By anyone’s standards Amy Tu had a busy year in 2006. Boeing sent its international counsel to the UK to begin developing the company’s in-house legal function outside the US, a sizeable task and one that is ongoing.
Meanwhile, at Boeing headquarters in Chicago, 2006 saw a change of general counsel, with former US Court of Appeals judge Mike Luttig taking the reins from Douglas Bain, who had been with the aerospace giant for 24 years.
Luttig is overseeing a shake-up and formalisation in Boeing’s use of outside counsel, which up until recently had consisted of hundreds of law firms.
Likewise, Boeing’s increasing activity outside the US, and particularly in Europe, has meant that the New York Stock Exchange-listed company is having to beef up its legal function in other jurisdictions to support its burgeoning presence.
And that is where Tu comes in. She is effectively a one-woman taskforce, investigating just how many in-house lawyers Boeing needs to hire and in what areas. But there are still cultural issues to overcome.
“The notion is that, if you’re going to move abroad as an American, then London would be place you’d want to end up,” says Tu. “But it’s a completely different culture. You can’t assume that everything that works in the US works over here.”
That can apply to something as simple as the relationship between an in-house lawyer and her outside counsel.
“The lawyers here practise very differently in the way that they communicate,” says Tu. “I think it’s very important to have an informal relationship, to be able to just pick up the phone and talk through issues. It’s a learning process, I guess.”
Generally, though, Tu is happy with the service she has received so far. She instructs the European offices of US firm Chadbourne & Parke on cross-border matters, particularly those involving Russia, where Boeing has been acquisitive of late.
Last August, the company announced that it had entered into a joint venture with Russian titanium monopoly VSMPO-Avisma. Under the terms of the venture VSMPO-Avisma will produce $18bn (£9.17bn) worth of titanium parts for Boeing’s new plane, the 787 Dreamliner. Chadbourne led on the deal for Boeing.
“It’s a firm we’ve used in the US,” Tu says of Chadbourne. “We don’t have any counsel in Russia, and it also has an office in London, so it’s been very useful to be able to address issues with them in real time.”
Although Chadbourne forged a relationship with Boeing in the US, Tu’s remit includes seeking other firms with which the company may not have had experience.
Tu uses Eversheds on UK-based matters, although the firm also handles work for Boeing in more than 20 jurisdictions. “They’ve been a great find in terms of offering a good, responsive, local service,” she says.
Her relationship with Eversheds stems from working with Denise Jagger, who is currently a commercial partner in charge of client services. Jagger was previously general counsel at Asda, while Tu worked in-house at the supermarket’s US parent Wal-Mart.
Both Wal-Mart and Boeing are highly visible companies that are often surrounded by political debate. So how does Tu cope with decisions that may be played out in the political arena?”Boeing is an inherently political company because of who our clients are, both in defence and on the commercial side. Of course it has an impact, especially when you’re dealing with those customers. You might be working on a contract selling planes, or you might be drafting a contract with a government on a particular sale of military aircraft,” explains Tu. “But on a day-to-day level, you just try to comply with the law and work closely with our group of government and international relations people.”
And at the moment, as the only Boeing lawyer in Europe, Tu’s day-to-day job involves anything and everything, from managing employment issues to negotiating a bond offering. “That’s why I concentrate on getting the right resources from outside counsel,” she says.
In such a wide-reaching role, Tu comes into contact with all types of Boeing employees. Dealing with her in-house clients, she finds her previous business experience at Merrill Lynch invaluable. “I deal with all types of people; with CEOs, but also with engineers. I need to be able to take information and translate it into a language each understands. It’s really a marriage of business and legal knowledge.”
And a very happy marriage at that.
|Sector:||Aerospace and defence|
|International counsel:||Amy Tu|
|Reporting to:||General counsel Michael Luttig|
|Legal capability worldwide:||120|
|Main law firms in Europe:||Chadbourne & Parke, Eversheds|
|Amy Tu’s CV||