Associated British Foods – GC Powerlist
United Kingdom 2018: The Team Elite

Retail and Consumer Products

Associated British Foods

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    United Kingdom 2018: The Team Elite

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    Associated British Foods

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    Ask Associated British Foods (ABF) director of legal services and company secretary Paul Lister why he thinks his inhouse legal team is well regarded, and he points to how visible the broader £15bn-plus food, ingredients and retail multinational has been in recent years. ‘We buy and sell a lot of firms,’ he says. ‘Commercial is extremely important for us.’ This mantra has kept the 55-strong in-house team active as ABF, which owns household names such as Primark and Twinings, went shopping in the 18 months from early 2016. Deals include the late-2017 purchase of balsamic vinegar brand Acetum, a €100m-turnover business in Italy, which followed the acquisition of two sports nutrition businesses earlier that year. In 2016, the FTSE 100 company also bought the half of African company Illovo Sugar it did not already own for £262m. On the other side of the ledger, the company sold its North American herbs and spices business, as well as five cane sugar factories in China for £297m. The transaction-heavy business means the in-house legal team is mostly split into general commercial and other specialised areas, such as antitrust law. ABF operates in more than 50 countries, meaning some lawyers are ‘cuckoos in the nest’ in places like Thailand, Mexico and Australia. But otherwise, Lister says, it is a central legal team with no formal panel. ‘The team grows based on the amount of work we’ve got and, frankly, on whether it is better to in-source it than outsource it. We get the work done and get it done cost effectively.’ He believes it is vital for his team to be involved directly with the business – otherwise he may as well outsource all work. ‘We’ve got great lawyers who know the businesses very well, who make an effort to get into the businesses, who are good counsellors to the business guys, as opposed to theoretical lawyers.’ Technology plays a big role in compliance functions, particularly in training, which it can make more interesting for people who do not usually concentrate on it. However, Lister has resisted unnecessary change in the team’s structure: ‘If you hire the right people, I question whether you need a big HR and COO strategy function around it. I don’t think we’re big enough for that yet anyway. If I had a bit of resource, I’d probably hire another lawyer.’

     

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