After a year of lockdown and significant M&A activity, Croda International’s General Counsel, Tom Brophy talks to Miguel about some of the highlights of his time with the company and particularly 2020. We learn about the part Croda is playing in the fight against Covid-19, and hear a little about professional development for lawyers in a FTSE 100 company currently looking to hire a mid-level M&A lawyer… we also discover hidden talents and African cocktails – something for everyone!

For those not familiar with the company, tell us a little more about Croda

I’m Group General Counsel and Company Secretary of Croda International. Croda is a FTSE 100 listed company with a market cap of c£9bn, employing around 6,000 people and operating in countries all across the world. Unusually, our head office is in Yorkshire, which is where our business started nearly 100 years ago. 

Although we are not a household name, we are the name behind high performance ingredients and technologies in some of the biggest, most successful brands in the world.  We create, make and sell speciality chemicals that are relied on by industries and consumers everywhere. Every day we all use or benefit from products that contain Croda’s ingredients.

We use Smart science to improve livesTM  and have committed to becoming the most sustainable supplier of innovative ingredients, helping provide solutions to some of the world’s biggest challenges in the coming decades. To achieve this ambitious goal we will be Climate, Land and People Positive by 2030.  

What factors made you choose to work there?

I was attracted by international nature of our business and the diversity of our operations and people, with skills in R&D, manufacturing, supply chain as well as our customer facing sales and marketing teams. I saw plenty of exciting opportunities for the business to grow and for me to build and develop the legal function to support it. This was very exciting for me and for my own personal development.

Why is it a good place to work, from your perspective as Croda’s General Counsel?

We have a great culture – one where humility and authenticity are valued highly. We have a ‘we’ not ‘me’ ethos where people genuinely care about doing what is best for Croda and living up to our Purpose, One of the most important things for me is also having a good time whilst at work, and although we work really hard we have fun along the way and there is a lot of laughter!

Croda provides plenty of opportunity. We do not simply silo people into job roles. In the time I have been at Croda, as well as doing my core role of Group General Counsel & Company Secretary, I also had a three year spell leading our global HR team and 18 months managing our European business. Not many companies provide those kinds of career opportunities for lawyers…

How has the organisation developed since you joined?

We have more than doubled in size in the last eight years, and it has been exciting to be part of that growth story. This has been a mix of organic growth across all regions as well as undertaking many acquisitions – most recently Avanti in the US and Iberchem in Spain.

What particular challenges have you been able to deal with in the legal team and how do you stay sharp?

The variety of work that we have in the legal team is huge and challenging. Our bread-and-butter work is commercial contracts, and we support the business across a wide spectrum of areas from R&D agreements developing existing and new technologies, commercial partnerships, significant capital expansion projects and supplier and customer agreements. However, we are involved in so much more than this – for example, we manage compliance programmes such as ethics or competition; we work on M&A transactions and advise on regulatory issues and HR matters. We really do act as ‘counsel’ to our colleagues across all aspects of our business.

As a legal team I ensure all our lawyers are able to develop their legal and leadership skills through external training courses or on the job experience. I have been lucky enough to undertake leadership training at London Business School since I joined Croda and we have some excellent leadership training courses in Croda for both our up-and-coming and existing leaders.

What have the highlights been for you professionally and what particular projects stick out for you?

My focus over the last eight years has been to ensure that the business has excellent legal support. When I joined Croda we had two lawyers and myself as General Counsel. We now have eight lawyers across each of our five regions, and I am proud to have seen the function grow and thrive. We are now seen very much as business partners and are involved in every aspect of the business.

Just picking two examples of projects that I have been involved in over the last six months. I worked on the negotiations of a commercial supply agreement with Pfizer, in which we supply key ingredients for Pfizer’s Covid 19 vaccine.

A few weeks later I worked on the acquisition of Iberchem. This was an €850m acquisition that we undertook in under three weeks! To make things even more complicated, we undertook a €600m placing alongside the deal, to fund it… really hard work but very rewarding!

Why is now a good time to join Croda and the legal department?

In the last year we have set ourselves an incredibility ambitious commitment to become the most sustainable supplier of innovative ingredients. So, to be part of this journey is very exciting, as we embrace our responsibility to pursue sustainable growth, and ensuring that the ingredients we make and the products they are used in have ever more benefit, with ever less impact.

We are already very unusual in our industry – with the majority of our raw materials coming from bio-based sources rather than petrochemical. So sustainability is, and has always been, in our lifeblood. But to achieve our sustainability commitments will mean transforming many aspects of our business. To be Climate Positive means we will enable more​ carbon to be saved​ than we emit; to be Land​ Positive​ we will enable more land​ to be saved than​ we use to grow our​ bio-based materials; and being People Positive means that we will apply our innovations​ to increase our positive​ impact on society​.

As a company we’ve had a long track record of acquisitions, as the past 8 years and recent events have shown. The future also looks like being just as exciting. 

A great opportunity exists for an M&A lawyer to come on board and work closely with me on acquisitions, and with my European legal team on general commercial work. As many will know, in-house legal roles with a corporate M&A angle are quite rare outside the capital. So this new opening provides a great opportunity for a London-based corporate lawyer to relocate back to the north of England, if they’re at a stage at which they want to get back to be close to family. As first in-house legal roles go it will provide someone with both challenge and an opportunity to broaden their skills quite considerably, if they are looking to leave a law firm. 

What attracted you to the legal profession and how does working as an in-house compare to practice?

To be honest I did not set out to be a lawyer! I chose law and economics to study for my degree at university as it sounded interesting (I didn’t realise it would be such had work though!). After University I didn’t have a plan, so I paid my way through law school. I then got a job as a paralegal before getting a training contract with Lovells and becoming an M&A lawyer.

M&A brought with it a wide range of experiences, which I loved, but once I had undertaken a couple of in-house counsel secondments, I realised I felt more at home in-house that in private practice.

The variety of in-house legal work is unparalleled and I am lucky enough to be on our Exec and Board – so I am also part of leading our business. This all means no two days are ever the same, and that keeps my interest going.

What practical advice would you give to someone looking to join the legal profession?

Three things really:

It is such a broad profession; it is important to try and find out what area of law you think will interest you and, importantly, why. For some it will be human rights. For others maybe employment or family law. For me, I was attracted to corporate law and M&A.

Secondly, get a training contract at the best law firm you can. These firms will offer excellent training and have great lawyers to learn from. This will give you the best platform possible to start to your legal career.

Finally, the hours we work as lawyers are long, so be prepared for that. That’s why it’s important you enjoy what you do, but also remember to also devote quality time to your loved ones and to looking after yourself through rest, exercise and downtime.

What do you like to do when you’re not working?

I am married with three children – so I try to spend time with them doing normal family things. I enjoy cycling, playing golf every so often and skiing. I love going on holiday!

Lockdown has affected us all in very different ways – how has lockdown affected you and the company? Have there been any surprising highs, lessons or things you have learned?

I used to travel a lot, at least once a month – although I miss that, I have really enjoyed not being away from my family. I have also enjoyed the flexibility of working from home and, once we emerge from this crisis, will continue to do so at least once a week.

What song was No1 when you qualified?

Groovejet (If This Ain’t Love)

What was your first non-legal job?

I had lots of part time jobs before I started law. From 14 I was picking potatoes at the farm next to my house, I worked at a supermarket collecting trollies and in restaurants washing up and waiting tables. But my first full time job was after my A ‘Levels in my year off. I left home and moved in with some mates and got a job stacking shelves on night crew for a supermarket chain.

If you could spend an hour with anyone in the world of business, politics or entertainment, who would it be and what would you ask them?

Steven Gerrard. I am a big Liverpool FC fan and he was one of the best players I have seen. I would ask him how he feels about winning his first title as a manager rather than as a player….

What’s your guilty pleasure?

I love very generous helpings double cream on any kind of pudding…

What’s the most interesting/enjoyable book you’ve read in the last year?

I just finished reading Dark Matter by Blake Crouch which I enjoyed. 

Do you have a hidden talent?

I have a set of decks (ie record decks) and when I was younger (late teens/early twenties) I used to DJ at a club night in London

Favourite film or play.

Any Quentin Tarantino film. If I really had to pick one, it would be Pulp Fiction

Favourite gadget.

My Sage coffee machine

Favourite restaurant.

I love Japanese food. Nobu and Zuma in London are both excellent (but pricey!)

Favourite holiday destination so far, and where next?

Kenya – safari in Masai Mara with my family or skiing in Meribel.

Your default tipple is…?

The default is a bit boring – dry white wine, since it doesn’t give me a hangover!  However, I do love a cocktail called Dawa.

Oh, what’s that?

It’s an African cocktail which is derived from the Swahili word meaning “Medicine”. You make it by muddling ¼ lime cut in to chunks and brown sugar in a glass, add crushed ice, then neat vodka (a double at least…), top up with more crushed ice. Drink. Repeat.  

Most annoying phrase you’ve heard in the work place?

For 2020, it has to be “You’re on mute….”

To feature a member of your in-house team in our Insights blog, please get in touch. We donate £50 to the legal profession’s mental health charity LawCare for every interview we publish on one a member of our in-house legal network.

To hear more about the current opportunity Croda is currently offering to an M&A, please email Miguel direct in the first instance.