Life at Level: Rowena Samarasinhe

February 17, 2021
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Rowena Samarasinhe

From in-house to in control of her career, we asked Rowena to tell us a bit more about her journey from GC to Level and how she makes the Level model work for her.

What gets you up in the morning?

The fact that I love what I do. I’ve always been driven by passion for three things: sport, to make change and to make a break from the norm. I’m really fortunate to be able to combine all of those in my working life right now.

Living part of the time in Verbier, I am able to maintain an incredibly active lifestyle and, while I no longer compete in sport at a high level, I can ski tour before work which is pretty cool!  A lot of what I do is based around encouraging others to be active or to push themselves outside of their comfort zones so it’s great that I can do that in my personal life as well!

How did you get started in your career?

Like a lot of graduate law students, I started by training with a top tier City law firm, CMS Cameron McKenna. I qualified into the commercial IP and IT department but my passion for sport and my experience as an athlete (I used to be a sprinter specialising in the 100m until injury hampered my dreams) helped me specialise. I negotiated my first contract for a GP2 (now FIA Formula 2) driver and assisted on Formula 1 driver contracts while I was still relatively junior. I knew this is what I wanted to do.

Living part of the time in Verbier, I can ski tour before work which is pretty cool! 

So my next move was to Sportfive in Geneva, working in-house to negotiate the global broadcasting agreements for the 2008 European Football Championships in Austria and Switzerland. And from there, I’ve never really looked back.

What have been the highlights of your career so far?

For more than 10 years, I worked as a General Counsel on the sale of the worldwide marketing rights and some of the broadcast rights of a number of international federations but primarily those of World Athletics and the World Athletics Series, as well as other rights negotiations.

My work ranged from drafting tender documents and advising on bid documentation to negotiating major sponsorship and broadcast agreements. I enjoyed the variety and it made me a more dynamic lawyer.

I travelled the world and worked in an area of the industry that was a hobby and passion. But I also knew that I wanted to set up my own company, build more of a focus around the development of sport and have more control over my life. So two years ago, I made the next important decision in my career.

Why did you choose Level?

I wanted to be on my own but I also wanted to feel part of something, to decide my own rates, when, where and how I work – but also still to be part of a team doing great work with great clients.

Joining Level has allowed me to work with lawyers whom I have always considered to be the best in the field, while also giving me the flexibility to pursue two sides of my business: a legal and a commercial one. I’m also the Managing Director of sports consultancy GENSport, which means I get to work with sports organisations and sports stars through both halves of my working life. 

I have spent 13 years living in Switzerland but travelling the world. So, when the time came to create my own business environment, I decided that splitting my time between two key countries in the sporting landscape, Switzerland and the UK, made the most sense.

Even during lockdown, I’ve worked on some fantastic projects

And Level has enabled me to do that. To carry on working with the same high profile organisations as before but on my own terms.

Was it scary to make the jump from in-house?

Yes, a little, of course it was. You’re starting from scratch. But it’s also very empowering and also very entrepreneurial. You get to think outside of the box a lot more and broaden your horizons both in terms of content and client base. Although it wasn’t the case for me, many in-house lawyers just sit in one team doing one type of agreement.  I now have real flexibility to follow my passion. 

What do you enjoy the most?

Most of all, working within sport. However, I also love the variety that I’ve had in my career and not just in law. I worked in events, so that’s meant rolling up my sleeves and getting stuck in at times, in glamorous locations but also less glamorous ones too. 

The sports industry revolves around strong relationships and so I was committed to developing these when I was in-house but I’m also working with a number of new organisations now. That might be the same for a lot of people working in-house who decide to do what I’ve done.

It works. Even during lockdown, I’ve worked on some fantastic projects – from a very significant endorsement deal for one of the world’s leading athletes to renegotiating contracts for a leading motorsport team in relation to Covid – force majeure.

I’m also the Managing Director of sports consultancy GENSport, which means I get to work with sports organisations and stars in both halves of my working life

I’ve also worked with a major team, one of the most iconic in sport, on staging their future matches and with a very high profile Premier League footballer.

What has surprised you?

Practically speaking, moving from an in-house role to consulting can work better than some might imagine. Being in-house at a brand or a federation gives you the opportunity to continue that relationship and most organisations won’t want to lose your knowledge base. There may be opportunities to collaborate, if you plan appropriately.

Life away from work…

Before I decided to set up my own business, I didn’t have much of a work/life balance! Now, I’m more in control of my life than I was before. Even if I’m busy, it’s on my terms.

The flexibility I have means that I can lead a truly active life while further developing a high-powered career… most of all I can practice what I preach! That’s something I never really thought would be possible when I started my life as a lawyer.

I love to travel though. So I’m also looking forward to getting back on a plane, for work as well as for pleasure. 

My lightbulb moment …

Having worked on some of the biggest deals in sport, I realised that I wanted to give back and do more to make sport accessible and inclusive for all. I’m still finding my way on that path, but the support and encouragement I receive from those around me will definitely help me achieve it!

The flexibility I have means that I can lead a truly active life while further developing a high-powered career… most of all I can practice what I preach!

By Level