Top in-house lawyers redefine their role as strategic thinkers
Roula Khalaf, Editor of the FT, selects her favourite stories in this weekly newsletter.
We showcase the top corporate legal officers who have broken out of the traditional, legally focused remits of the role and challenged the assumption that in-house lawyers only work in the so-called “department of ‘no’”.
The 20 general counsel featured here are not only strategic partners to their chief executives and other senior managers, but also have responsibilities for other functions — such as business or external affairs, and environment, social and governance questions.
How can they undertake these expanded roles? Partly, because the context in which companies operate has changed dramatically with the rise of stakeholder capitalism, which sees a new use for lawyers’ skills and experience. In addition, the impact of accelerated digitalisation means they lead bigger, more multidisciplinary teams, which are unafraid of adopting technology to give them more time to focus on critical business issues.
Profiles compiled by RSG Consulting and FT editors.
Chief legal and corporate affairs officer and company secretary
John Blood joined Anheuser-Busch InBev in 2009 to focus on global mergers and acquisitions, compliance and corporate law.
As chief legal and corporate affairs officer since 2019, Blood has radically changed how the legal team is structured. He has implemented a new approach that he calls “communities of practice” to replace the old regional hub-and-spoke model. Lawyers are connected across functions and geographies to solve problems together using agile working methods.
The new structure has improved visibility at group level of the issues that lawyers are facing on the ground. This benefited the legal team in its response to the spread of the pandemic, as teams learnt from their Chinese colleagues early on and implemented the lessons globally.
Group general counsel
Since 2015, John Harrison has played a key part in the integration of Airbus’s divisions, and the simplification of its governance. The European aerospace group wanted to break down management silos left over from its original formation from French, German, Spanish and UK aerospace and defence interests.
Most recently, Harrison helped to negotiate a five-year truce in the 17-year Airbus/Boeing trade dispute over aircraft subsidies, following a short suspension of the row earlier this year. The agreement lifts the threat of billions of dollars in tariffs from both sides and will improve transatlantic relations.
Between 2015 and 2019, Harrison led an ethics and compliance cultural shift at the company, which included integrating the legal and compliance functions, digitising compliance processes and overhauling training.
When Covid-19 hit, Harrison helped the business to respond quickly as revenue fell — to €50bn in 2020 from €70bn the previous year — and production was cut by 40 per cent.
Under Harrison’s guidance, Airbus also became the first aircraft manufacturer to disclose Scope 3 carbon emissions — the greenhouse gases emitted along a company’s supply chains and use of its products. The company plans to produce a zero-emission hydrogen-fuelled aircraft by 2035.
Chief legal officer
John Chou has more than 35 years’ experience in the legal industry. After 19 years with AmerisourceBergen, a US drug wholesaler, he says one of his biggest achievements is its relationship with Walgreens Boots Alliance, the global pharmacy and healthcare company.
At the start of 2021, as the global pandemic reached a new high, AmerisourceBergen agreed a majority acquisition of Alliance Healthcare, the distribution business of Walgreens Boots Alliance, for $6.5bn. The deal will help AmerisourceBergen expand into Europe.
During Chou’s tenure, the company, which had sales of $190bn last year, has expanded its legal team from a handful of lawyers to 60 lawyers plus 250 associated professionals. Chou emphasises the need for his team to keep pace with change and prioritises networking, business relationships and sharing information.
Senior vice-president and General Counsel
Being the general counsel at one of the most innovative companies in the world requires a different level of performance — but it is a challenge that Kate Adams relishes. Previously the general counsel at Honeywell International, where she worked for 14 years, Adams joined Apple in 2017. A litigator by background, she is experienced in dealing with business challenges — including those that, particularly for the technology sector, require legal minds who can respond to regulators, legislators and deal with litigation that threaten core business models.
At Honeywell, Adams and her team led the legal strategy that resolved the environmental liabilities facing the company at the time. At Apple, she leads the strategy for any litigation the company faces and also manages its intellectual property docket, which is the largest in the world.
In addition to overseeing the legal and global security teams — a total of 1,300 employees — she also drives the company’s ESG agenda, reporting to chief executive Tim Cook. Recently, her efforts to drive greater diversity in the legal profession were noted by a judge in an antitrust case, who commented on the unusually diverse composition of the legal team fielded by Apple.
Bank of America
Group general counsel
Throughout his legal career, David Leitch has helped organisations to respond to a variety of crises. As chief counsel to the Federal Aviation Administration, the regulator, and later as deputy counsel to US President George W Bush, he advised on responses to the 9/11 terror attacks on the US 20 years ago. Leitch then served as group general counsel at Ford Motor Company, from 2005 to 2015, where he was part of the management team that steered the automotive company through the financial crisis — avoiding bankruptcy when the US car industry feared it was on the brink of collapse.
Most recently at Bank of America, Leitch says his greatest contribution has been in helping the bank to navigate the pandemic. The bank assisted almost 2m small businesses with credit and loans through a number of schemes, including the Paycheck Protection Program. This required Leitch and his team to update the bank daily on the evolving guidance from the US Small Business Administration and translate that into actionable advice on how the bank could administer the programme.
Chief policy and external affairs officer, and general counsel
Unusually for a general counsel, Thomas Moriarty often acts as the chief spokesperson for the US healthcare company. His work in shaping and protecting the business’s brand and reputation has helped it move from being a pharmacy chain to offering a broader range of healthcare services.
When Moriarty combined his general counsel role with that of chief strategy officer seven years ago, he guided the company during its move to stop selling tobacco products. In 2018, he led on the process to win state and federal regulatory approval for the $69bn acquisition of insurer Aetna.
Working with regulators and external stakeholders remains a large part of Moriarty’s role. Over the past year, his role as point of liaison with the White House, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Food and Drug Administration allowed CVS Health to become a leading provider of Covid testing and vaccines.
Group general counsel
After joining Daimler as senior counsel for criminal law in 2004, Thomas Laubert led the German carmaker’s response to charges brought by the US’s Department of Justice and Securities and Exchange Commission alleging it had paid bribes to foreign government officials. Ultimately, the carmaker paid a $185m settlement in 2010. The experience gave Laubert an insight into how to structure an efficient compliance programme.
As group general counsel since 2016, Laubert is now focusing on how the legal team can enable the business to develop new technologies at speed and in a legally compliant manner. One particular challenge is that laws and regulations are still evolving for new technologies such as autonomous vehicles.
Laubert has also set up a team with responsibility for digital transformation to explore how the wider legal team might use technology such as blockchain and automation, often through collaboration with legal technology companies.
For example, when Daimler worked on separating its car and van business and its truck and bus business into two new subsidiaries this year, the group worked with a legal tech provider to undertake an artificial intelligence review of 4m documents with a team of 10 people.
April Miller Boise
April Miller Boise’s role at Eaton is not only to ensure compliance with environmental regulation, but also to help the company create sustainability policies — including details of how to execute them, and how to manage waste at the company’s plants.
The power management business recently appointed new chief digital and technology officers as it moves from traditional manufacturing of products to servicing smart homes and data centres.
Miller Boise wanted the legal team to evolve, too, in line with the company’s new digital strategy. She created a legal operations “centre of excellence” and a digital innovation and technology role within the legal team to focus on intellectual property, cyber security, privacy and more.
She is a co-founder of the Black General Counsel 2025 initiative, which aims to identify, help and promote black lawyers who are qualified to become GCs at large companies.
Before joining crowdfunding site GoFundMe, Kim Wilford was looking to work at non-profit organisations and charities. GoFundMe is a for-profit business, but Wilford has helped expand and develop the company’s independent charitable arm, GoFundMe.org, which accepts donations from corporate partners as well as individuals.
Wilford and her team develop thematic funds that individuals and corporations can donate to. Amounts raised are distributed to non-profit organisations addressing a specific issue. Wilford’s role is to provide donors with transparency regarding how their contributions will be used and to ensure the operations are legally and regulatory compliant.
One example of this work is with America’s Food Fund, set up by Leonardo DiCaprio, Laurene Powell Jobs and Apple. The fund has raised more than $45m on the platform to support food poverty charities. Wilford has an unusual role where she is both developing new relationships with partners and managing legal risk.
General counsel and chief ESG officer
Kristin Campbell has been general counsel at Hilton since 2011. She played a critical role in the hotel group’s initial public offering in 2013 as well as the spin-offs of Hilton’s real estate and timeshare businesses in 2017. Sustainability became part of Campbell’s formal responsibilities this year but she has long taken an interest in the topic.
She has also championed human rights, and has led on partnering with anti-trafficking experts in 26 countries in order to network and exchange information.
The legal team is currently participating in the Tech Den, a Hilton initiative in which members of the engineering operations team assess ideas for tech that could cut costs and Hilton hotels’ impact on the environment. Lawyers work with the winners to implement the initiatives.
Chief legal officer
Before Laura Quatela joined Chinese PC maker Lenovo as chief legal officer in 2016, she held several posts at Eastman Kodak, including serving as its first chief IP officer. In 2014, she co-founded Quatela Lynch, a consultancy that helps clients make the most of their IP assets, and retains a role in that business.
At Lenovo, Quatela has drawn on her wide experience to turn the legal team into strategic partners for the business. Under her leadership, the team has created an IP rights framework to deal with issues arising from 5G’s rapid development as a new technology. One benefit is that the framework allows the business to patent ideas faster.
Another area of focus for Quatela has been to establish a contracting centre of excellence. Digitising the contracting process has given the business new information on how many lawyers work on a contract, total contract volume and cost.
Group general counsel
One of Benoit Balmary’s objectives at Michelin, the French tyremaker, has been to dismantle silos in the legal team. He has achieved this by pulling together 200 lawyers across 14 countries into one global team.
Balmary is tasked with helping the business to grow without also significantly expanding the legal team: collaboration is the key to this, he says. Using Microsoft SharePoint and Yammer, the legal team now liaise via a digital platform, which they use to share templates and insights, and to ask questions and seek advice. The aim is to improve collaboration, productivity and create the sense of a true community, says Balmary.
National Australia Bank
Group executive, legal and commercial services
When Sharon Cook joined National Australia Bank four years ago as its general counsel, she had responsibility for around 240 lawyers. Today, as group executive for legal and commercial services, Cook leads a team of about 1,500 lawyers and other business professionals that look after legal, customer complaints and remediation. This expanded role has brought the legal team closer to the customers of the bank.
Cook says she developed her customer focus in previous roles as managing partner of law firm Henry Davis York and then as managing partner for clients at law firm King & Wood Mallesons, where her roles focused on business growth and strategic client development, rather than legal advisory.
Cook’s ability to use both her legal expertise and her experience of customer complaints helped her lead National Australia Bank’s initiative to make legal documents and processes simpler for customers. These included credit card terms and conditions, and the process behind fulfilment of mortgages.
Group general counsel and company secretary
Justine Campbell joined National Grid this year having held general counsel roles at Telefónica, Vodafone, British Gas and Centrica. At Centrica, Campbell led the legal team during the company’s restructuring in 2019 and was responsible for the transformation programme, which covered people, technology and culture, and aimed to cut costs.
Campbell has already taken charge of strategically important transactions, including the acquisition of Western Power Distribution, the UK’s biggest local electricity network company, from US utility PPL Corporation, in a £14.2bn deal. The takeover is an important step in National Grid’s switch in emphasis from gas to electricity. As part of the WPD deal, National Grid sold Narragansett Electric Company, its Rhode Island gas and electricity business, to PPL Corporation.
Campbell’s focus now will be the integration of the National Grid and WPD.
General counsel, corporate governance and compliance
Since joining Nestlé in 2019, Leanne Geale has worked on improving the legal team’s digital skills and training lawyers in faster ways of working. This has helped the team keep pace with the transformation of Nestlé’s product portfolio as part of its push to become more sustainable.
For example, the company set up a cross-functional team of lawyers, patent attorneys, scientists and other professionals to take Vuna, Nestlé’s vegan alternative to tuna, from idea to launch within nine months. Under Geale’s leadership, the legal team facilitated collaboration with manufacturers and specialist suppliers, as well as securing intellectual property protections.
Geale’s role is increasingly external, with one particular area of focus becoming how Nestlé can work with competitors, regulators and governments to address climate change.
Chief legal officer
When Nassib Abou-Khalil joined search company Yahoo as its general counsel in the Middle East and Africa in 2010, internet law was relatively undeveloped in the region. He was tasked with helping the US company to develop its presence, against this background of interpreting existing and emerging laws.
Four years later, Abou-Khalil moved to Finnish telecoms equipment maker Nokia as head of legal and compliance for the Middle East and Africa. Then, when Nokia acquired Alcatel-Lucent, its French-American rival in 2016, Abou-Khalil led the integration of the companies’ compliance programmes.
He was appointed chief legal officer in 2019, becoming the company’s first openly gay senior executive. He has set up a leadership development programme to support other LGBT employees and has introduced a diversity scorecard to help assess Nokia’s panel law firms.
Group general counsel and group executive
Lyndall Stoyles is leading the telecoms company’s split into four subsidiaries, which it aims to complete this year. She joined last year after working at Caltex Australia, a petrol station group currently being rebranded as Ampol. At Caltex, Stoyles’s role had expanded to include sustainability, as well as legal and corporate affairs. At Telstra, she also leads regulatory and government affairs, and a new sustainability function.
These responsibilities are a natural extension of the general counsel role, she says. Stoyles currently spends around 40 per cent of her time on external matters, such as working with regulators or leading the ESG agenda — and she expects that proportion to rise once Covid-19 has become a less urgent priority.
This year, Stoyles brought together separate legal, regulatory and government affairs teams to reorganise around 10 central functions within the legal team. This reorganisation, which includes new roles that focus on innovation and sustainability, is designed to improve the quality of advice to executives.
Group general counsel
Adrian Morris held senior legal posts at energy company BP and UK utility Centrica before joining Tesco, the UK supermarket chain, in 2012. At that time, the group’s accounting practices were being scrutinised by the Serious Fraud Office. Morris took Tesco through that investigation, which resulted in a £129m fine and a deferred prosecution agreement. He also played a leading role in changing the retailer’s organisational culture, and rebuilding the compliance and governance structure.
Morris also has responsibility for government affairs. He says the legal team require specialists who have credibility with regulators and can marry the dynamic of risk management with a deep understanding of the business. Throughout Covid-19 and Brexit, a large team at Tesco, including members of legal, worked with the UK government to keep supply chains open.
Amy Fliegelman Olli
Before joining US software company VMware, Amy Fliegelman Olli held top legal roles at Avaya, the communications tech company, and software company CA Technologies.
On joining CA Technologies in 2006, Fliegelman Olli took on rebuilding the legal function after an accounting fraud investigation by the US’s Securities and Exchange Commission in 2000 over misstated revenues. This resulted in jail time for a number of the company’s executives, including the previous general counsel. Later, at Avaya, Fliegelman Olli helped steer the company through restructuring after filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.
At VMware since 2017, Fliegelman Olli has focused on expanding the role of lawyers in the business. She has achieved this in a number of ways, including via a development programme that aims to help senior members of the legal team improve their skills in influencing, collaborating and innovating.
One way the lawyers have demonstrated broader value to the business is by ensuring that potential privacy concerns are considered earlier in the product development cycle, which has enabled the sales team to close deals faster.
Jeff True’s experience in young and fast-growing tech businesses meant he was well-placed placed to help Zoom ride its transformation in 2020. Zoom became a household name and a verb almost overnight, as the pandemic forced people to liaise remotely. But, even by his standards, the speed of growth at Zoom was extraordinary. The legal team went from 12 at the start of the pandemic to 25 when he joined it mid-2020 to more than 60 people now. “The beauty of our product,” he say, “is that we can hire talented workers remotely.”
He previously served as general counsel at Palo Alto Networks, a cyber security company, joining in 2011 as its first attorney, then helping it go public and grow from $100m turnover to $3bn. Before this, he was the first attorney at 2Wire, a broadband networking solutions company.
True always knew he wanted to work in-house and took on a role at Informatica straight out of law school. When the company went public, its general counsel left unexpectedly, giving True the opportunity to serve as interim general counsel for 10 months. It stood him in good stead to jump in at the deep end.