When creative maestro Philippe Starck’s interior design vehicle Yoo invited Geraldine Mirabile to be group GC, she wondered whether she would be cool enough. No problem, as it turned out
When the headhunters come calling to tell you that two of the highest profile – and possibly coolest – men in their field want you as their in-house lawyer, what do you say?
Geraldine Mirabile was faced with exactly that question when, as a senior lawyer in the Visa Europe team, she was approached to become general counsel of Yoo. Set up by French design guru Philippe Starck, who famously refurbished president François Mitterand’s Élysée Palace apartments in the 1980s, and property tycoon John Hitchcox, who brought New York-style living to London with his Manhattan Loft Company, the business specialises in kitting out and selling apartments all over the world. Having recently branched out into hotels and furniture, it counts the likes of Jade Jagger and Kelly Hoppen among its designers.
That’s pretty cool by anyone’s standards, so why did Mirabile hesitate?
“When they told me about the role I thought, why do they want me? My profile is quite different to theirs,” she recalls. “I was uncertain whether to interview or not. They’re a creative company; small but niche, dynamic and prestigious. Coming from a big corporate environment, I didn’t know if I’d fit in.”
Not only that, having spent six years at Visa after originally joining for a four-week secondment from Taylor Wessing, she was not too sure about leaving her existing role.
Love at first sight
“When I joined Visa it was love at first sight,” says Mirabile, who began her career at Italy’s Gianni Origoni Grippo Cappelli & Partners. “When you join a place and work with people you think almost immediately are fabulous you realise there’s life outside private practice, which is really exciting. […] It was clear after four weeks that I wanted to stay and they wanted to keep me.
My boss told me “you’re a born in-house lawyer”.
Ultimately, it was the love of lawyering and her affinity with the in-house role that led Mirabile to accept Yoo’s offer.
“Because the role was interesting and senior there was the opportunity for me to leave a footprint and create the legal department in my own way,” she explains.
So in May 2013 she took over the legal head role from Penelope Ferdinand, joining a company that is both an established player on the property design and development scene and a start-up when it comes to hotels and furniture.
Its portfolio of properties for sale includes Starck-inspired residences in Buenos Aires, Hamburg and Montreal, as well as 507 Jade Jagger-designed apartments in Mumbai and 21 by Kelly Hoppen in Moscow.
The nascent furniture business is building an e-commerce platform and has also signed a deal to stock its goods in Harrods, while Yoo Hotels has openings planned for 2016 in the Cotswolds, Bali and Jakarta.
“It’s dynamic and eccentric,” says Mirabile, who stresses that much of her time is taken up dealing with IP issues.
As the Yoo legal team is small, numbering just Mirabile and one more junior lawyer, some of the work is handled by external firms, although Mirabile “doesn’t want to be very senior in terms of not practising law any more”.
With everything from commercial contracts to hotel management agreements being handled in-house, there are some instances when law firms have to get involved, especially when the work has a foreign aspect.
Law firm links
Mirabile does not have a formal panel, but does regularly pass work to Osborne Clarke, Taylor Wessing and TLT, and Lewis Silkin on the trademark front, using local foreign firms on a case-by-case basis.
“The company has projects everywhere from India and China to the US and South America, and I use firms I’ve known,” says Mirabile. “China has been a challenge, but I used Taylor Wessing to help on that [they sourced a local firm to refer work to].
“We tend to operate under English law, but every time we’re involved in a project abroad, we have to make sure that the agreement complies with local law.”
Keep on lawyering
Although she remains hands-on in terms of practising law, Mirabile is part of Yoo’s management team and reports directly to CEO Chris Boulton. That, for her, is the beauty of being in-house compared with being in a law firm.
“When you’re in private practice you don’t really know what in-house lawyers can do,” she says. “You have to balance business acumen and commercial awareness with the technical skills of law. That makes being an in-house lawyer an amazing thing to do.
‘You’re in a bit of an ivory tower in private practice – you’re surrounded by lawyers and don’t really have that relationship with the business.”
A good enough reason to grab at the Yoo job if ever there was one – that and the Philippe Starck chairs.
Geraldine Mirabile, Yoo
Title: Group general counsel
Industry: Design, hospitality and retail
Reports to: CEO Chris Boulton
Number of employees: 75
Size of legal team: Three
Main external firms: Lewis Silkin, Osborne Clarke, Taylor Wessing, TL