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The role of top lawyer in a big company is never going to be simple. But the myriad qualities listed by chief executives who contributed comments during research on the 20 general counsel highlighted below are striking. Being a great lawyer, able to both protect the company and manage risk, is the minimum requirement.
What makes a general counsel excel in the eyes of chief executives includes the ability to: frame and embody the company’s mission and values; act as a business partner and management executive to achieve strategic goals; be a thought leader as well as the conscience of the business; and, increasingly, lead the way on diversity and inclusion.
In the case of Kelly Mahon Tullier of Visa, for instance, the payments company’s chief executive Al Kelly notes her “profound impact” on the organisation. Ms Tullier played a critical role integrating Visa Europe, is co-head of the company’s gender inclusion council and helped to create Visa’s leadership principles, which have been embedded into the organisation’s culture.
As more companies embrace the importance of having a defined purpose and looking beyond profit becomes a clear objective, the general counsel’s role at the centre of these activities is vital. It is a far cry from the years before the financial crisis of 2008, when general counsel struggled to gain a seat at the top table.
Profiles compiled by RSG Consulting researchers and FT editors
Group general counsel
Since joining Barclays in 2013, Bob Hoyt has played a crucial role in restructuring the UK bank and navigating changes in regulation following the financial crisis. He formerly held senior roles at the US Treasury and in the George W Bush administration. He has advised the bank on creating three ringfenced banks and resolving an extensive portfolio of litigation.
In response to concern about mental health in the legal profession, Barclays’ legal team launched the Mindful Business Charter with law firms Pinsent Masons and Addleshaw Goddard.
He says: The pace of change in business and the law means it is harder “to strike the right balance between relying on deep experience while at the same time continually learning and being open to the new challenges and disruptions”.
Bausch Health Companies
Executive vice-president and general counsel
When Christina Ackermann, an experienced healthcare general counsel, joined Bausch Health Companies in 2016, she was tasked with dealing with the legacy litigation facing the company.
Rather than relying on external counsel, she created in-house litigation capacity. The result has been a positive resolution of 68 matters, including the critical settlement with Israeli generic drugmaker Teva Pharmaceuticals, which had an immediate beneficial effect on Bausch Health Companies’ share price.
She says: “I was told once to ensure that I continue to grow and develop, to add one new skill to my CV at least every two years.”
Top leadership tip: Recognise the team’s contributions and wins, and celebrate them.
Chee Kin Lam
Managing director and head of group legal, compliance and secretariat
Chee Kin Lam is a banking industry veteran with the attitude and idealism of an entrepreneur. He is committed to increasing efficiency through tech, but has not lost sight of the importance of people and company culture in embracing change. Mr Lam also supports non-traditional career paths.
His team at DBS Bank conceived a new framework to ensure the Singapore bank handles data in a way that is not only lawful but is also responsible and wins the trust of customers.
He says: “The biggest successes and the biggest failures will be your people decisions: your bets on the right people, your sticking too long with the wrong people, and everything in between.”
Marie Oh Huber
Senior vice-president of legal affairs, general counsel and company secretary
Marie Oh Huber joined eBay in 2015, drawn to the online marketplace provider because of its commitment to diversity. Her legal team, which helped lead the launch of payment processor PayPal as a separate company, advocates for eBay sellers and acts as spokesperson for independent businesses with global policymakers.
Devin Wenig, chief executive of eBay, which has 179m users across 190 markets, considers the purpose of her team as being “to empower people and create economic opportunity for all”.
Top leadership tip: Give people the greatest possible autonomy, control and decision-making authority. Create an environment where new ideas are valued and there is disciplined, effective collaboration.
Executive vice-president, global general counsel, corporate secretary and chief compliance officer
After more than two decades at the clothes retailer, Julie Gruber is leading a bold initiative to split Gap into two listed companies: Old Navy, and a yet-to-be-named entity comprising Gap and other portfolio brands.
One of the senior leadership team, Ms Gruber has been praised by Gap chief executive Art Peck for an “unwavering ability to remain calm in the middle of a storm”. A litigation and intellectual property lawyer by training, her remit has expanded to include regulatory and real estate, as well as overseeing global loss prevention and corporate security.
She says: “Change is inevitable: learn to embrace it. If you don’t like it, don’t sweat it. If you like it, don’t get used to it.”
Executive vice-president and general counsel
Craig Glidden joined General Motors in 2015 at a time of crisis for the automotive manufacturer, after the failure of its car ignition switches led to fatalities and an extensive product recall. Mr Glidden helped the company through significant civil and criminal litigation, including class actions across the US. Before joining GM, Mr Glidden held the top legal role at LyondellBasell, the multinational chemicals company.
Mr Glidden and his legal team are playing “a pivotal role” in GM’s development, according to chief executive Mary Barra.
Top leadership tip: Don’t ask people to do things that you are not willing to do. If you want hard work, work hard. If you want more openness, be open. If you want integrity, then model it.
Senior vice-president and general counsel
Anne Madden’s ability to work across the business and legal sides of Honeywell puts her in an especially strong position to advise on the US industrial conglomerate’s diverse global portfolio of nearly 1,000 sites and more than 130,000 employees.
Darius Adamczyk, Honeywell chief executive, says the legal department is both a source of competitive advantage and “one of the main stewards of its performance culture”. Ms Madden leads training programmes on topics such as sexual harassment and unconscious bias.
Top leadership tip: It is not enough to attract a diverse range of talent; you need to retain and grow it, and everyone needs to feel their voice is being heard and valued.
Huntington Ingalls Industries
Executive vice-president and chief legal officer
As chief legal officer of Huntington Ingalls Industries, the US’s largest military shipbuilder, Kellye Walker plays a key role in a scrutinised public company operating in a highly regulated sector. The company’s chief executive, Mike Petters, says Ms Walker’s background outside the defence industry helps the company “view things through a different lens”.
Beyond her role and the company, Ms Walker tries to make a difference to other people’s careers, particularly through mentorship and empowering women of colour.
Top leadership tip: Create a team “north star” or strategy so that you are leading a team that knows its goals and what is required to achieve them.
Kristin Sverchek joined tech company Lyft in late 2012, when both the company and the concept of ride-sharing were in their infancy. She helped the business navigate the implementation of new transport regulation in the San Francisco Bay Area, which was crucial to the fledgling company’s survival.
The following year, Ms Sverchek and her small team handled the company’s expansion into almost 30 cities, and in 2017 she integrated Lyft’s compliance and legal teams. She has been praised by Lyft co-founder John Zimmer for her team’s ability to manage “disparate practice areas such as personal injury, regulatory, intellectual property, employment and privacy”.
Top leadership tip: Invest in diversity and inclusion so that you have all viewpoints represented.
Marfrig Global Foods
Vice-president, legal affairs and human resources
Heraldo Geres has served as general counsel at Marfrig Global Foods, Brazil’s second-largest food processing company, since 2006.
In the years that followed, he guided the company through its initial public offering on the São Paulo Stock Exchange, and helped it complete more than 30 mergers and acquisitions across the globe.
This year, he orchestrated the $2.16bn sale of Keystone Foods to Tyson Foods, both of the US, as well the $1bn acquisition of US company National Beef.
Top leadership tip: A company needs to have an intellectually curious team and an ambitious team that it can reward when it reaches its goals.
Chief commercial officer and general counsel
Stephen Chojnacki joined Thailand-based Minor International 12 years ago. He has been pivotal to the hospitality, restaurant and lifestyle brand group’s growth since his debut as its first general counsel, which was also his first in-house role. Mr Chojnacki’s dual role of general counsel and chief commercial officer embeds him further in the business. He has responsibility for helping the company make commercial business decisions, balancing its strong risk appetite with the regulatory requirements of countries into which Minor seeks to expand.
He says: “My corporate law department will [become] more fluid than it is today — we will be dispersed more globally and we will be forced to become better communicators.”
Executive vice-president, corporate and legal affairs, and general counsel
Gerhard Pleuhs’s career with the food group goes back to the 1980s when he joined the legal team at German coffee company Jacobs, which became part of what is now Mondelez. He has played a critical role in the group’s transformation, at the forefront of transactions such as the $19bn acquisition of Cadbury, the spin-off of Kraft’s grocery business in the US, and managing multibillion-dollar litigation.
Irene Rosenfeld, former Mondelez chief executive, describes him as “a real change agent, well positioned to add value to the business as it evolves”.
Top leadership tip: Provide meaningful development opportunities, to a broad range of colleagues, irrespective of hierarchical order.
Chief legal officer, board secretary and member of group executive management
Jussi Koskinen joined Nordic banking group Nordea in 2018 as chief legal officer and a member of the executive management team. He arrived with no experience in financial services, having moved in-house in 2004 at Finnish telecoms company Nokia, where he held senior positions in legal and compliance in Finland and Singapore.
Despite his broad commercial and international experience, Mr Koskinen says he is not afraid to ask “stupid questions” and challenge old ways of working.
A Finnish national, he joined Nordea when the bank relocated from Stockholm to Helsinki.
Top leadership tip: Celebrate achievements and good performance publicly and regularly.
Executive vice-president, chief legal officer, government affairs and corporate secretary
Verona Dorch joined US coal-mining company Peabody Energyin 2015 as it was facing insolvency. She helped turn it round, keeping 7,500 people in employment. The company emerged from bankruptcy in April 2017 and made its way back into the Fortune 500 in 2018. Ms Dorch champions diversity and mentors associates at law firms to encourage more women, people from minority ethnic and LGBT communities, and army veterans to join the profession.
She says: “I run to the problem to find solutions. I love a good crisis — because it’s my job to find solutions — and I am not afraid of the unknown. Indeed, I embrace it.”
Top leadership tip: Lay out a clear vision and road map, and articulate company and departmental goals to achieve them.
Group general counsel and head of legal and compliance
Andreas Hoffmann became group general counsel at Siemens, the German industrial group, in 2014. A former private equity lawyer, Mr Hoffmann had switched between private practice and in-house roles before joining Siemens in 2008.
For the past five years, he has guided Siemens in its ambition to become a world leader in industrial internet-of-things (IoT) technology. The main focus is on ensuring risks are well managed as the company expands the ecosystem surrounding its MindSphere IoT operating system, which it is attempting to establish as the standard for the industrial internet.
He says: “Keep a high level of integrity and compliance in times of fierce competition.”
General counsel and vice-president, legal and business affairs
Venezuelan lawyer Horacio Gutierrez joined Microsoft in 1998 as a senior attorney after a decade in private practice. After 17 years with the US technology company, Mr Guttierez left his general counsel role overseeing global legal affairs to help take Spotify public. The music-streaming company completed the first direct listing on the New York Stock Exchange in 2018.
Mr Gutierrez heads Spotify’s global licensing function, which is critical for establishing commercial licensing arrangements with artists, labels and publishers, as well as forging partnerships to make the service available on smart speakers.
He says: “My goal for our legal department is to be at the cutting edge in the use of technology for the delivery of legal services.”
Group general counsel
Shuva Mandal is group general counsel of Tata Sons, the holding company of Indian conglomerate Tata Group.
Previously a corporate lawyer in private practice, he joined Tata in 2017 after the departure of Cyrus Mistry as chairman. Since then, Mr Mandal has expanded his legal team by around 50 per cent to 18 lawyers and has embarked on modernising the group’s corporate governance. An important part of his role is overhauling reporting structures to improve accountability and share best practice.
Mr Mandal is credited with transforming Tata’s legal department from a support team to a driver of business growth.
He says: “Retain the ability to laugh at yourself and do not let the role burden you. We are not doctors — no one is losing their life.”
Senior vice-president, group general counsel and head of corporate affairs
Jonas Bengtsson spent his first three-and-a-half years at Telia managing a multi-jurisdictional investigation of the Swedish telecoms operator for bribery in Uzbekistan. He guided Telia to reach a settlement with the US Department of Justice for almost $1bn in 2017. As chief executive Johan Dennelind says, “in tough times you need a rock”.
Mr Bengtsson has helped the business expand its digital offerings while managing privacy and security. In his own team, he has introduced new technologies, a cross-border operating model and greater collaboration.
He says: If not a lawyer he would want to be an investigative reporter, “to methodologically uncover important truths and bring them to the public’s attention”.
Kelly Mahon Tullier
Executive vice-president and general counsel
Kelly Mahon Tullier’s impact on US financial group Visa “transcends the law department”, according to chief executive Al Kelly. Ms Tullier played a critical role, for instance, in the acquisition and integration of Visa Europe in 2016, which enabled the group to consolidate globally. The pace of change in the global payments industry and regulation means Ms Tullier’s legal team is central to Visa’s strategy.
She leads Visa’s gender inclusion council and gives time to the US National Women’s Law Center and the Tahirih Justice Center, which serves immigrant women fleeing violence.
She says: “Jobs in the legal field require you to constantly pivot from one area of the law to another. You have to be able to quickly jump in and get it done.”
World Bank Group
Senior vice-president and group general counsel
Sandie Okoro has been a prominent figure in the UK financial services industry for three decades and a vocal advocate for greater diversity in the legal profession.
She took on the top legal role at the World Bank in 2017, and now navigates legislation and regulation in more than 170 countries, as well as the bank’s internal laws and regulations. She sees her role as an opportunity to further the rule of law and access to justice, and to help transform people’s quality of life.
She says: “Working at the international level with global responsibilities comes with a certain amount of pressure, and it is crucial to remain calm, no matter what.”
Top leadership tip: You are there to support and nurture your team, not vice versa.
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