For Lucozade Ribena Suntory’s Mollie Stoker, Starting from Scratch is a Cinch

Popular soft drinks Lucozade and Ribena have been household names in the U.K. since before World War II. In 2013, global drinks producer Suntory Beverage & Food bought the brands from GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) and opened an office in West London, incorporating as Lucozade Ribena Suntory (LRS). In-house lawyers weren’t part of the deal, so a call went out for a U.K.-based general counsel for LRS.

The top choice was Mollie Stoker, who joined LRS in April 2014 as GC for the U.K. and Ireland. Though she’d had no prior GC experience, Stoker says her previous job, as a Professional Support Lawyer (PSL) in Orrick’s London office, gave her plenty of relevant training.

After studying classics at Cambridge University and then studying law, Mollie’s first jobs were as a London associate at Slaughter and May followed by six years at K&L Gates specializing in corporate law, M&A and equity capital markets. By 2011, with two young children, Mollie wanted a new challenge that was more conducive to family life. The Orrick job was a perfect fit.

Mollie remembers Orrick as a “lovely place” to work. During her three-year tenure, she worked with corporate partners Hilary Winter, Chris Grew, Anthony Riley and Jinal Shah – as well as most people in the London office, whether support staff or lawyers. Working as a PSL gave her the ability to “see strategy and understand what partners do, what business development pressures they work under, and how they keep the firm visible and marketable.”

Orrick also gave her insight into how a law firm (and, by extension, a legal department) involves a mix of IT, facilities, client relations and human resources. She learned how to set things up from scratch, which she describes as “walking into a situation, talking to people about what the needs are, what works, and getting the buy-in for internal clients.”

As it turns out, those skills transfer well to in-house work. When Suntory was on the hunt for a new GC, “They were looking for a really excellent technical lawyer with the right personality fit,” Mollie recalls, and they picked her because she had “broad experience, and was an open book.”

Of course, starting over means a lot of multitasking. In addition to confronting months of work backlog, Mollie oversaw IP for the Lucozade and Ribena brands as they were transferred to their new owner. LRS gave her complete hiring freedom, and by March 2016 she had brought on two IP lawyers, two commercial lawyers, an employment lawyer and a professional support lawyer. “It was amazing to have my own team and to have them so energized to do the work,” she says.

Today as GC, Mollie is fully engaged in leading the company’s business strategy. Her purview includes, among many other activities, overseeing corporate governance and compliance including risk management, leading incident management, and working with her IP colleagues on developing the businesses’ IP strategy. She gets advice from a handful of outside lawyers, and has tapped Orrick – Anthony and Jinal as well as Douglas Lahnborg and Kolvin Stone’s team – for advice.

Mollie’s team works in an open plan office, which she believes is essential to a culture of innovation and flexibility. “We’re not shut away from the business,” she says. “We’re right in the center of it. That makes it easier to get internal buy-ins.” She holds frequent informal meetings over coffee. Knowing who’s who on the procurement, sales and supply teams helps her make the right risk-assessment decisions, she says.

“We strive to innovate every process and focus on output,” Mollie explains. “It’s about the results you produce, and each person finds the best way to do that.”

Mollie very successfully combines her demanding job with raising a family. She is married to James Stoker, a telecom marketing director, and her two children, William and George, are now 8 and 6. The names are “very royal,” Mollie admits, but it wasn’t intentional. These days, she considers herself lucky to have “a great nanny,” because she travels a lot.

Her advice for up-and-coming lawyers: Know your worth. “Your career is not always a nice, linear path,” she explains. “There are moments when it is your time to shine and others when it is not.” The key is to be confident and keen to fit in, because “good companies make bright, brave decisions for the right person.” And as she has proved, it is perfectly possible to be successful starting from scratch.