Sandie Okoro

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This was a BLD interview with Debo Nwauzu in July 2007. Read more about Sandie Okoro in the Directory

Our Lawyer of the Month is Sandie Okoro, the new Global General Counsel at Barings Asset Management. Whilst Barings’ history goes back as far as the 1760s,  it is now part of the MassMutual Financial Group that has over US $400 billion under management as at year end 2005.

Sandie was born in London in 1964 and read Law and Politics at Birmingham University, graduating in 1988. She attended the Inns of Court School of Law for the Bar Finals and was Called to the Bar in 1988 (Lincoln’s Inn). 

After her Call, Sandie was offered pupillages at two prestigious criminal sets of chambers, but turned both down for financial reasons as she needed money to survive. Instead she accepted an offer to train as an accountant at Coopers & Lybrand.  After a year there, however, it was clear that accountancy was not for her.

In 1989 Sandie joined a small Mayfair law firm, Stoneham Langton and Passmore and in 1990 she disbarred and became a solicitor. The same year she joined Schroders (which in 2007 has over £132billion under management) where she remained for 16 years until April this year.  Schroders was an Investment Bank when Sandie joined in 1990 and she was initially in the private client section as Head of their Trustee Company, at the age of just 25.

Between 1998 and 2000 she moved onto the institutional side (Schroder Investment Management Limited), becoming the Schroder Investment Management International’s first lawyer and built up this section.

On her return from a nine-month maternity leave in 2002, it was testimony to Schroders’ faith in Sandie that she was made a director within three months of her return, taking on the responsibility for the Private Bank. In 2003 she became the Head of Legal for Corporate Services, a position she held until she left in April 2007.  In that role Sandie was responsible for a team of 12, handling most of the operational side of the business which included corporate and transactional, IT and e-commerce, outsourcing, employment, contract, derivatives, litigation, pensions, regulation and taxation.

Also Sandie and Howard Trust, Schroders’ Group General Counsel, were responsible for creating Schroders’ first ever global legal panel in 2004, reducing the panel from over 150 to 11 (which includes Allen & Overy, Slaughter and May, Berwin Leighton Paisner, Simmons & Simmons, Linklaters and Eversheds).

In January 2005, an employee forum was created by Schroders, one of the first in the financial services industry and Sandie was the sole in-house legal adviser on the project. Since her departure from Schroders, her role there has been split between four people.

In her new role at Barings, Sandie leads an all-female team of five. Whereas her role at Schroders was in the UK and Europe, at Barings it is global, covering the UK, Europe, North America, Hong Kong, Japan and Taiwan. 

Sandie was named as one of the HOT 100 lawyers of 2005 by The Lawyer magazine and she is also one of the panel of judges on The Lawyer awards for 2007.

Sandie is a trustee of the Maisie Sheed Charitable Trust and a Foundation Governor of La Retraite School. She is an avid keep-fit fanatic. She used to do long-distance running and completed the London Marathon in 1997 and 1999.

Sandie has two children, a 13-year-old daughter, who is autistic and a six-year-old son.

Below is our interview with Sandie:

BLD: Why did you choose a legal career?
SO: It was always something I had wanted to do as we have lots of lawyers and doctors in my family. I really wanted to be a judge and the influence was watching Crown Court as a child. 

BLD: If you were to choose another role/profession other than law, what would it be and why?
SO: Be a motivational speaker. I certainly look around, particularly amongst women and people of colour, who say: “I can’t do that.” I would like to encourage people to use their talent.

BLD: What was the best career advice you were given?
SO: When I was dining at Lincoln’s Inn (as part of the requirements for Call to the Bar), Mr Justice Caulfield, a bencher, was sitting next to me and he said: “Do not ever be daunted by the top table.”  I think by “top table” he meant anyone in a position senior to me.  It is so true!

BLD: What was the worst career advice you were given?
SO: By my father – to become a pharmacist. His reasoning was that it would be easier to work and run my own shop and look after my children, when I had children. He still maintains that he is right!

BLD: What career advice would you give to others?
SO: Aim a few steps above what you want to do. If you want to be a solicitor/barrister, aim to be the Lord Chancellor!  Don’t set artificial ceilings for yourself. If you aim very high you end up exceeding your expectations and not working to your limitations.

BLD: Who is the person you most admire (dead or alive) and why?
SO:  Two people – Nelson Mandela because I admire his vision, what he gave up for his cause and how he handled himself after he was released from prison. The second is my cousin, Onika Griffiths. She is only in her 20s and I find her inspirational. She has a child, has set up her own business and knows what she wants.

BLD: How do you see the future role of in-house lawyers?
SO: I see it changing – more like business partners with the business, an integral part of the business where we are brought in earlier and are highly respected. I can see more lawyers on the boards and I can see the in-house role as a specific career choice.  Because of the changes in businesses, more notice is taken of in-house lawyers, not just the legal but also the strategic positions.

BLD: What challenges are you looking forward to at Barings?
SO: The global nature of the job. I look forward to getting to know the new business.  I am looking forward to the increased autonomy and being outside my comfort zone – being scared again! It is like the first time I did the marathon, I was scared, then once I did it, I knew I could anything so long as I set my mind to it.

BLD: You were responsible, with Howard Trust, at Schroders for whittling down the external panel members. When you did that, did you also look at their diversity records amongst your other criteria?
SO: We didn’t, but that is something I will certainly look at in the future and also would like to look at their pro-bono activities, too.

BLD: How do you juggle work, family life etc?
SO: I never do what I don’t want to do and I never worry about small stuff as I don’t have time for that. I am also very organised.

BLD: What are you most passionate/happiest about?
SO:  My children - Sophie and Max.  Giving something back by being willing to do pro-bono work at every stage of my career. Also making the most of life.

BLD: What are your dislikes?
SO: Prejudice, unfairness, bigotry and mice!

BLD: What was your worst moment as a lawyer?
SO: One of the lowest points was when I first joined Schroder Investment Management International Limited as their first lawyer, in 1998, when I had very steep learning curves as I had so much to learn. There were so many times I didn’t know the answer.

BLD: Tell us your professional high point(s).
SO:  When I was made a Director at Schroders three months after coming back from nine months maternity leave.

BLD: What was the most famous/interesting case(s) you have handled to date?
SO:  Working on a complex agreement with JP Morgan and the creation of Schroders’ first ever global legal panel.

BLD: Any professional regrets?
SO:  Yes, that I didn’t do my pupillage, as I had two good ones lined up.

BLD: If you could rule the world for a day what would you change/do?
SO: If I could wave a magic wand I would have peace in the Middle East, particularly peace  between the Israelis and the Palestinians. I believe if the  conflicts in this region were sorted out it would make such an enormous difference to the world.