by Charlotte Ashmore
on March 08, 2022

If John Gordon looks familiar, you may recognise him as your secondary school history teacher. Today, he’s better known as Steel & Tube’s General Counsel. After studying law, John embarked on a teaching career. After three years of teaching at Aorere College, John explored his other passion, law. Today, John looks back on his career journey and speaks of the importance of quality mentorship at every stage.

Tell me about your career journey to date

Despite starting my career as a teacher, I always knew that I wanted to work as a lawyer long-term. I trained as a teacher with a view to work in Zimbabwe followed by some travel before staring my legal career back home in New Zealand. However, that plan didn’t come to fruition, so I taught in New Zealand for a few years. I didn’t know it at the time but my days of teaching at Aorere College were the start of a life-long association with the school as my four children attended and I served as chair of the school board for several years.

After making the move into law, I was fortunate to hold a variety of roles in the early years of my legal career. This was great as it provided me with opportunities to work alongside some very skilled lawyers and interesting individuals. The highlights for me were working in criminal and corporate law. I also worked in the youth justice sector for an NGO.

What do you enjoy most about leading a team?

I enjoy the opportunity to work alongside others. I’m lucky to have a small team here at Steel & Tube which means I can play an active role in helping my people progress on their career and learning journeys.

We all remember our first few years on the job. The moments that stand out are often those significant opportunities when someone trusted you to step up as well as the mistakes you made during that process. I credit my own career success to those who provided me with mentorship throughout my career. Anyone who has ever achieved in any aspect of their life was usually given a first chance by someone with influence. So, I like to pay it forward by offering the same opportunities to those who work hard and are passionate about what they do.

What makes an effective mentor?

As a result of being both a mentee and mentor throughout my career, I experienced the benefits of a quality mentor first-hand. I’ve learned that patience and clarity of thinking are key traits in an effective mentor. The latter comes with time as you gain an ability to articulate what is happening and how any problems are best resolved. Ultimately, it’s a cyclical process of trial and error which we all go through.

Looking back on my own mentorship journey, the greatest learning has been the importance of balancing being prescriptive with cultivating learning opportunities. My most significant career learnings came from being exposed to different professional challenges and being given the chance to learn under the guidance of a mentor. I always try to lead with a view to create professional development opportunities for those in my team.

What would make 2022 a successful year for you professionally?

Steel & Tube is a business in which you are rewarded for getting on with it. So, I’m excited to continue working on a wide range of business improvement projects which will indirectly further improve the customer experience. At Steel & Tube, customer satisfaction and the customer experience at every touchpoint is our most critical measures of success. For that reason, I’m looking forward to continuing to play a role in delivering on this key pillar of our business strategy.

Also, watching the continuous growth and development of my team is rewarding for me. I would like to see them take the next steps in their careers, so they continue learning and exploring to find what interests them.

How has the role of the General Counsel evolved over the course of your career?

Over the time I’ve been working in corporate law, I would say the General Counsel role is far more common today. The size of the in-house legal team has certainly increased over time as well. It’s now typical that the more time consuming, yet critical tasks are completed by external, specialised lawyers. This frees up myself and my team to tackle those big picture and high impact projects within Steel & Tube.

I’ve also seen the role of the General Counsel evolve in the sense that they are now an integral part of the Executive Leadership Team. This is great to see as the role is made even more interesting and varied by the opportunity to become involved with business improvement projects. As a result, you come to learn a great deal about the inner workings of the business.

How have shifts in technology impacted your work?

When I started out, it was commonplace to have a cabinet with high quality, costly legal textbooks on site. Today, a textbook is no longer a part of the lawyer’s toolkit. There are a range of online legal services which can be accessed instead.

It’s great to see that even an age-old profession, such as law, is being touched by digital transformation. The incremental improvements gained through something as simple as the electronic signing of a document or digital record keeping cumulate to allow both Steel & Tube and our customers to do business more efficiently.

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