Michelin is a company in an enviable position. Its ;staple product, pneumatic tyres, is unlikely to go out of fashion any time soon.
Even if the anti-car lobby were to win its fight, the company would still be selling tyres for aeroplanes, lorries, farming equipment, high-end bicycles and anything else that rolls. Plus it hands out the much-coveted ‘stars’ for the best eats in the world.
The company’s mascot Bibendum – or the Michelin Man as he is better known – while remaining overweight throughout, has undergone vast transformations over the years, turning from gritty, cigar-smoking booze-quaffing bon viveur to jolly, family-friendly teetotaller. By contrast, the company’s basic approach to business and products – the first Michelin tyre was sold in 1896 and the famous Red Guide to restaurants launched in 1900 – has changed very little.
The Michelin family is still heavily involved in the French company and a large number of staff have seemingly been there for a lifetime. So in a sense Jane Booth, the UK’s head of legal, is almost the baby of the family.
“Nine years and I’m still not bored,” she jokes. “But when I joined Michelin it was a huge surprise to me how complicated the product is. The first time I stood in a manufacturing plant was incredible.”
Around 113,000 staff globally work on every stage of building a tyre, ranging from research and development to manufacturing, marketing and sales. There has been a lot for Booth to get to grips with.
Throughout, Michelin’s strong in-house culture influences everything.
“The cultural fit is as important as the quality of work,” says Booth. “Certainly when we do beauty parades the firms are made aware that the cultural match is important. It’s very important to me how my external solicitors will work with clients.”
Although she does not follow the Tyco model (as reported in The Lawyer, 26 May) in terms of tying fees to diversity and other metrics, Booth admits she takes them into account in her selection.
Addleshaw Goddard was the English firm that benefited from the cultural fit when it was reappointed during the last panel review two and a half years ago. For Scottish work, Shepherd and Wedderburn is the firm of choice, and in Northern Ireland L’Estrange & Brett gets the call.
That said, Michelin does not outsource a great deal of its legal work. As Booth explains, the bulk of the work comes through commercial issues, such as dealing with distributors ;and ;purchasing contracts. Employment law is also a large area, but Booth aims to handle all employment work in-house, as well as most corporate governance and company secretarial matters.
M&A is relatively low on the agenda, with most of the industry having consolidated years ago. And while the legal department deals with uninsured risk, such as product liability, Booth says there is not a lot of litigation at the manufacturer and that such matters are mostly settled without recourse to law. For example, the company provides training for police forces to help them quickly identify whether or not the tyre caused a traffic accident or whether it sustained damage in a collision caused by other components.
With the global tyre market in many sectors being divided mostly between arch-rivals Michelin and Bridgestone and several smaller competitors, Booth also pays close attention to competition law. IP rights are also vital, with the design of tyre treads requiring particular policing.
A lot of the work in these areas requires a proactive approach from Booth. Michelin has a programme whereby all managers are taught basic labour and employment law, while Booth is starting up a new programme in IP awareness.
“We do our best to include every single manager at Michelin,” she says.
Although it requires a significant investment of her time, Booth insists the programme has more than paid off – yielding an increased awareness of the law and the in-house legal function from everyone at the company.
While Michelin is in many ways a conservative company, fresh challenges lie ahead for Booth. Michelin Lifestyle, for example, is a new brand that aims to market driving accessories. Also top of the agenda are projects to reduce the environmental impact of tyres – from their manufacture through to energy efficiency on the road and disposal at the end of their lives.
And with his role as world’s most famous gastronomist set firmly in the public’s imagination, the Michelin Man looks prepared to enjoy many more years at the table.
Name: Jane Booth
Position: UK and Éire head of legal
Industry: Tyre manufacture and travel publications
Reporting to: UK managing director Jim Rickard
Turnover: UK £700m; global e16.8bn (£13.29bn)
Staff: UK approx 3,000; global 113,000
Legal capability: UK three; global 90-100
UK legal spend: £500,000 (approx)
Main law firms: Addleshaw Goddard, L’Estrange & Brett, Shepherd and Wedderburn
Jane Booth’s CV
1988-90: College of Law, Chester Employment
1992-93: Solicitor, Margaret Patterson Solicitor
1993-97: Company secretary, Dorbiere
1997-99: In-house solicitor, The Littlewoods Organisation
1999-present: UK and Éire head of legal, Michelin