Paul van Reesch - vice president, legal and company secretary for Coca-Cola Enterprises (CCE) in Great Britain...
Paul, firstly – can you tell us a bit about your background and current role at Coca-Cola?
I am a dual qualified lawyer. Having initially qualified in Australia, I spent the formative years of my legal career over there but then got itchy feet and went travelling for five months, ending up in the UK. I started working for CCE as a legal counsel approximately nine years ago – since then I have lived in the UK and Belgium and worked in a variety of legal roles at a UK business unit level, a European level and across both sales & marketing and supply chain, culminating in my current roles as vice president, legal and company secretary for CCE in GB.
Why did you choose to become an in-house lawyer?
I have always had a keen interest in business…and being an in-house lawyer allows you to dabble a bit in this dark art. In addition, it is extremely fast paced, very challenging and a lot of fun!
What are the main challenges/ differences working in-house rather than private practice?
For a good private practice lawyer, the differences are not so stark… a key aspect is applying the law in a commercially pragmatic way. However, to truly serve your business as an in-house lawyer there are two key requirements; firstly, it is essential that you bury yourself in your business and your industry as this allows you to create real value for your business and deliver advice in the best possible context; secondly, you must take an active part in the decision making process and, by extension, take responsibility for those decisions alongside your business colleagues. Gone are the days of just saying “here is my advice, this is a business decision for you to make.”
What is the best thing about your job?
The team I work with. The chance to work with a talented group of lawyers, to coach them and to help them build their careers is truly a great thing.
On the flip side, what is the toughest thing about your job?
That interesting work is an ever expanding quantity.
Who has been the biggest influence in your career to date?
There are a couple (sorry to hedge!): The partners who I worked for when I first qualified as they taught me the importance of angles and that the devil is always in the detail; and my current boss whose patience, coaching and insight – in the hard and soft skills - have been a cornerstone of my career.
What’s the most interesting deal/ acquisition etc. you have dealt with?
When you work for a business like CCE, there are always so many fascinating things going on. If I had to pick one or two, I would say the acquisition of the rights to bottle Monster in our European territories; and the sale of our North American Coca-Cola bottling franchise and the purchase of the Coca-Cola bottling franchise in Norway and Sweden. Both these deals were a lot of hard work and fun - I spent as much time learning about corporate dynamics as I did working on the legal aspects of the transactions.
What has been the greatest achievement in your profession to date?
Being able to watch those lawyers on whom I have been lucky enough to have some influence progress their careers.
Which person outside the legal sector do you most admire?
Paul Keating - the former prime minister of Australia. From a working class family and with only a high school education, he became a member of Parliament at 25 years old, led the deregulation of the Australian economy (leading to him being dubbed, at the time, the “Greatest Treasurer in the World”), passed the country’s first native title legislation and became prime minister. Along the way he earned a reputation for straightforwardness, leadership, a razor sharp tongue and having a bag load of talent. He epitomises the fact that hard work, determination and some daring can help you to achieve anything in life, irrespective of your background.
What would you have been if you weren’t a lawyer?
Wait for it…a helicopter pilot!
What advice would you give young lawyers beginning their in-house career today?
Prioritise your personal growth; don’t convince yourself that your workload means you don’t have enough time! You can never be certain of a promotion or a job, but if you work hard to develop your skill set (as well as remaining humble and a team player) you will always put yourself in the best possible position to succeed in life.