Neither Thomas Beecham, who launched his Beecham’s laxative pills way back in 1842, nor John K Smith, who opened his first drugstore in Philadelphia several years before, could have imagined the huge empire their businesses would become.
That empire was formed in 1989 when SmithKline Beckman and the Beecham Group finally merged.
Today, SmithKline Beecham (SB) is a leading global healthcare company. It discovers, develops, and makes pharmaceuticals, vaccines, medicines and consumer products. It markets over 400 branded products, from major drugs to household products like Ribena.
Based in West London, SB also has a twin head office in Philadelphia. Half SB’s business is conducted in the US, and the company is listed both there and in London.
Lawyers are essential to SB’s business, and the global legal function works closely alongside management. Head of legal is US lawyer James Beery who serves as one of eight senior vice presidents reporting to Jan Leschly.
In 1993 Beery came to SB after being headhunted. “I got a call saying they were looking for an Americanised Brit, asking whether an Anglicised American could do the job,” he recalls. “I couldn’t even spell ‘pharmaceutical’ in 1993,” he laughs.
Despite that impediment, Beery has had a dynamic impact. Colleagues say he has “significantly transformed” the legal function, “strategically elevating” the role of lawyers within SB. One lawyer adds: “He’s a successful champion of his people within the business, and very committed to helping them develop.” He is also recognised for making SB a “fun” place to work.
SB’s legal department is structured around six corporate groups: legal operations (direct support of individual businesses); environmental and safety; intellectual property; legal and secretarial (straddling the UK and US); and legal compliance and security – which deals with corporate security issues that affect drug businesses.
Lawyers are based mainly in London and Philadelphia, but also at major sites including the big research and development facilities at Harlow in Essex and in the Delaware Valley, US; the consumer healthcare HQ in Pittsburgh, the pharmaceutical benefit management group in Minneapolis, and the vaccines business in Brussels.
Some lawyers sit in the management teams of “operational business units”. Others focus on the area of SB legal work and intellectual property-related matters.
“Our objective is to add the most value to the business, wherever we can,” says Beery. “It may sound trite, but we know the business.” Some are PhD-qualified in biotech subjects or chemistry, and may work alongside researchers. This “extraordinary expertise”, as Beery says, is unsurprising. “Think of the value of a patent, or additional protection for a billion-dollar product. It would pay for this department for a year,” he says. Trade mark protection is also a big issue, which has led to some legal firsts, such as injunctions in Poland or dawn raids in India, where back-street crooks make counterfeit – and dangerous – products. “We care a lot about brands,” says Beery.
Three years ago SB developed a more “disciplined approach” to using external firms. Before, some 475 were used globally. Now, it’s far fewer, including 4 in the UK.
“We look for external lawyers who know our business, and what our problems are. We appreciate the value of relationships, but we have to keep things under constant review. Our obligation is to get “value for money”, and it’s fair to say we have co-operation and openness with our firms.” He adds: “They understand what a corporate budget means.”
Senior vice-president, general counsel, company secretary and head of legal
|FTSE 100 ranking||4th biggest|
|Employees||58,000 in 160 countries|
|Legal function||127 legal professionals, including patent attorneys (20 in London)|
|Head of legal||James Beery, senior vice president, general counsel and company secretary|
|Reporting to||chief executive Jan Leschly|
|Main location for lawyers||London, Philadelphia, and Europe|
|Main law firms||Linklaters; Simmons & Simmons; Cameron McKenna; Dibb Lupton Alsop; (US firms) Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton; Cravath Swaine & Moore; Shearman & Sterling|