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In-house: Rio Tinto GC to retire as Transferwise and ASOS legal heads depart

Multiple general counsel (GCs) have stepped down from their posts this week, including the legal heads of FTSE 100 mining company Rio Tinto, fintech company Transferwise and online retailer ASOS.

Rio Tinto said on Monday (1 July) Philip Richards will retire as group GC of the global mining giant at the end of December after two years in the role. He will be replaced by Barbara Levi, who is group legal head of M&A and strategic transactions at Swiss pharmaceutical company Novartis, from 1 January 2020.

Richards, who featured in this year’s GC Powerlist, lead a legal team of 150 people and joined from Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, where he was a corporate partner, in early 2017.

His time as GC was largely dominated by a high-profile bribering investigation in West Africa when the Serious Fraud Office opened an investigation into suspected corruption at Rio Tinto’s activities in Guinea in 2017.

Rio Tinto’s chief executive Jean-Sebastien Jacques said: ‘[Richards] has driven some significant improvements across governance and compliance which have strengthened our business.’

Levi, meanwhile, has spent 15 years at Novartis in various senior legal roles before becoming group legal head, M&A and strategic transactions in February. An Italian citizen, she previously worked as a corporate and transactional lawyer in Milan and in New York.

‘[Levi] has extensive legal experience across corporate, commercial and compliance matters gained within a complex multinational organisation which makes her an ideal choice to lead Rio Tinto’s legal and compliance team,’ added Jacques.

Meanwhile, TransferWise’s high-profile GC, Jenifer Swallow (pictured), is stepping down after nearly four years. The GC Powerlist regular said last week she was taking time before deciding on her next move, while Transferwise is now looking to fill her position.

Swallow was the first in-house lawyer TransferWise hired and grew the legal team to seven people, including four lawyers.

Finally, online fashion house ASOS has appointed its group legal director Anna Suchopar as interim GC after Andrew Magowan left the company at the end of June.

Magowan spent seven and a half years as ASOS’ GC and company secretary after joining the business from industrial aviation services provider Bristow Group where he was a legal director.