Peter Sinfield is Director of Privacy, International at Walgreens Boots Alliance and completed his LPC at ULaw while working at Vauxhall. His expertise in data-protection and law spans the automotive and pharmaceutical industries.
I chose ULaw or College of Law, as it was at the time, because it had a great reputation for providing a first-class training in law. It also had facilities in London which from a travel perspective was important to me. I was working as the Compliance Manager at Vauxhall and felt a grounding in law would be helpful for my job. Once I started, I realised it was the direction I wanted to take my career. As I had a full-time job at Vauxhall, it was necessary to complete the LPC part-time so I could carry out my studies while still working.
I had always wanted to work at Vauxhall, although I was never certain what exactly I wanted to do there. I ended up in the compliance role at Vauxhall as a Senior Director saw something in me and felt it would be a good career move for me. Once in the role, I always had an interest in data protection, so when I was made redundant, I knew that was the route I wanted my to take my career. I loved my time at Avon working with the various businesses across the world and understanding the differences in how data protection is handled between such interesting and varied places such as Kazakhstan, Germany, and Australia to name but three.
I was made redundant from Vauxhall because there was a downturn in the global economy, people weren’t buying cars. While I didn’t necessarily see it at the time, it was possibly the best thing that ever happened to me - once I got over the panic of having to put food on the table for my family. My move from Avon to WBA was more related to the fact that I couldn’t see any further growth for me at Avon in the privacy space. While I wouldn’t say there was a conscious decision to move to pharmaceuticals, I knew I wanted to move into another sector of business, to increase my portfolio of privacy knowledge.
As I currently work for a large blue chip multi-National, I spend a lot of my time supporting my team and the business to make data protection an enabler for business as opposed to a hinderance and a bureaucratic burden. Over and above the day-to-day privacy stuff, some of things I have been involved in, in the recent past, are: supporting our business in Thailand roll-out the new privacy law (PDPA), looking for a new training provider that has data protection training in gamification form and helping WBA spin off part of the business to a third party. We are ensuring that data protection principles are being adhered to pre and post closure.
I embarked on my current role at WBA because I was approached by an employment agency. As privacy is such a sort after skill there is no shortage of people reaching out to me on LinkedIn asking if I would be interested in applying for one role or another. Without my LPC I wouldn’t have been able to qualify as a solicitor and have the wonderful career I have.
Without a doubt the skills I learned on the LPC are skills for life. It may not seem like it at the time, but it quite often surprises me when I think about a legal problem and I realise that the answer I provide comes from the knowledge I picked up while at ULaw. On my LPC, there were people from all walks of life and from all backgrounds. Many of them like me, had a full-time job and were fitting in the LPC around this. I found them inspiring and they spurred me on to do the best that I could.
Moments I am proud of include qualifying as a Solicitor and taking my wife to the Law Society for the enrolment. You cannot qualify as a solicitor without the support of your loved ones, so it was nice to be able to take my wife along. The second thing was while at Vauxhall, due to my love of football, our sister brand Chevrolet asked me if I would help with the contract negotiations with Manchester United on a football shirt sponsorship deal. Even today when I see children walking around in Manchester United replica football shirts with Chevrolet on the front, I think I played a small part in that. I am not a Manchester United fan, I am a Chelsea fan.
WBA are brilliant about work/life balance and even prior to the pandemic they understood that my role is such that I can one day have calls with Thailand (6 hours ahead of UK time), and the next, calls with our head office in Chicago 6 hours behind UK time. So some days I may start early and finish early or start at UK lunch time and work through the evening. During the pandemic WBA could not have been more supportive, providing hardware where it was required, allowing people to come into the office in the early days and take their chair and equipment home with them. I am certainly not the first to say this, but if there has been anything positive about the pandemic, it is that employees’ well-being and mental health are now sharply in focus and working from home is now a credible alternative to the office.
To work in Corporate Privacy Compliance, you must be friendly, supportive of other people and listen to what people tell you. For anyone considering working in privacy and data protection, I would say - do it, it is the future. Data protection and privacy are the glue that holds all business together and for as long as technology pushes the boundaries of what living individuals do, data protection and privacy will be alongside it.
I think privacy/data protection is becoming such a vast topic that it will divide into sub-categories, and there will be privacy specialists in topics such as Adtech/Programmatics, AI/Machine Learning and Cloud Computing. I am currently working on projects related to all three of these topics and I know I could make a career specialising in anyone of these without even getting involved in general privacy items such as breaches, individuals’ rights, contracts, cross-border transfers and health data.
I don’t think privacy law has changed that much, the principles are pretty much the same within Europe. The GDPR sharpened up the edges of how personal data has to be looked after and for companies to be able to show that they know what personal data they have, how they got it and what they can and cannot do with it. What has changed is the exponential increase in technology and the knock-on effect of this is the use of personal data by businesses.
Reflecting on my career the advice I would give to my 18 year old self would be to always be persistent – as nothing is more important than this in my view.
As a final piece of advice to students I would also say - be nice to everyone it really does pay off.
If you are interested in pursuing commercial law and completing an LPC like Peter, please follow this link.