Tim Proctor

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This was a BLD interview with Debo Nwauzu in October 2007. Read more about Tim Proctor in the Directory

Our Lawyer of the Month is Tim Proctor, General Counsel for Diageo plc, the world’s leading producer of spirits, beer and wine, which boasts many famous brands, including Smirnoff, Johnnie Walker, Baileys and Guinness.

 Tim is responsible for a team of 75 lawyers supporting operations in 180 countries worldwide.  He is a member of the Diageo’s Executive Committee.  With annual net sales of over £7 billion for the fiscal year ending August 2007 and with a market capitalization of more than £30 billion, the company is listed on both the New York Stock Exchange and the London Stock Exchange.

 Tim was born in 1949 in Fredericksburg, Virginia, USA. Fredericksburg is a town located between Richmond, Virginia and Washington DC and famous for being the boyhood home of George Washington, the first President of the United States. In fact he was born at the Mary Washington Hospital, named after George Washington’s mother.

 Tim grew up in a close knit family and was exposed to some of those we see today as leading and historical American figures as his father either knew or taught them. According to him, he grew up “surrounded by my heroes”. Tim’s father, who earned his doctorate in theology at Boston University where Martin Luther King, Jr later earned the same degree, was the head of the Virginia Union University and subsequently the North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University, two renowned African American universities. Those “heroes” included Oliver W. Hill, a leading civil rights lawyer who died recently aged 100. Oliver was the runner-up at University after Thurgood Marshall, the first black US Supreme Court Justice. His father taught Douglas Wilder, the first African American to be the Governor of a state in the US and the current Mayor of Richmond, Virginia as well as Walter Fountleroy, who became the first representative of the District of Colombia in Congress.

In 1960 Tim and his family moved from Virginia to North Carolina when his father took up the post as head of the North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University. The 1960s was the era of the Civil Right Movement, particularly intense in the Southern states of the US.  One the students taught by Tim’s father was the Rev Jesse Jackson, about whom his father said: “I would have had much less grey hairs, if Jesse had not been one of my students.” His father helped Jesse Jackson secure a scholarship to enable him to study at the Chicago Theological Seminary after his studies in North Carolina. Jesse Jackson was to go on to become a Minister, a leading Civil Rights leader and the founder of Operation PUSH.

When speaking at a graduation ceremony at North Carolina Central University in May 2007, Tim described his pride in his great-grandmother, Hattie Fisher, who had been a slave in Virginia before attending school so that she might become a teacher. With her graduation in 1882, she was the first to attend college in Tim’s family. Hattie’s former owners sent her to school after emancipation in 1865. She attended Hampton University which is the same university attended by the African American leader and educator, Booker T. Washington. Hattie helped to settle many slaves and was a big influence on Tim’s father.

Tim studied Economics at the University of Wisconsin until 1971 then transferred to the University of Chicago to read a joint MBA/law degree.

His career has been entirely as a corporate lawyer because he was interested in the role of corporations in society. Tim did find business school rather narrower than he had thought and found law school much more to his liking. He had initially wanted to teach law to future managers. He got exposed to the in-house practice at Union Carbide Corporation during the summer of 1974  when a summer teaching job fell through. After completing his studies in 1975 he took up his first role as a lawyer with Union Carbide, located then in New York. Union Carbide (now a wholly owned subsidiary of The Dow Chemical Company) was a huge chemical company with 100 in-house lawyers at that time. He remained there until 1980 when the company moved its Head Office to Connecticut. He thoroughly enjoyed the experience of working there, having had extensive early exposure to more senior people and had learnt a great deal in the five years he was there.

In 1980, Tim joined Merck & Co, a leading pharmaceutical company, where he remained for 13 years until 1992. He had joined Merck as a staff lawyer advising on food and drugs law but by the time he left he had become the Vice-President and General Associate Counsel supporting Merck’s human health products marketing and research, managing around 30-40 lawyers worldwide.

In 1992 Tim moved to another leading pharmaceutical company, Glaxo Wellcome (now GlaxoSmithKline) as General Counsel for its US business. In 1998, still with Glaxo Wellcome, he moved to London to serve on secondment as Global Head of Human Resource, a position he held for 18 months. Whilst in that post, an opportunity to work for Diageo came up.

Tim joined Diageo in January 2000 as General Counsel, splitting his time between all the offices round the world, particularly the head offices in London and at the company’s U.S. headquarters in Norwalk, Connecticut. Diageo was formed in 1997, following the merger of GrandMet and Guinness. The company employs over 22,000 people worldwide and has offices in some 180 countries.  Its manufacturing facilities across the globe include the UK, the Republic of Ireland, United States, Canada, Spain, Italy, countries all over Africa, Latin America, Australia, India and the Caribbean. Diageo has 296 listed subsidiaries, including the Gleneagles Hotel, in Perthshire, venue for the G8 summit hosted by the company in July 2005.

In his career he has handled multi-million and multi-billion sales and acquisitions, including the acquisition of Burroughs by Glaxo, the sale of Burger King and Pillsbury and the acquisition of Seagram‘s and Sons by Diageo. Seagram’s was a major US drinks company.

In 2005, Legal Week named Diageo’s legal department “Global Department of the Year” and Legal Business magazine named Tim one of the 50 most influential general counsel in Europe.

Tim is a member of the Bar in New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania.  He is also a member of the American Bar Association, International Bar Association, Association of Corporate Counsel and the National Bar Association.  He has previously served on the boards of Northwestern Mutual Life, the Association of Corporate Counsel, CARE USA and the Duke University Law School Board of Visitors. 

Since 2006 Tim has also been a board member of Wachovia, a North Carolina-based financial services company and one of the largest providers of financial services in the United States. It is the fourth largest bank in the US and the world’s seventh largest bank.

Tim has lived largely in the UK between 1998 and 2003 and in New York since 2003. He is an American but is also a naturalised British citizen. Tim is married with two adult children.

Below is our interview with Tim:

BLD: Why did you choose a legal career?

TP:  Because it seemed a good way to learn about corporations as economic and social institutions.


BLD: If you were to choose a role/profession other than law, what would it be and why?

TP: Teaching. My father was a teacher. It’s just in the blood, I suppose! I approach my coaching and counselling of managers in that way. 


BLD: What was the best career advice you were given?
TP: By a senior guy at Merck. This was before I had any management responsibilities.  I asked him what it was like to have such a job. He said words to the effect that: “The more people you have working for you the more people you work for.” From that I understood the privilege and responsibility of leading others.


BLD: What was the worst career advice you were given?

TP: My father told me not to become a lawyer! He wanted me to get my PhD in economics and help solve poverty.


BLD: What career advice would you give to others?
TP:   Be the sort of person you would like working for you, if you were the boss. Focus on getting the job done and let the career follow.  Focus on what you are bringing to the table and the benefit will flow from that.


BLD: Who is the person you most admire (dead or alive) and why?

TP:  My father, now deceased. I knew him well obviously! We were close and he had a big influence on me.  He had very sound values that I admire – primarily belief in the value of each person and respect for every person whatever their status. His passion for teaching and helping others to be the best they could be.


BLD: How do you see the future role of in-house lawyers?
TP:  It will continue to grow in significance as corporations become more complex. The pressure on corporate governance and compliance continues to grow.  Also globalisation requires more complex strategy. 


BLD: When compiling/choosing/reviewing your panel of external legal advisers, do you also look at their diversity records, amongst your other criteria?

TP:  We do take that into account but we need to do a lot better. We do a better job in the US than we do in the UK. We are beginning to  think of it more systematically. I supported these efforts through bar groups when I was coming along in the US.


BLD:  How do you juggle work, family life etc as you travel so much?
TP: Poorly! A lot of the burden is on my wife to keep it all together.


BLD: What are you most passionate/happiest about?
TP: My family.


BLD: What are your dislikes?
TP:  When people are disrespectful to each other, especially when a higher-ranked person is disrespectful to a lower-ranked person.   


BLD: What was your worst moment as a lawyer?
TP: Since I came to Diageo one employment case was about to lead to some unpleasant publicity. The day before the publicity came out I felt that I had let my boss down, but he was very supportive. We did win the case, too. 


BLD: Tell us your professional high point(s).
TP: I get a lot of pleasure from seeing those in my team develop.  So when someone I hired at Merck became a General Counsel at Merck, that was a big thing for me. Same thing for me when I see the people we have at Diageo grow and develop.


BLD: What was the most famous/interesting case(s) you have handled to date?
TP: Probably the Seagram’s and Sons acquisition by Diageo. This was because it was strategically transformational for Diageo, making us the company we are today.


BLD: Any professional regrets?
TP:  No. Everytime I imagine what might have been, it never felt it would have been any better.


BLD: If you could rule the world for a day what would you change/do?

TP:  I remember my feeling after 9/11. How turning down the volume can cause people to listen by knowing better where the other guy’s coming from. We should spend less time advancing our own interests but spend more time listening to others more.