Sharon Harris: Britvic

In the war of the drinks cabinet, Britvic in-housers must think laterally to ensure pride of place. By Jon Parker

For Britvic’s head of legal and estates Sharon Harris, protecting the health of the brand of the soft drinks giant is integral to the overall health of the company.

“Our role is about creating brands that people love,” says Harris. “And we love our brands as much as our customers do.”

A milestone event in Harris’s four-year love affair with the Britvic brand was the company’s IPO in January this year.

“I hadn’t gone through an IPO before and it was a great challenge,” says Harris. “But it was also business as normal: as far as we’re concerned, we’re there to create and build great brands.”

However, Harris reveals that the float was the first time the company had used Linklaters. Harris picked Linklaters as her firm of choice following a beauty parade after meeting London corporate partner Stuart Bedford.

Harris was impressed with Bedford, calling him an “excellent lawyer and personality”.

Following its flotation, Britvic faces greater disclosure, compliance and regulatory issues. Harris says this has required an extensive programme of educating employees, involving not only the usual presentations to staff and documents on the intranet, but also extensive follow-up.

This constituted extensive meetings with the company’s numerous managers to establish understanding and ensure that new procedures have been implemented smoothly.

“But it was more than just a case of getting managers to know what to do or what not to do,” Harris adds. “It was about getting them to consider the issues in the first place and to know who to turn to and ask before doing something.”

While Linklaters is the company’s go-to firm for major corporate instructions, Eversheds is the firm Harris turns to for other outsourced work, including property.

Harris explains: “I very much see the two firms as partners; they’re required to work together.”

Eversheds’ Britvic relationship partner is London corporate partner Aleen Gulvanessian, and as an example of the interaction the company requires from its external advisers, Harris points out that Eversheds supported Linklaters on due diligence work as part of the IPO. It is a situation that works well for Harris and she has been happy with the results.

However, external spend is small, coming to an average of less than £150,000 a year. “Our drive is to do as much as possible in-house,” Harris says. “Very little day-to-day work is sent out at all.”

Harris is assisted in this by in-house IP specialist Jennifer Bryant, who joined from Bird & Bird two years ago and competition specialist Laura Montana from Simmons & Simmons, who joined at the same time. Also on the team is Luanne Still, who joined from Suttons in 2002. But although the three lawyers have individual specialisms, Harris says: “Anyone that’s going to work in-house in a small team has to be able to handle anything.”

Quizzed on the rumoured Permira takeover bid in October, Harris is dismissive. “The media put two and two together to make five,” she states. “The rumoured bid was no more than a chimera. I was told formally [by company bosses] that it was a non-issue.”

While the spectre of M&A remains a possibility, for now Harris and her team remain focused on the core issues central to Britvic and its success: understanding the corporate and individual product brands, and keeping them at the forefront of the country’s drinks fridges.

Sharon Harris
Head of legal and estates

Organisation Britvic
Sector Food and beverage
Turnover £700m
Legal spend £150,000
Employees 2,700
Head of legal and estates Sharon Harris
Reporting to Company secretary John Price
Legal capability Four

Main law firms Eversheds, Linklaters
Sharon Harris’s CV Education: 1987-1990 – King’s College, University of London, LLB; 1990-91 – College of Law, Chester
Work history: 1991-93 – trainee, Norton Rose; 1993-94 – assistant counsel, Amstrad; 1995-97 – assistant counsel, AstraZeneca; 1997-98 – assistant solicitor, Simmon & Simmons; 1998-2002 – assistant counsel, Merial; 2002 – head of legal and estates, Britvic