Dean Sheehan is the newly appointed Senior Vice President and Sector General Counsel for Africa, Middle East and South Asia (AMESA) at PepsiCo. He speaks to Angelique Ardé about the richness of diversity, his new role and the opportunities that can be had practicing in-house.
Managing a team of 50 lawyers from 14 countries covering such a large geography is no mean feat. But it’s a challenge that Dean Sheehan has obviously embraced.
“It’s extremely diverse, culturally rich and always engaging. To use a recent African example, the acquisition of Pioneer Foods in South Africa and its subsequent integration in to the PepsiCo family has been an amazing experience.”
He says that having the best local talent in local markets ensures that PepsiCo maintains a connection with its consumers.
“The capability of my team makes the magnitude of the markets I’m responsible for much easier to manage. If you want to succeed, you must surround yourself with great people.”
Sheehan says his responsibilities in his new role fall into four broad buckets.
“Firstly, empowering, motivating, developing and supporting my team is probably the responsibility that’s constantly on my mind.
“Secondly, we have an operating presence in markets like South Africa, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Kenya, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Pakistan and India. We also have numerous franchise and distribution arrangements in these markets and many more. The legal operations in these markets need a docking hub and support base and this is what my team and I in AMESA HQ provide.
“Thirdly, I’m responsible for ensuring that PepsiCo’s global legal and regulatory agenda is adopted appropriately into the AMESA markets.
“Finally, I sit on the AMESA executive committee and support that team, especially the AMESA chief executive, on all matters that require my support as the general counsel and as a strategic business partner. This includes matters such as special projects, government engagement, reputational issues, etc.”
Being valued as a strategic partner is imperative for any in-house legal team in today’s world.
“As an in-house lawyer there are no legal issues, everything is a business issue.
“At PepsiCo AMESA, the legal department’s relentless focus is on continuously growing our reputation as a team that knows the business intimately and is therefore a key facilitator of strategic objectives.”
Reflecting on how his career has changed since moving in-house more than a decade ago, Sheehan says his decision was never about getting a better work-life balance.
“All in-house lawyers will know that the hours and workloads are just as hectic. You can also replace billing targets with the universal challenge of quantifying your legal team’s value and achievements in language the business can relate to. You can replace client networking with the relentless focus on making sure that your department has full strategic visibility across all levels of the organisation.
“Law firms and in-house teams also have the common challenge of having few obvious ways of meeting expectations around career growth. But whereas law firms can usually fix this through financial reward because a lawyer’s contribution to the firm is easier to value, in-house teams are restricted to a company-wide compensation formula that isn’t necessarily designed with the unique role of the legal team in mind.
“In contrast, in-house does have the upper hand in being able to identify enriching new experiences. I suppose that’s where my working life has changed most dramatically. I’ve been lucky enough to be exposed to a multitude of different legal and regulatory issues in multiple jurisdictions and each experience teaches you something new. Taking these experiences, including working through how your company addresses them on a local, regional and global scale, adds to a skill set that is impossible to replicate in private practice.”
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