One step ahead: Heather Mitchell, The Carlyle Group

General counsel at The Carlyle Group Heather Mitchell sees outsourcing to exceptional people as one of the secrets of her success.


Heather Mitchell
Heather Mitchell

Variety was the main attraction for Heather Mitchell when she left private ­practice to take up her in-house role at private equity firm The Carlyle Group.

But while the diversity of work ­sustains Mitchell – now in her fifth year as Carlyle’s European general counsel – her roster of ­external ­advisers by comparison is very much static. And for good ­reason, she says.

For a company of Carlyle’s size the legal team is relatively small, which means a large amount of work is outsourced.

“M&A work and fund formation is outsourced, and we use the best firms around for those matters,” says Mitchell. “We also outsource ­regulatory and lobbying work, but fund structuring and M&A probably account for the large majority.”

Due to the international scope of its work, the company unsurprisingly chooses firms with a significant ­global footprint.

For M&A work it heads primarily to Clifford Chance and Latham & Watkins, while fund structuring ­matters are usually handled by Debevoise & Plimpton, Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, and Simpson Thacher & Bartlett.

“The good news is that we have partnered with a number of firms that understand our business and we have hardly any turnover in our ­outside counsel,” says Mitchell. “We work with people that are ­exceptional in their field.”

Carlyle has a total of 67 funds under management across the globe totalling more than $88.6bn (£57.32bn) and is involved in four key investment areas: buyouts, growth capital, real estate and ­leveraged finance.

For Mitchell, it was the sense of ownership and the variety of the work that appealed to her, in contrast to the repetitive nature of many ­positions in private practice.

“That’s what I love about my job,” she enthuses. “It’s so dynamic. It’s focused on enhancing the ­reputation of The Carlyle Group, but I do everything from HR and ­employment issues, through to M&A.”

She continues: “An in-house ­position allows you to be proactive and results-driven. There’s a strong feeling of ownership in your work. When you’re in-house you can see some things coming down the road and stay one step ahead.”

Mitchell joined Carlyle from Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld in 2002. She was originally based in the US but was relocated to London five years ago.

“We made a decision that we ­needed someone on the ground in the UK because it was important to have someone there in real time,” she explains.

There are 14 staff in Carlyle’s legal team, including eight lawyers, with the majority based in the US.

The company invests in numerous sectors, with the majority in energy and real estate, while it is also active in aerospace and defence, the ­automotive industry, healthcare, technology and ­telecommunications.

Since arriving in the UK, Mitchell has been involved in a number of successful investments across Europe.

In March 2007 The Carlyle Group acquired Ensus Limited, providing funding for its first biorefinery in the UK. It is now supporting the company’s efforts to roll out across Europe.

Another success story was ­Transics, which Carlyle exited in June 2008. Within two years of acquiring Transics, which produces on-board computers and fleet ­management solutions, its revenues had doubled.

Mitchell’s role demands close involvement with the team of more than 400 investors based across the company’s 19 offices spread worldwide.

More than half of Carlyle’s investments are made in the ­Americas, while Europe and Asia account for 25 per cent and 16 per cent respectively.

“I have involvement with people on the investment side all day long,” says Mitchell, who revels in the variety of work her role allows.

“Every day is different,” she adds. “Every day when I come in there’s something different on my desk.”