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GC Magazine




GC chats to Diageo’s GC Siobhan Moriarty about her career journey from a law firm in Dublin to the leadership team of a global drinks business. By Catherine Wycherley

G C     I N T E R V I E W

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GC: Did you always know that you wanted to become a lawyer? What led you in that direction?

Siobhan Moriarty (SM): I don’t know why I got it in my head, but I know that by the time I was fifteen or sixteen, I had definitely decided that I wanted to become a lawyer. Truth be told, I think I really wanted to be a barrister – I was probably attracted by the courtroom drama side of it. I remember once when I was at school, one of our teachers took us into a court and I just found it really exciting. I took a year out after I left school and I knew what my grades were when I was applying to university, so I put down Law at University College Dublin, Law at Trinity College Dublin, Law at University College Cork, Law at NUI Galway and they were my only four choices.

When I got to my third year of university, you had to make the choice between the subjects that are required if you are going to do the Bar or the subjects that are required if you’re going to go down the solicitor’s route. It’s really tough at the Bar; you’re effectively self-employed from day one as they don’t have a chambers system in Ireland – you go in and ‘devil’ for a year with a senior junior barrister and then you’re on your own and you wait for work. I decided that because I didn’t have family contacts in the law and I wasn’t steeped in the legal tradition, the most sensible decision for me was to become a solicitor.

GC: What made you think about going in-house?

SM: I qualified in Ireland and I came to London in the late 1980s when I think it’s fair to say that there was so much work around, if you had a law degree from any common law country you could pretty much walk into a job. It was a really exciting time, because there was lots of interesting work. I had seven and a half years at Clifford Chance which were really fascinating and I learnt so much there.

The decision to move to an in-house role happened because of an accident - I broke my hip quite badly and I was out of work for five months. I couldn’t go into work because of fire regulations – I wasn’t able to climb down the 15 flights of stairs without crutches, and because it was in the days when email wasn’t as prevalent or sophisticated as it is now, working from home just wasn’t feasible.

Having stepped off the treadmill, even though I was enjoying work and learning lots and having great experiences, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to get back on it again. It caused me to ask myself: what do I really want to do? I was very happy where I was and I didn’t see myself moving to another law firm, because that would be the same treadmill in a different place without my friends. So at that point I started to really think about in-house as an alternative career.

During my time at Clifford Chance I spent a year out on secondment with a client doing commercial work for a bank. I enjoyed that year, so I had a look around and ended up taking a role in what was then Guinness plc. It was just before the merger between Guinness and Grand Metropolitan which created what would be Diageo. It was a very interesting time to make the move in-house to this particular company, because it was literally in the throes of what was then the biggest corporate merger on the London Stock Exchange, worth around £24 billion. It may seem small now in comparison to the mergers you see these days but at the time it was the biggest ever.

I had gone from the frying pan of law firm private practice into the fire of a merger, but actually it was so different being on the inside, because I was so much more involved in the strategic and commercial conversations that were going on. I felt as if I had landed home in many ways, because I was able to participate in the strategic and planning aspects of the transaction, not just execution. Mind you, if somebody had told me that eighteen years later I’d still be there, I wouldn’t have believed them! But with in-house roles, and particularly here in Diageo, there’s been so much change and growth and opportunity, it’s never felt as if I’ve been at the same place for all these years.

GC: How do you think Diageo has changed and evolved over that period?

SM: I think it has probably grown up. It was very interesting after the merger: we were bringing together two very different cultures and there was a conscious effort to try to pick the best from both in order to create a new Diageo culture. Change always takes time, but a very definite Diageo culture has evolved. It’s quite intangible in many ways, but it’s a very focused business. Some would say ruthlessly focused, as it needs to be, but it’s a very friendly business and maybe it’s because of the industry we’re in: generally our products are at the heart of every celebration that ever exists. It’s easy to resonate with the brands, but also I think the brands attract a particular type of person who wants to work in a company like this. .

When I started here, the business had a global footprint but the emphasis was very much focused on UK, Europe and North America. If you look at our footprint now, much of the evolution and growth of our business has happened in Latin America, Africa and Asia. The growth of emerging markets brings a diversity and cultural dimension into the business, and we try to do our very best to have our workforce reflect the communities in which we operate and ensure that our people are reflective of our consumers. I think the business has become much more diverse, both culturally and in many other ways over that period as well.

GC: What is your favourite thing about working with Diageo?

SM: I think there’s a sense of underlying fun in this business. We all work very hard and sometimes it feels as if the nose is to the grindstone, but we do take time out to relax and to remember to celebrate successes and maybe even celebrate the odd things that haven’t gone so well, because they’re learning experiences. So I think it’s a sense of fun and a sense of purpose here. I think we have a clear and compelling vision, the leaders of the business have clear goals, and people tend to understand them, to work towards them and to help the business achieve them.

GC: You wrote a piece for the Guardian not so long ago about diversity within the organisation. How does Diageo foster its female executive talent?

SM: We have been held up in the outside world as an example of success in gender diversity. We’ve been ahead of the curve on gender diversity at board level, and that isn’t just because Lord Mervyn Davies is on our board. We’re also acknowledged as having been successful in creating a level of diversity at our executive committee, so just below board-level, of those that lead the business on a day-to-day basis, 40% are now female (there are six of us). That has created a different dynamic and it’s been very interesting to be part of it.

We have been very deliberate about setting ourselves stretching goals on diversity, and in 2015 we were just shy of hitting our target of 30% of our executive leadership population (for us it’s level three and above - an entry level job at Diageo is level seven and it goes all the way up to level two and then senior leaders and executive committee members) being female, coming to about 28% or 29%.. However we remain committed to achieving the targets set in our 2020 goals in this space and we are actively looking at how we can continue to improve, not just at the level three plus level, but also with our graduate intake and then at other levels within the organisation. It’s at that below-executive level where you quite often lose people, and that’s a real shame because those people are probably at their best then in terms of their ability to contribute. So there is a real focus now on how we can make sure that we don’t lose people at that critical stage, so they can be leaders of the future.

I am also a joint sponsor of the diversity and inclusion agenda at the exec level alongside the CEO of our Indian business, and we’re working very hard on it at the moment.

GC: What has been the highlight of your professional life so far?

SM: They have been many and varied. If I start way back when I was a trainee in Ireland when I was in a small firm that did some really interesting litigations, one that I was involved in was after the Vatican Bank scandal. There was a big operation to trace the money that had disappeared from the Vatican Bank, and some of it, allegedly, ended up in a small investment bank in Ireland. I was involved in trying to identify who owned the money – whether it was owned by the Vatican Bank, or whether it was owned by someone else who claimed that the Vatican Bank had paid it to him. It was really fascinating, as a trainee, to be involved in something like that.

And then when I was in a law firm practice in London, there was so much going on at that time and I got such varied experience in the corporate / commercial legal world. One of the advantages of working at Clifford Chance was that because the corporate department was at the time much smaller than the banking department, you got the chance to be involved in lots of different things. I had a great base there and learnt to deal with people, but also deal with varied and complex issues.

Coming into Diageo, obviously the Guinness-Grand Met merger to create Diageo was a big highlight for me because it was so big at the time. But just getting involved in the business issues, growing my career within an in-house environment, and working to identify what the next opportunities would be – whether it was in the M&A space where I started, or moving to a country role, and a regional role and then back into corporate centre, and now as GC. It’s the opportunity that a business like this creates for you to almost develop your own career that I’ve found really exciting. And being part of the business, being there from the early conversations that help shape the strategy, rather than being a scribe.

GC: And you must have seen the in-house role itself change and grow over the years?

SM: There has been a huge evolution in the role of in-house lawyers over the last 20 years. We were fortunate here at Diageo that our head of legal came from a US environment where there had been a much bigger emphasis on in-house lawyers being part of business and executive teams. That shift happened very early here at Diageo so more than ten years ago, our priority was: how do we make ourselves into the best business partners? We do not think of ourselves as just the legal function because we are part of this business, and our role here is to enable the business to achieve its objectives, in the right way, within the parameters and constraints that exist. I wouldn’t say that there weren’t pockets of resistance at the start of this evolution, but it was an easier battle to have when that was the expectation, that was the norm. So it’s been fantastic to be a little bit in the vanguard of what has happened, and it has been great to see that evolve in other places as well. I think that now, the legal team role and the general counsel role in UK corporates is as strong and as respected as it has been for longer in the US.

GC: Looking forward, what challenges are you anticipating for you and your team over the next few months?

SM: A constant challenge is time – having time to get things done, because it’s never quiet. The other challenge is trying to get more out of fewer resources, whether that be external legal budgets, or indeed our internal structure, because there’s more demands on our time. I suppose if I were to put it into industrial speak it would be: how do we increase our productivity? That’s a big focus of the business generally, and it applies to the legal team. So doing more with less. And it probably means working smarter and picking our priorities better.

GC: Do you ever avail yourselves of technological methods to increase productivity?

SM: Yes. The usual matter management systems, and systems for identifying what we spend and where we spend it. We also have a Wikipedia-type communication tool which sits on our intranet platform to aid communication. Over the years the legal team has grown, but it has mainly grown in the local markets where we operate. You might have one individual sitting in a country on the other side of the globe, and it can feel a very lonely place if you’re on your own in that market. So what we’ve tried to do via this ‘legalpedia’ system that we have, is create the connections and the connectivity between the lawyers that sit at the centre and the lawyers that are sitting in markets. It’s hard to do, because people get caught up in the day job, but that’s a particular focus at the moment, and we believe that technology will make it easier. We use enterprise social network Yammer as well, we have lots of little groups on Yammer, and we chat away and post things. That’s quite good because that’s much more personal, and it’s a way for people to get to know one another. And obviously we use IT to manage things like our IP portfolio, because we’ve got a huge trademark portfolio registered all over the world.

GC: What is the secret of being a good leader in an in-house environment?

SM: I don’t think the secret of being a good leader for a lawyer in an in-house team is any different from being a good leader in any other part of the business or anywhere else, even a law firm. At the end of the day, I think it all boils down to relationships and the trust that you can build up with people to get stuff done. That means building relationships with our business colleagues so that they know us and that they know that we’re here to help them achieve what they want to achieve, and also to build our relationships among ourselves – shorten the communication lines and get things done better.

We have a very good leadership programme throughout our business. Everyone at our executive level participates in our leadership development programme, including all the lawyers. That focuses on our business goals and how we can set ourselves up to achieve them, and how we need to grow and develop as leaders in order to be able to do that. We take people on a leadership journey to try to grow their capabilities. It includes modules on breakthrough performance coaching: what are the things I need to do differently to achieve my goals? It includes sessions on purpose, so: what’s my personal purpose, how does that link with the purpose and objectives of the business, and how can that help us achieve our goals?

It also includes modules which I’m personally very close to – I’m leading on the next programme that we’re doing in October on ‘authenticity’, and how authentic relationships can drive a great business performance, and how they can drive the trust and respect that you may need in a business environment. We operate in a very complicated world and we need to build these relationships with regulators, with customers, with competitors (as permitted), and to create that level of trust and respect in order to maintain our license to operate. There was a really interesting article published by two academics called Rob Goffee and Gareth Jones in the Harvard Business Review about ten years ago and the question they posed in that article was: ‘why should anybody be led by you?’ I would urge everybody to read it; it talks about authentic leadership and how there can be no leaders without followers, and how you have to spend time to build the relationships with those followers. They’ve also updated that study, and they talk about the qualities of a great leader, of being an ‘authentic chameleon’. Now there may be an inherent contradiction in that, but what they’re saying is that you need to adapt your style of leadership to the circumstances in which you find yourself, but at the same time, always stay true to who you are. So if you can achieve that authentic chameleon, maybe that’s how you crack being a great leader – I don’t know!

GC: If for some reason you couldn’t be a lawyer anymore, what would you do instead?

SM: This is really pie in the sky, but I think I might like to own and run a commercial art gallery. I’m interested in art, mainly in 20th and 21st century painting. I’m not sure I could make it successful, but I would love to get into that world and do something like that with my life.

GC: What do you enjoy doing in your free time?

SM: I spend so much time reading at work that it sometimes feels a bit of a chore to read, but I do read. I’m also a skier, so in the winter you can find me somewhere in Europe, trying to chase my husband round the slopes, because he’s a much better skier than I am! And I practise yoga and I try to stay fit, because I think you need to stay fit in this job.