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C&C Group Company Secretary and GC Mark Chilton

July 9, 2021

C&C Group Company Secretary and General Counsel, Mark Chilton is building out a legal and compliance team in Glasgow, in the company behind Bulmers, Tennent’s and Magners. In this article he talks about some of the highlights and insights drawn from his in-house legal journey, including: who has been the biggest influence  to him in his career; how qualifying as a company secretary can enhance the contribution you are able to make; and how in-house lawyers should push past any reservations they might have about having to work in some unglamourous locations, when they first move in-house, to get the best experience.

As C&C Group Company Secretary and General Counsel, please tell us a little more about the business and brands within it, for those who don’t know the company.  

C&C Group plc is a leading, vertically integrated premium drinks company which manufactures, markets and distributes branded beer, cider, wine, spirits and soft drinks across the UK and Ireland Listed on the London Stock Exchange, and a constituent of the FTSE 250, the company is headquartered in Dublin, with own brand and contract manufacturing and packing operations located in Ireland and Scotland.

The company’s portfolio of brands includes: Bulmers, the leading Irish cider brand; Tennent’s, the leading Scottish beer brand; Magners the premium international cider brand; as well as a range of fast-growing, super-premium and craft ciders and beers, such as Heverlee, Menabrea, Five Lamps and Orchard Pig. The group exports its Magners and Tennent’s brands to over 40 countries worldwide.

C&C is the No.1 drinks distributor to the UK and Ireland hospitality sectors. Operating under the Matthew Clark, Bibendum, Tennent’s and Bulmers Ireland brands, the Group supplies over 34,000 pubs, bars, restaurants and hotels, and is a key route-to-market for major international beverage companies. The group also has a minority investment in the Admiral Taverns tenanted pub group, which owns approximately 1,000 pubs across England & Wales.

Working in the beverages sector again, brings you full circle, having started out at Greenalls. What are the biggest changes you’ve seen in the industry?

It seems a lifetime ago. The pace has definitely quickened. The legislation has grown exponentially as has the need for compliance and risk management. It means the Company Secretarial and Legal team has a central role to play in all business activities.

What have the highlights been for you professionally in your in-house legal career so far?

Being part of a small, close knit team that took a wholesale carry and carry company, Booker from the brink of insolvency in 2005 to merging with Tesco in 2018, valuing the business at £4bn.

Along the way we reversed the company into an AIM-listed company to join the public market followed by a full listing, acquiring some of our major competitors along the way and going through and receiving competition clearance to a number of those transactions.

No mean feat!!

Before becoming C&C Group Company Secretary, you’ve changed industry sectors a couple of times in your in-house legal career. What insights can you offer around doing that?

Sometimes change is forced upon you. Other times you have to make a leap of faith and trust your instincts.

I was made redundant from Greenalls, after 7 very happy years. I took a 6 month contract with ICI, then one of the largest UK companies, which was a great move as it opened the door, having extended my contract to 18 months, to my becoming Head of Legal at what was then called The Big Food Group plc, comprising Iceland Foods and Booker.

What are the key issues facing the food and beverages industry and what’s the impact for you as a Company Secretary and your legal team?

Increasing legislation and the growing focus on Environmental, Social and Governance (“ESG”) matters. My remit/role also covers this area and there are many areas of cross-over, such as anti-bribery and corruption and modern slavery legislation.

We provide training across the business on these matters, but also providing advice in relation to the impact on colleagues, consumers, customers, investors and suppliers alike, who are ever more focussed on sustainability and governance. 

Looking back, how do you perceive that the role of the in-house lawyer has changed over the years?

When I first went in-house, it was very much seen as the poor relation of the profession. Now in house roles are sought after and offer lawyers a real opportunity to make a difference, get involved in all manner of issues, a lot of the time not strictly legal, but which allows you to offer calm, considered advice.

When you recruit in-house legal and compliance people, what are the key things you look for? 

Fit is very important, both within the team and the wider organisation.

You need to be able to build relationships and trust with colleagues, both junior and senior in the company.

In the Company Secretarial and Legal function, you also need to be maintain the highest ethical and professional standards, which might mean being unpopular on occasions.

Why might now be a good time to join C&C Group?

It is an exciting to time to be in the industry and specifically C&C, as the leading brand-led distributor to the UK and Ireland drinks markets. 

Consumer, customer and supplier behaviours and ways of working have evolved and changed: with development of the no and low ABV formats; growth in ecommerce and accelerating use of technology.

How have work patterns and practices changed at the company as a result of Covid?

To safeguard colleague health and wellbeing and protect the integrity of our production and distribution facilities, through the year, we have maintained a policy that all colleagues who can work from home, do so. This has been supported with a series of measures, including risk assessments and provision of equipment, to help adjust to what is a new situation for most of us. We regularly communicated key resources that aid personal wellbeing.

With so many schools closed during the pandemic in the UK and Ireland, we offered support to our colleagues who have children in school. To facilitate the return to work we produced short films to familiarise and educate returning staff with the increased safety measures and layouts put in place across all sites.

Primary channels of communication have varied throughout the Group, as business areas have disparate colleague groups which COVID-19 has impacted differently. Across the Group, there has been greater focus on communication channels such as e-newsletters, all-hands video meetings, departmental Zoom and MS Teams meetings than in previous years.

In February 2021, we launched Our Forum, an additional channel to allow colleagues to stay connected and build engagement across the Group. During these sessions, the Managing Director, a designated Non-Executive Director and representative from the ESG Team discussed how the Board and Senior Management worked together and answered questions raised in the Colleague Engagement Survey. Our Forum is part of our ongoing commitment to understanding colleagues’ views and covered topics including plans post COVID-19; corporate strategy; health and safety; training and development and flexible and remote working.

What first attracted you to working in the legal profession?

My Dad was a professional footballer, and then a policeman. I was never any good at football. The law seemed interesting and I saw myself doing criminal work, having seen lots of court room dramas. Once I started my training, I found the commercial world extremely stimulating and enjoyable and something I wanted to pursue.

Who’s been the most influential to you in your legal career?

Charles Wilson, CEO of Booker Group plc, who showed me and others what could be achieved by creating a team spirit, ethos and common goal.  

Based on your career, what piece of practical advice would you give to someone in a law firm looking to move in-house?

The best in-house legal jobs are invariably not in the best locations. Don’t be too quick to turn down the opportunity just because it’s not in a city centre.

I’ve worked at an old brewery site in Warrington, a petro-chemicals facility on Teesside, an office park in North Wales, a run-down office in the East Midlands.

Think about the opportunities presented by the job, the chance to get involved in all aspects of a company’s business and to influence at the highest levels.

You qualified as a company secretary after being a lawyer for some years, what advice would you give to other lawyers thinking of doing that, or moving into another area of legal compliance or governance.

Take it. The combination of being a Company Secretary and General Counsel gives you a seat at the Board and an opportunity to see and hear about everything that is happening or about to happen in the Company. Pretty much everything comes across your desk, which makes the role both extremely interesting and challenging.

You’ve always struck me as very calm and relaxed! How do you do that, and what do you do to support your own mental health and/or that of your team?

I wish!! If I do, that’s good to hear. I guess it comes from not taking things too seriously.

Once you’ve had cancer, followed by one of your children having a brain tumour, it puts everything else in perspective.

Just do your best. That’s all anyone can ask.

What was your very first job? 

Working as an assistant and later fork-lift truck driver in a cash and carry/wholesaler.

I never thought my legal career would be spent years later in the same industry!

How have the lockdowns affect you and have there been any surprising highs, lessons or things you have learned?

I’ve been used to working flexibly, part office, part home for many years.

In the past 6 months, we completed a £150m rights issue involving the drafting of a 260-page prospectus. It meant long days, weeks and months of increasingly hectic activity and by the end we were all exhausted by the endless Zoom/Teams calls. That said, having 2-3 times a week calls with my team has been brilliant in terms of bringing the team together, living as we do across the UK, and is something I intend continuing. Nothing however will beat all getting together in our offices again.

Getting out and enjoying some fresh air and exercise is vitally important to everyone’s health and wellbeing. You need to find to time and switch off.

Where have you enjoyed switching off most?

My most recent holiday was to Skye and Harris. The views are simply breathtaking, particularly from The Quiraing, which should be considered one of the wonders of the natural world.

The beach at Luskentyre on Harris is not far behind. Well worth a visit.

A photograpth of The Quiraing, Portree, UK

Photo of The Quiraing, Portree by George Hiles on Unsplash

At the end of a hard week, what’s a treat that you look forward to?

A glass or two of one of the many great products we produce and sell. At the minute I’m working through the last of my Tennent’s and Menabrea, which reminds me that I need to get up to the brewery in Glasgow.

Besides being C&C Group Company Secretary, do you have any hidden claims to ‘fame’? 

I was a member of the Booker Prize Advisory Committee for many years, which meant I was able to attend the awards ceremony every year and read all the books, which was a real treat.

What’s the most interesting book you’ve read recently?

The Northumbrians: North-East England and its People A new History. A great read about the culture and why the North East is the most distinctive region of England.

And when the work stops, what do you enjoy most?

Being in the outdoors, walking, running, playing golf (sometimes well, more often badly (my youngest daughter is a very good player and tells me often what I’m doing wrong!!)).

Also, skiing with my family. I’m usually the one at the back everyone has to wait for at the lift.

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