Legal Business

SABMiller

  • General counsel and corporate affairs director: John Davidson.
  • Team headcount: 18 lawyers.

High-profile GC John Davidson (pictured) manages a bench of seasoned corporate and finance lawyers at South African-bred brewing and beverage giant SABMiller.

Headquartered in London, the world’s second-largest brewer by revenue houses a 35-staff in-house function (of which half are legally trained) and comprises key players, including deputy GC Stephen Jones, who joined from Lovells in 2007. His relationship with SABMiller dates back to 1993 during his days at Dewey Ballantine in Warsaw and ‘knows the group intimately’ according to Davidson.

Jones is now responsible for leading the group’s global legal M&A and treasury functions. Other notable names include senior M&A counsel James Down, who led the team on its largest corporate transaction of 2014, the company’s joint venture with Coca-Cola in November to form an African bottling operation worth $2.9bn (£1.9bn). Other major work in recent years handled by the team includes the $11.5bn bid for Foster’s Group in 2011; the $1.2bn international placing of the group’s stake in Tsogo Sun (SA-listed hotels and gaming business) in 2014; and the $7bn bond issue in early 2012 to refinance the bank debt taken on to finance the Foster’s bid; plus a wide range of smaller M&A transactions, all handled principally in-house.

Davidson expanded the team since in 2006 joining from Lovells, where he was one of the City firm’s top deal lawyers. While Davidson still outsources to those firms with which he holds a ‘serious relationship’, including Hogan Lovells and Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton, strengthening the company’s legal capabilities ultimately lessens that reliance on external counsel and, more importantly, helps the team to understand the business.

He comments: ‘They’re all technically very good lawyers and had excellent training in their previous firms before they came to us. You can start on Monday and by Wednesday be on a flight to Nigeria and get stuck in. They’re used to working with regional teams so you have to quickly develop a good sense of what the operational requirements are for the business, and have a commercial approach to the transactions we’re working on. You work closely with your managing director. The other reason is to develop and retain your capital within the business rather than in someone else’s, and make sure the team as a result is better able to serve the needs of the [business].’

Hogan Lovells City corporate finance head Andrew Pearson says: ‘John has built up a really strong team – technically excellent, very well plugged into the global business and always a pleasure to work with.’