Carol Williams is Associate General Counsel at Mars Corporation, the U.S. headquartered global manufacturer of confectionary, pet food and other food products. She was initially appointed with responsibility for the management of legal issues for the Mars group throughout the UK and European lead for the chocolate business. Carol was previously Head of Legal and Company Secretary at Northern Foods plc and Deputy Group Solicitor at Asda Group plc.
“…When you’re working as an in-house layer you have to wear a commercial hat, so simply regurgitating the legal text when you work in house will get you nowhere. Simple and clear communication at all times and with everyone is a must…”
Carol, please can you tell us why you wanted to work in the legal sector?
That is a bit of a difficult one really. I had always thought that I might like to pursue a legal career, but I was discouraged from doing so at school. My teachers didn’t think it was right for me. In a way, this is part of what made me all the more determined to succeed and prove them wrong. So I went, got a degree and then pursued law. Shows that you should never give up!
What made you choose to be a solicitor and work in a corporate role rather than another area?
When you are working in an in house legal team you are at the decision making end of the business, you are not one step beyond. Being an integral part of the team that delivers gives a frisson of excitement that you simply don’t get in private practise. You cannot walk away once the decision is taken as you are part of it and its implementation – you live with the consequences.
You have to love all aspects of business but the variety of legal work that you are exposed to is phenomenal. You certainly wouldn’t expect some of work that we do to fall into the ‘legal’ category.
For those of our readers without a legal background, please can you explain how the role of a solicitor working in-house for a company differs from a role working within a firm of solicitors?
When you’re working as an in-house layer you have to wear a commercial hat, so simply regurgitating the legal text when you work in house will get you nowhere. Simple and clear communication at all times and with everyone is a must.
The breadth of work that I advise on is huge. Other than probate, I cannot think off hand of an area that I don’t cover.
What are the challenges of working in an international organisation, how does the culture differ from location to location and how do you have to adapt your approach?
There is a huge difference in culture between markets as you might expect when working in a global organisation. Picking up the phone helps you to understand the full context of a situation, so my word of caution would always be around the use of email – I find that speaking to people directly often helps in building relationships, but also with ironing out any ambiguity.
Mars is a family owned and its whole business is governed by its ‘Five Principles’: Quality; Responsibility; Efficiency; Mutuality and Freedom. (All external and internal relationships are governed by these principles.)
It’s an incredibly diverse organisation, but also an incredibly welcoming organisation.
What is your advice for girls and women who are interested in working in the law?
Go for it! What on earth is holding you back? If it is something you have a passion for you should pursue your dream. You work for a significant period of your life and so you might as well do something that you want to get out of bed for in the morning.