The fact that creating a list of the best and the brightest of Europe's in-house bar is challenging has nothing to do with a lack of legal talent in Europe. Rather it's a lack of visibility that makes finding Europe's leading GCs akin to spotting a needle in a haystack.
For example, take Jan Eijsbouts, general counsel of Akzo Nobel, the world's largest paint maker. Although Eijsbouts is lauded by his peers as one of Europe's leading attorneys, a Google search of his name results in about 300 hits.
"I decided to go for a strategy of immediate, full and transparent cooperation with all agencies involved and to settle controversies as quickly as possible," Hess says. "This approach led to the conclusion of all investigations within a short period of time so that Shell could move on with its business."
One major factor that contributed to the quick resolution was that Hess had already strengthened the company's legal function before the scandal broke. Hess established a "One Team" legal model, where he set common goals for the international legal team and actually relocated half of the attorneys from the London office to the legal headquarters in The Hague.
In addition to handling the reserves crisis, Hess managed in the same year to oversee the mega-merger of Shell's two parent companies, Royal Dutch and Shell Transport and Trading, into one single parent, Royal Dutch Shell. The merger created a company worth $219 billion.
Luckily, BT had Anne Fletcher at the helm of its legal department. While most general counsel would have panicked, Fletcher, who had worked as a lawyer for BT for 15 years before taking on the general counsel role in early 2001, confronted the crisis head on, engineering a series of deals that brought BT back from the brink of disaster.
"Anne is an indomitable character," says Alistair Graham, partner in White & Case's London office. "She's incredibly hard working and inspires people around her."
legal & general
In January 2005, Geoffrey Timms, general counsel of one of the U.K.'s largest health insurers, Legal & General (L&G), did something completely unheard of in the U.K.--he took on the Financial Services Authority (FSA ), the U.K.'s equivalent of the SEC .
"I assisted and advised the management, the legal department and our outside legal counsel in China in reorganizing the equity structures of our joint ventures, selecting new partners and renegotiating joint venture agreements to make them fully compliant with Chinese laws and regulations," Tassan says. The approach succeeded. In 2006, Carrefour did more than $3 billion of sales in China, trumping its top competitor Wal-Mart.
Tassan's success with navigating the murky waters of international expansion is due in large part to his innovative restructuring of the legal department. With his 163-person legal staff spread over 30 countries, Tassan successfully established clear reporting lines from each countries' legal directors to his home base in Paris, all the while fostering a sense of community among his multinational team.