Mergers take time, effort and thought. As €16bn (£14bn) French food services and facility management company Sodexo prepares to combine its DACH arm (Germany, Austria and Switzerland) with its Central and Eastern European operations, Ingo Koehler-Bartels is gearing up for his role as general counsel for the new Central European (CE) operation.
On 1 September Koehler-Bartels will take up his new role and he is contemplating the task ahead as we speak.
Ingo Koehler-Bartels CV
Reports to: UK GC Gareth John (interim)
2014-present: General counsel DACH, Sodexo
2005-14: Head of commercial, Dimension Data
2004-05: Contract manager, Accenture
“When I joined in 2014 everything was localised,” he muses. “Germany was Germany, Austria was Austria, and so on. We’re now moving towards an organisation where it’s easier for the regions to report into the main group. We’ve had several waves of transformation. Germany, for example, was not a very mature market for us and it was the last to be merged into DACH, but even as we did that we acknowledged it was not the end for DACH.”
In-house lawyer numbers and remit
Industry: Food services and facilities management
Size of legal team: (in DACH) Seven
External legal spend: (in DACH) €500,000
Koehler-Bartels leads a seven-strong team in his region, with the CE numbers yet to be finalised. Germany and Poland are overseen by three lawyers apiece, while Austria accounts for the other.
Sodexo ranks in the top 20 employers globally with headcount thought to be north of 425,000 in 80 countries, including 35,000 in the UK alone.
With headcount that high and considering the business’s core sectors, much of what keeps the legal department busy revolves around contract disputes and HR issues. Koehler-Bartels estimates that up to 80 per cent of the legal function’s time is spent on contracts and all that arises from them.
“We try to handle as much as we can in-house when it comes to statutory issues and employment matters,” says Koehler-Bartels. “Most of our work falls along those lines. The other 20 per cent involves corporate, regulatory and GDPR. For this, we have a dedicated data protection department.
“Legal is also in charge of insurance matters including any extensions of programmes. We do that with our centralised insurance team at group HQ.”
For work that needs external counsel the business has three main service lines, which have been formalised this year. Koehler-Bartels is confident the company can handle day-to-day business but it uses region-wide advisers to complement national firms.
For example, Baker McKenzie covers ‘benefits and rewards’ matters. The US firm will work across the whole region but will collaborate with a smaller firm in Austria when applicable.
Similarly, DLA Piper handles ‘onset services’, while Eversheds Sutherland has won the mandate for ‘personal home services’ work. Each year this work can cost up to €500,000 in the DACH region although this figure is expected to rise following the DACH/CE merger.
Being based near Frankfurt, Koehler-Bartels concedes that legal advice comes at a premium. The trick, he says, is identifying where savings can be made.
“The prices are all quite high around Frankfurt,” says Koehler-Bartels, “but it’s not our intention to buy simply on best price – we need to see where we can gain efficiencies.”
The merger is not the only big change taking place at Sodexo this year. Sodexo’s group general counsel of two decades – and 33 years at the business overall – Bob Stern, is poised to hand over the reins to Paris-based general counsel of global contracts Angelo Piccirillo.
Sodexo is going through a series of transformations but Koehler-Bartels is determined to make a success of the new regional plan. And the smart money is on him doing just that.
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