One of the biggest challenges facing in-house legal is being valued by the business as more than ‘just lawyers’. How can you ensure legal is shaping, rather than simply assisting, the business? Sophie Gould talks to Mark Maurice-Jones, General Counsel and Head of Legal Services, UK & Ireland, at Nestlé, about how he aligned his team with the business to increase its power as an influencer.
Tell us a little bit about your background and your team …
I started off life as a scientist, reading chemical engineering at Cambridge. I realised I didn’t want to be a chemical engineer, so I taught in Hong Kong and then decided to come back to the UK and study law.
I ended up in private practice as an anti-trust lawyer. After 5 years, I decided that I wanted to go in-house and work for a big company with opportunities internationally. I started as a junior member of the legal team at Kimberly-Clark. It was a very broad corporate and commercial role, and I really enjoyed the international nature of the work.
I spent 15 years there and then joined Nestlé two and a half years ago. I sit at the top of the legal team and report into the Chief Executive for UK and Ireland. I also have a dotted line into the Regional General Counsel, based in Switzerland. There are around 15 people in my team and eight of them report directly into me.
When you first joined, how did you get under the bonnet to understand the role legal played in the business?
The first thing I did was devise a Hundred Day Plan of what I wanted to achieve. I spent a lot of time talking to the business and getting opinions. I did a detailed workload analysis to try and understand what were we actually doing, who was doing what, and whether work was being correctly apportioned.
People were assigned work in accordance with their legal expertise. We had a corporate lawyer, IP lawyers, commercial lawyers and property lawyers and it looked like a small law firm. It worked, but my feeling was that we needed something less like a law firm and more aligned with the business.
I decided to align lawyers in accordance with business units. Instead of being a property lawyer or a commercial lawyer, I created a Beverages business lawyer, a Confectionary business lawyer and a Waters business lawyer. Business units therefore had a one stop shop and could go directly to that individual. It helped create a strong relationship and a trust between the lawyer and the business unit.
Since then, we’ve made lots of changes. The idea was that legal became proactive, strategic business partners. I wanted us to be shapers of the overall business agenda, not just responding to legal questions. We needed to be in the meetings where those discussions were happening, otherwise it would be impossible to be a strategic shaper of the agenda. That was something we worked on and we now have a lawyer sitting on all the business leadership teams.
We have been heavily involved with compliance, or, as we prefer to call it ‘doing the right thing’.t. Doing the right thing is not so much about ticking boxes, it’s about behaviour and leadership. It’s something that legal can proactively bring to the table when we are in business leadership meetings and have an impact on the wider business agenda.
It’s great for legal to be shapers of the agenda. With doing the right thing, we’ve created an environment of openness and transparency where people at any level can feel comfortable speaking up.
How did you carry out the initial workload analysis?
The whole exercise took two or three months. First, we had to define what it was that we spent our time doing. We came up with around 15 activities, for example, reviewing contracts, reviewing advertising artwork, providing advice on anti-trust law, and providing advice on trademarks. To provide a snapshot, I asked the team to estimate how much time they spent on each activity.
We then defined each item in terms of whether they were low, medium or high complexity and value. The analysis gave us a sense of where we were spending our time and how valuable those activities were. There were some areas of work that we simply stopped doing because they were not adding enough value to the business.
We also reviewed who was doing the work. Could we re-allocate tasks so that the high value work went to the senior lawyers and the low value work to the more junior members of the team? That was a difficult exercise and it needed buy-in to bring people onboard.
Sharing the analysis with the business and leadership team, helped me push through certain changes.
How did you implement the structural changes in your team?
As it meant changing people’s roles, it was important to bring everyone into the discussion. Feedback from the business confirmed that the restructure was a good idea and most people agreed. But it was important to build alliances and get buy-in because any change can create resistance.
I needed to make people feel comfortable with how their roles would change. I was very open and transparent and explained exactly what I was doing. Most people saw it as a challenge and an opportunity and as a way of making their roles more interesting. It changed the way the business perceived us – if all you’re doing is providing legal input, you will always just be perceived as the lawyer.
You sound like a very inclusive leader. Where did you learn that style of leadership?
I learnt through painful experiences in earlier roles that lawyers are very independent minded. If you tell a lawyer what to do, they will probably do the opposite. Lawyers are highly qualified people and want to feel in charge of their destiny, so that’s what I try to ensure. Culturally, Nestlé is an extremely collaborative company and I knew that to go in and start dictating orders would not be an effective approach.
How did you encourage the business to let your lawyers sit on the management teams?
Some business units were highly supportive and could see the logic in it. Others less so. It was about not forcing it, about knocking on doors and demonstrating the value that legal can bring to a discussion. Lawyers have skills around analytical, structured thinking and around driving a culture of doing the right thing that are valuable to a business.
Once you’re on the leadership teams, you must continue to demonstrate the value of your being there, otherwise, as somebody once said to me, you’re just sucking up air.
How do you measure and promote the influence of legal?
Metrics are a constant challenge. Every month I prepare a report of what’s been going on and what we’ve achieved. We do stakeholder surveys so we can see how we’re progressing. Are we providing advice in a timely fashion? Are we business partners? This is something I can share with the business as well.
Measuring the value of a good in-house lawyer is difficult to do, but when you see one, you know it. We’ve toyed with measures like how many meetings we attend, but that’s not really a measure of success because you can be present and not say a word. There’s no point measuring something if no action comes out of it or if it doesn’t drive you to do something differently.
Feedback from the business and how you are perceived by them is very important. Because of feedback, we’ve looked at putting in place education programs to improve the understanding of the business. We are constantly aware of trying to be a proactive strategic business partner. The challenge is always to get closer to the business and to understand it better.
What achievements are you most proud of since you’ve been at Nestlé?
I’m most proud of the work we’ve done around driving a culture of doing the right thing. A lot of what we do in legal, which isn’t unusual for a legal department, is reactive. Doing the right thing is an area where we’ve been able to be proactive and can continue to shape the business agenda. The expression ‘doing the right thing’ is in the day-to-day narrative at Nestlé now in a way that it wasn’t before.
In terms of careers advice, what would you say to your younger self?
Stay humble, listen to what other people have to say. As general counsel, it’s important to keep leading. You have your ideas and will inevitably get challenged. Don’t be afraid of making mistakes. You may get disheartened, but you’ve got to keep going.
Persistency is important as a leader because, particularly in an in-house environment, most people aren’t interested in the law or lawyers. You’ve got to keep driving what you think is important, believe in yourself and don’t stop because others are telling you to.