Lee Davies reflects on 10 years at CIPA

Ten years ago, I walked through the doors of CIPA Towers on Chancery Lane and into the scarily exciting world of intellectual property (IP) law.

Some of you know my story. I fell out of school with a handful of less than brilliant qualifications, not because I wasn’t bright, but because I hated school. So much so that, as I passed it every day on my three-mile walk to school, I decided to bunk off most of the last year, lie about my age and work as a labourer on a building site. I did try and miss days at work to get to school and do exams… and was sacked.

I knew I really wanted to work with metal. I wanted to be a blacksmith or a coppersmith. Apprenticeships in those trades were few and far between, but I knew that plumbers work with metal, so I accepted the offer of a plumbing apprenticeship as second or third best. I was 16 and didn’t particularly want to be a plumber, but it remains one of the best decisions I ever made. You see those adverts ‘made in the Royal Navy’, well I was made in the fabrication workshops, industrial sites, and houses of Portsmouth City Council.

It turned out I was a pretty good plumber, award winning in fact. By the time I was 21, barely out of my apprenticeship, I was offered the opportunity to do some part-time plumbing teaching at Highbury College in Portsmouth, where I had trained. I fell in love with teaching. By 23, I was teaching full-time. At 26, I was the head of the plumbing and electrical installation division, and at 28 I was running one of the largest building and engineering departments in the country. By the time I turned 30, I was a member of the college’s senior leadership team, with responsibility for the entire vocational curriculum, adult education and prison education. Having left school with two o-levels and a couple of GCSEs, I was the proud owner of a teaching qualification (Cert Ed), a good honours degree and was halfway through my first masters’ degree.

There is a lot more to the story for anyone who is interested, but I will short-cut it by a few years and take us to 2005. I founded the first professional association for FE teachers, the Institute for Learning (IfL), and moved my work base to London and the world of professional bodies. I found myself working in the world of membership by accident in 1999, when I became the District Secretary (think Regional Director) of the Thames & Solent District of the Workers’ Educational Association, without realising it was a membership association (the clue being in the name).

IfL gave me the opportunity to take a fledgling professional body from a few hundred members to 185,000 members, helped (of course) by IfL being appointed as the new regulatory body for FE teachers. I will never pretend this was an easy time. It was a politically charged environment with the major FE union switching its support from IfL (which it helped to found) to being violently opposed to it when teachers were asked to fund membership (£30 for most). It was, however, a fantastic learning opportunity to me, not least because I was lobbying and campaigning almost non-stop, skills which continue to serve me well.

Then CIPA came knocking, via a recruiter. I was certainly ready for a new challenge, but I never expected it to be outside of the world of education. CIPA had been made the Approved Regulator for the patent attorneys profession, but had to delegate that regulation, a large part of its work, to an independent body. CIPA’s General Manager and General Secretary were both leaving within a year of each other, and it wanted to appoint a new Chief Executive to lead the organisation through changes which were yet to be identified. And that’s where I came in.

When I pitched up on that cold, wet Monday morning in February 2012, I had absolutely no idea what awaited me. Having spent most of my professional life in further education, it was a change that terrified me. I turned the job down at first. It seemed an entirely bonkers thing to do, uproot myself from a sector where I had carved out a reputation, where I was well-connected, where I knew my stuff inside out, and enter an area that I knew absolutely nothing about. Why did I take the job? It was obvious that CIPA needed to transform itself, and it was clear that there was enough support on Council to make that happen. The world of IP looked to be an exciting place to be. Ten years on, I hope that transformation has taken place. CIPA certainly seems to be very different. A lot of new staff, a lot of new volunteers on Council, new offices, a new purpose. Our challenges now are about our place in the world and influencing on behalf of members, critical in these less than certain times as we emerge from the pandemic and the UK finds its way in the world, having ejected from the EU.

I can sum up my experience of CIPA through the people I have met. In a working life of 40 years, I have been incredibly fortunate to have worked with some amazing people; people at the very top of their game who have enriched my career. But CIPA has amplified that manyfold. CIPA IS its people; its staff and its members, particularly those who volunteer to do so much for the profession. I cannot name you all, those of you who have touched my life know who you are. You are, by any measure, an extraordinary bunch of people and I love you all. I am far from the typical CEO. My path to becoming a Chief Executive of a legal professional body is, I think, ‘unusual’. Thank you, CIPA, for allowing me to be me.

Lee Davies

Date published: 21 March 2022

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