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Jodi Lea - General Counsel at Compass Group UK & Ireland Limited

Alumni spotlight

Jodi Lea

General Counsel at Compass Group UK & Ireland Limited

Jodi was a teenager when she began her career at Eversheds Sutherland as a personal assistant, working under (then) Associate Catherine Eley. Attracted by a non-traditional route to becoming a lawyer, she currently heads up the UK & Ireland legal function at Compass Group, a world-leading caterer operating in 45 countries.

A champion of social mobility, Jodi recounts her journey from PA to GC in conversation with Catherine, now a corporate partner and who she counts as a trusted adviser to Compass.

Catherine Eley: you joined our Private Equity team in the late nineties. What do you remember of those early days?

Jodi Lea: We were very much a family, weren’t we? It was a supportive culture with the spirit of ‘we’re all in it together’. We worked incredibly hard; but enjoyed celebrating our successes. It made things fun.

I was also supporting James Trevis at the time. Both you and James were tremendously helpful, probably the two most important individuals of my entire career.

But me first though, right (as James is bound to read this!)?

Well, that goes without saying. Joking aside, had it not been for you and James, I would never have qualified as a lawyer. And it would be remiss of me not to mention former partner Mike Seabrook who was also inspirational.

Had it not been for you and James, I would never have qualified as a lawyer.

What skills would you say the firm instilled in you?

Integrity, professionalism, a strong work ethic – all of the skills I have today are due to that early experience at Eversheds Sutherland. Providing the very best service for clients and being the very best you could be.

You gave me invaluable advice and experience that every lawyer needs to succeed.

What would you say was your proudest achievement with us?

That would have to be my qualifying. It took me seven years of working full-time, going to law school in the evenings and studying at weekends. It was quite a journey to go from PA to qualified lawyer.

After qualifying in 2009, you took your first in-house role. What was that like?

I left with a heavy heart. It was during the global financial crisis, and the firm was then offering just one position for a newly-qualified solicitor, with a number of us thinking of applying. An opportunity arose to go in-house working with a previous team colleague which I decided to take.

I didn’t necessarily want to leave but it just worked out that way. My first in-house role was a private equity backed financial services company specialising in a range of products. While it was good for my development to work in a regulated sector, I knew financial services wasn’t for me and left after a year.

That was when you moved to Compass for the first time.

That’s right – remarkably, I’ve joined Compass a total of three times in my career and have worked in both the operational business and corporate head office roles.

The first time, I was contacted by another Eversheds Sutherland alumna, Victoria Moore, who has now set up her own recruitment agency. She mentioned Compass was looking for an in-house lawyer. It was a challenging and interesting role given the size of Compass and the diverse sectors in which it operates. I thoroughly enjoyed learning a whole new industry and network of contacts.

And before returning for your third stint at Compass as GC, you experienced other in-house environments like engineering and the automotive sector. Why was that?

I just wanted to continue learning. I loved life in-house and thought expanding my knowledge of other sectors would help me progress. These roles also offered me management experience which is vital for any GC.

However, before too long I was back at Compass. I’d maintained a good relationship with Compass and the global General Counsel, and when asked if I would be interested in returning as General Counsel of the UK&I business, I gladly accepted. That’s what I’m doing now and honestly, I love my job.

How would you describe your leadership style?

I think it’s naïve to assume everybody is simply motivated by money. Some wish to progress and others are already experienced and happy to work autonomously without desire to take the ‘top spot’.

I have 11 lawyers and 3 administrators in my team. I aim to support mental wellbeing, diversity and inclusion and social mobility, of which I’m obviously a personal champion. The key to managing any team is spending time getting to know the individuals, to understand what motivates them, to put them in the right role supporting the right sector.

I think it’s naïve to assume everybody is simply motivated by money. Some wish to progress and others are already experienced and happy to work autonomously without desire to take the ‘top spot’. I’ve restructured the roles within my team to create opportunities that match individual skillsets and ambitions.

What else takes up your time?

I have a broad role, generally I’m responsible for all things legal and regulatory. This can be ensuring compliance with legislation e.g. data protection, anti-trust, dealing with litigation, advising on M&A, integrating acquired businesses and managing the property portfolio.

I’m a Trustee of the Compass Defined Benefit Pension Plan and a Board Director.

I also manage major risk mitigation and support health and safety issues. That is testing at the moment because we’re changing the way we label food in anticipation of Natasha’s law, which comes into force on 1st October 2021 and introduces full ingredient and allergen labelling on all food made on premises and pre-packed for direct sale.

And obviously as we’re a contract caterer, everything we do revolves around contracts.

It’s great that I can continue my connection to Eversheds Sutherland as an extension to the team, if you like, to support us on all these fronts.