Joy Wilkinson is legal and compliance director at IPL International Procurement, part of the Asda family. She tells The Brief what she loves about her role, and what it takes to succeed as an in-house lawyer at one of the largest food processing businesses in the UK.
What/who made you consider law as a career?
Initially I think it was because I was given the opportunity to speak at the state house in New Hampshire as part of a school project while I was attending elementary school there in the late 80’s and was fascinated by how new laws were passed. I also probably watched too many legal dramas when I was younger and it sparked a keen interest in the legal profession.
From secondary school onwards, working in law was all I ever wanted to do. I can say that the reality is not anything like what they portray on TV but I don’t see that as a bad thing.
What do you enjoy most about working as an in-house lawyer?
The best thing about working in-house is that no day is ever the same and you are constantly faced with new challenges. It gives you the opportunity to broaden your experience in so many different areas of law and to gain a much wider knowledge of business operations.
You become part of the longer-term journey of the business, which was something I always missed when I worked in private practice. I’d build great relationships with clients and help them through their acquisitions and then I didn’t really get to see or be part of what happened next with the integration and the future direction of those companies.
I have also benefited enormously from working with a talented senior team, with an incredible breadth of industry experience and who have given me the opportunity to be involved in some very exciting cross-functional projects and to learn from people that I consider to be the best in the business at what they do.
What attracted you to work for your current company?
I was actually working in private practice at the time, specialising in corporate finance, and I was sent on secondment to IPL to support the company whilst it completed an ambitious four acquisitions in the space of 12 months. I was only supposed to be here for six months, but instantly loved the place and quickly realised that I never wanted to go back to working in a law firm.
It was the culture, the pace, the variety of expertise across the team and the general energy about the place that I really fell in love with. IPL is one of the largest privately-owned food processing businesses in the UK, with nine sites across the UK and seven global offices, supplying produce, nuts and dried fruit, wine, meat products and house plants and flowers to ASDA.
I find the automation in the factories amazing and I think it is exciting to work at a manufacturing site with such a brilliantly diverse work force. I also have an excellent and supportive team who are genuinely a pleasure to work with.
What are the main deliverables of your role?
I have to support the business to deliver its strategy and ensure that is done in a commercially effective, legal and compliant manner. For what is a small team in the context of such a large business, we have an expansive remit across not only IPL but also its subsidiary companies, Forza and Kober, and we have to respond on quickly and effectively in all situations.
As a team we try to be proactive to introduce systems that mean appropriate controls are in place to protect the business and to reduce risk wherever possible and act as a pragmatic sounding board to everyone within the business.
What do you feel are the most important character traits of an in-house lawyer?
You have to be hard-working, self-motivated, dependable, organised, approachable and definitely adaptable, as you’ll never anticipate all of the situations that you end up dealing with. It is vital to remain calm under pressure and to be able to assess risk and take in information quickly so that you can deliver the best advice you can in the moment.
When/if you look for new team members what is most important to you and why? Ability or character?
Ability is hopefully a given, so I would say character is most important. They need to exhibit the character traits mentioned above and have the kind of personality that means they can get along with not only the immediate team but the different personalities they will be dealing with across the business.
Delivering clear advice in a way that can be easily understood is really important, so they need to be someone who is approachable, personable and credible.
What would you say to any lawyer considering a move in-house?
I cannot recommend it highly enough. I have now been an in-house lawyer for nearly eight years and I still love it and could never get bored.
I genuinely enjoy what I do and am still excited by the daily challenges that a business of this kind faces. IPL has been through a lot of change during my time here, most significantly the sale of the group by Walmart to the Issa Brothers and TDR Capital.
I’m very proud of where it is today and to be part of its journey, with a lot more still to come. I would say that you need to really look into the company and the role you are considering because in-house roles can vary significantly. I wanted a role with a wide variety of legal work and an opportunity to be involved in the wider business strategy, and I can honestly say I have never looked back.
- Connect with Joy Wilkinson via LinkedIn