In this episode of Lessons I Learned in Law Scott Brown speaks to Mollie Stoker, who leads the legal team at Ocado Group as their Deputy Group General Counsel. She’s also held general counsel and other in house roles at DWF Group and Suntory Beverage and Food. Prior to moving in house, Mollie started her legal career at Slaughter and May and spent over 12 years working as a corporate/M&A and capital markets lawyer in UK and US law firms.
Mollie shares the lessons he learned in law including:
· Be yourself, because everyone else is taken!
· Be the best leader, or boss, that you can be.
· Bring solutions, not problems.
Mollie shares her obsession for buying business books (but admits to not always reading them)! A particular favourite read is Jim Collins’ Good to Great.
Mollie is also a trustee for Only a Pavement Away, a charity that helps the homeless gain employment in the hospitality sector.
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This episode of Lessons I Learned in Law is brought to you by Beamery.
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Scott Brown (0:00):
Welcome back to lessons I learned in law. The podcast brought to you by Heriot Brown In-House Legal Recruitment. We're a specialist in placing lawyers in fulfilling careers in-house. Each week on the podcast, I sit down with an inspiring lawyer or someone from the legal profession to talk through and hear about their top three lessons that they've learned from working in law or around law.
This week is the first episode for series four, which seems crazy saying that for something that started out as a bit of a side project during the lockdown that we had a couple of years ago. But I'm delighted to welcome Mollie Stoker, who is Deputy General Counsel at Ocado Group.
Mollie's had an amazing career, both in private practice where she worked as a corporate lawyer, and then her subsequent in-house career where she's worked in sectors across FMCG, tech, professional services, and retail. Welcome, Mollie. Great to have you.
Mollie Stoker (0:58):
Thanks, Scott. Pleasure to speak to you today.
Scott Brown (1:01):
Thank you for joining us. So, Mollie's not completely new to podcasts. So, we'll jump straight in. If you could just tell us about your first lesson, Mollie, that'd be great.
Mollie Stoker (1:09):
Sure. So, my first lesson is be yourself because everyone else is taken. And it's trying to get to the point that we shouldn't be a stereotype of a lawyer. You don't have to be that, it hasn't done me any harm. In fact, I'd view it as my unique selling point, my USP. So, I'm a petite woman. I have a relatively soft voice, although I swear like a trooper, promised not to do that on this podcast!
Scott Brown (1:34):
No, that's OK, I'm definitely
Mollie Stoker (1:38):
I really care about people. I challenge the status quo, perhaps where others might not. So, I can give you an example of you know, I'm trained as a corporate M&A Lawyer, that sort of tough side of law, often being the only woman in meetings, and I've remembered walking into a room with a bunch of bemused senior bankers and partners, saying, right, I don't want anyone mansplaining today. So, calling it out.
Scott Brown (2:05):
Mollie Stoker (2:06):
And they have to deal with it. You know, they all smiled, and no one mansplained. So it worked.
Scott Brown (2:13):
Yeah. Amazing! So when did you first get comfortable having that and being yourself?
Mollie Stoker (2:18):
I guess, as a trainee, I remember during the law firm, I trained at Slaughter and May. And the partners I really admired were those who had that kind of doorman determine quality, exuded gravitas that had that people's touch. And just gradually, I worked out that my warmth kind of coupled with determination seemed to go down well, and people wanted me in the room more. So it's that kind of we want you around clients, clients like you, you have a personality, you don't need to be that sort of quiet woman in the room. And maybe, maybe it is because I was the only woman in the room, I was automatically different. So I sort of stood out that way. So maybe that helped me. I remember I did a psychometric, you know, one of those psychometric tests a few years ago. I ended up being categorised with the same characteristics as the Creative Director. So, risk taking, innovator, people person, none of the things you'd ascribe to a lawyer generally. That's it, he found that most amusing.
Scott Brown (3:22):
So yeah, that those are definitely not so you typical. Was that surprising to you when you got those results? Or how does it land?
Mollie Stoker (3:29):
I don't think so. And I think it sort of helped me also with my next move, which was into a commercial role for a couple of years, having those kind of characteristics. But one of the general managers I worked with closely for a number of years. I remember in my leaving card, he said something along the lines of "Wow, I've never met a lawyer like you, I didn't know lawyers could be like this. You practice law in a very personable human way, but you get stuff done." So
Scott Brown (3:58):
Fantastic. Yeah, we met for the first time in a conference run by the lawyer earlier this year. And I witnessed Mollie talking about her transition away from law and then back into a legal role. So, keen to talk about that more a bit later, Mollie, but how did the move originally for you in-house - when did that come about and how did it happen?
Mollie Stoker (4:18):
Yeah. So this is a bit of an unusual move. I was actually a professional support lawyer in an international law firm at the time, had very small kids that were one and two years old, and was struggling without any accommodation, or flexible hours at that point in my career. They didn't really do that with women and we didn't have long maternity leaves either to manage it. So I went to be a professional support lawyer. And that can often be quite hard to move back out and back into fee earning roles from that. After about three years of being a professional support lawyer, which worked brilliantly with raising my very young children who are now both teenagers, I got approached by someone I knew who worked at Clifford Chance. And they said, Well, we've just been in a partners' meeting and we're acting for this big Japanese drinks company called Suntory. And they have just acquired Lucozade and Ribena from GSK. And they're looking for a General Counsel for the UK and Ireland to sit on their Exec Committee. I think you'd be brilliant. Stop doing this PSL thing. I'll introduce you to the partner at Clifford Chance, he's running the deal. And he, this other partner, interviewed me slightly sceptical, like, right, okay. But I like this other partner, so I'll put you through. And I met the CEO, and we hit it off, and I was what he was looking for. So, I had zero qualifications for this role. I had no in-house experience, no General Counsel experience, no drinks industry experience, no executive leadership experience, I had nothing on paper, all he could see was this lady's smart. She's got the smarts and she fits, she's got this personality. And what I want to create with this new Executive Committee is a team that works brilliantly well. And I don't want a stuffy lawyer here. So, I mean, he took a gamble on me, maybe. But he didn't really, I could do the job. I just needed to learn it. So, I think that's all down to being myself rather than being the stereotyped typical image of a lawyer.
Scott Brown (6:27):
Yeah, at that point, had you explored anything in-house previously or thought about it as a career move?
Mollie Stoker (6:33):
Not at all and my husband had kept saying to me, I think you'd be brilliant in-house, you'd love it. And I went no, no, no, absolutely not. I don't want to do that. Don't be ridiculous. I hadn't at all explored it. But going in, I was like, right, I've found my home. This is what I'm good at. This is where I belong.
Scott Brown (6:51):
Yeah. And did you... But how did you approach the process? Were you wanting to represent yourself in a certain way? Because I guess if you hadn't explored in-house previously up to that point, then you maybe didn't know on paper I'm not exactly what they're looking for. Were you aware of all that? Or?
Mollie Stoker (7:06):
I don't think I was actually, I don't think I was. I remember getting on brilliantly with the R&D Director and our meeting overran by an hour. So we were just chatting about all sorts of things. So it was definitely my warmth and engagement and interest in their industry with what... They didn't know what a PSL was. They don't know what lawyers are meant to or not meant to have done. They're just like, well, we've been introduced to this woman who's a potential for this role. And we all get on with her. So.
Scott Brown (7:38):
Yeah. And amazing the power of your network, then if so that was a partner from another firm, right? Yeah. Joined that joined the dots and made the intro.
Mollie Stoker (7:48):
That's right, which is why your network is really important.
Scott Brown (7:52):
Yeah, amazing. I think that's inspiration to anyone that thinks that they've made the wrong move, or thinks that this move is beyond them, just to try and put yourself out there into into those positions and expose yourself to the opportunities.
Scott Brown (8:11):
So we'll move on to lesson two.
Mollie Stoker (8:15):
Lesson two is be the best manager, leader or slash boss you can be. So, you have a massive impact as a manager or leader on people. A massive one. And you have to treat these roles with the respect they deserve. So, I think you'll know that statistic that 95% of people leave their jobs because of their boss, because they're not being developed, because they don't like the person, etc. And I just hold it as a sort of North Star. Don't be that person that everyone wants to get the hell away from. Just don't do it, Mollie! So, you always remember your managers and leaders through your whole career. I'm sure you do, Scott?
Scott Brown (8:55):
Yeah, you get exposed to a variety in... I was a private practice lawyer, and you get exposed to a variety of different personalities. I think lawyers in private practice are sometimes maybe reluctant managers or accidental in that they become a partner or you get to a certain level and it's thrust upon rather than something that's necessarily developed or sought out. Did you always want to be a manager, was it always something you fancied?
Mollie Stoker (9:21):
When I was a professional support lawyer, I remember doing a lot with the trainees and quite enjoying that. Helping develop them and giving them tips on this is how to be successful and how to think strategically about the law firm and what the partners are actually doing. You might think it's a jolly, but it's not a jolly and yes, they haven't really gone home at eight, they're probably going out for dinner with a client or something. So stop feeling resentful, etc. So I enjoyed that. But when I joined Lucozade Ribena Suntory, I had no team, and I had to build that team from scratch. So that was quite an interesting journey for me finding people who sort of fit my vision and helping them develop. But I was really lucky with that company Suntory, they're really into development. And we were often being sent off on, you know, two day leadership "how to coach your team" courses, or, you know. The big, big boss of the region, I remember him giving this really inspiring talk about how you've just got to find the sweet spot in a person. Because if you can find that sweet spot, you'll unlock it. And the potential is infinite. And it just really resonated with me. And I ended up actually playing sort of quite a coaching role across the organisation, with people in marketing, sales, mentoring them, with the graduates as well, spending time with them. So I just, this resonates with me, I really enjoy people, and really enjoy seeing their development. And what I'm most proud of in my careers really where people who've worked with me in the past, have come back and said, You know what, you were really inspiring. You really pushed me to be my best or I really enjoyed working with you. Sometimes. I mean, I was also known as the Tasmanian Devil who, you know, would roll into "hi, right, I've got 15 things". And I read too fast. So like, I'm like, right, here's an email and I've read to the bottom and start talking to people like Mollie, I'm on the first line. Okay, sorry!
Scott Brown (11:28):
Yeah. But self-aware, aware of those aspects of your style.
Mollie Stoker (11:33):
Absolutely! And yeah, I think you probably learn from your worst managers and bosses as well. You learn what not to do. So they're equally as important. Yeah.
Scott Brown (11:44):
Yeah. What's been... no names, but what's been the worst exposure to a manager that you've had?
Mollie Stoker (11:50):
I think it's where it's lack of consistency. So that sort of shouting one day and being aggressive and then being wonderful and lovely the next day. Now, that's not to say they're human beings, too, right? They're not superheroes, but not bringing people as their team who were there to support them.
Scott Brown (12:13):
Right. Mollie stole the show a little bit with her or talk at the General Counsel Summit. I hope she doesn't mind be saying, but you had mentioned and alluded to earlier at Suntory, so big Japanese multinational business. And I remember you talking about some of the cultural differences and I guess ways of working and the mold that people worked within. What big thing did you learn from working in that environment?
Mollie Stoker (12:37):
That you need to bring people with you on your journey. So I think I mean, in my career, I've learned to stop being so much of a lawyer, if that's the right way to put it. And listen. So go in, you might have your agenda, you might want to get something through, but you've got to listen to those people in the room, show them the respect, show them you've heard them and brought them with you versus going in and saying no, this is right. You're wrong. This is right. So it definitely helped with that. But I definitely probably the biggest learning curve of my career there, going from in private practice PSL to a to a leader of an organisation.
Scott Brown (13:24):
Yeah, massive stepchange. Before we started recording, Mollie and I were talking and discussing some interesting facts about herself. And you had mentioned your collection of books. So tell us, so I think I'm guilty of that as well. But, tell us about your your nonfiction books.
Mollie Stoker (13:41):
I'm obsessed with business books. I pretty much buy all of them. I'll read an article on LinkedIn it recommends when I buy it immediately. It arrives in the post. I'm all excited. Unwrap it. Read the first chapter think yeah, this is going to be it this is going to be the key points that are going to teach me something and then it goes on the pile. I could honestly open a bookshop up just of business books. And I recently found out that there's a name for this particular phenomenon, which is Japanese and I'll probably not pronounce it right, but Tsundoku which is a compulsion for buying books but not actually reading them.
Scott Brown (14:18):
Mollie Stoker (14:19):
I have all best intentions. But, don't find the time. So actually, for me, the podcasts on my drove to work are my alternative way of imbibing that information.
Scott Brown (14:31):
I think I'm pretty guilty of the same on all books, not just business books, but I've got a second screen that's propped up by like two or three business books, Tim Ferriss and the like.
Mollie Stoker (14:43):
Scott Brown (14:44):
What has been the best two pages of a business book that you've managed to get through then? What's the best book?
Mollie Stoker (14:51):
Well, there's one I would always recommend which is 'Good to Great'. Jim Collins. You've got to have the right people on your bus. You've got to have challenge You've got to be humble don't have an ego. And I did actually finish that book, I admit, but one I'm actually, via an audible this time not buying a book, listening to David Goggins who is an ex navy seal. So, I mean, he swears like a trooper, too, but he was a trooper, so he's allowed to! But he's been a lot of like, you know, don't let anyone affect your mentality. Push harder. Go for it. Strengthen the things you're weak on. I'm quite enjoying that at the moment.
Scott Brown (15:31):
Yeah, he's I've seen some clips on social media of him. Yeah, he's pretty crazy. And he runs like, he runs ultra-marathons, like all the time.
Mollie Stoker (15:39):
And he's pretty much like he's pretty much my age. And I you know, I went for a swim at the weekend and I'm thinking ahh! My shoulder and neck are hurting! Pathetic!
Scott Brown (15:51):
Have you tried Blinkist? The app that it's, it's like 10 minute, blink summaries of books, nonfiction books.
Mollie Stoker (16:00):
Maybe that's where I should go to next and save my bank account? Yeah, my husband actually just made me do a budgeting review. And then he said, I'm not even going to tell you how much you spend on Amazon every month. It was shocking. I can't possibly reveal that number.
Scott Brown (16:19):
Yeah, cost of living got to tighten the belts
Mollie Stoker (16:21):
Scott Brown (16:22):
We'll come back to Lessons. What's your third lesson?
Mollie Stoker (16:32):
So my third one is bring solutions, not problems. So, this was something I learned in my first GC role. I'd had this idea that, you know, the GC is a conciliary to the CEO. And if you're a conciliary, you have to be able to tell them things that you've heard that were issues around the business. And I remember doing this and telling the CEO about I think it was an unfixable issue, or rather an issue I hadn't particularly thought through or discussed with others about how it could be resolved or tackled, and it went down pretty badly, I have to say. So, it's after this, that I learned you've got to prepare. If time permits, which is hard when you're a GC, you don't have much time. But before you bring up issues, think strategically, then bring your options never bring your boss problems. You bring them... Here's my problem. And here's three possible solutions can I discuss with you? And I kind of put this with law firm advice. So classic. There, you do a bit the same. I've reviewed your contracts, there's three issues here. Thanks very much law firm really appreciate that. And, what's your advice? And what's your proposed solution? And what should we do in relation to those problems? So it's definitely something I like to do.
And the other thing I think it goes hand in hand with is like victim mentality. So victim mentalities, very common in lawyers. And the reason being, I think, is, we work really, really hard, right? And we want people to recognise that. Right you've worked hard, you get your gold star, you should get your next opportunity. Your boss should know exactly what to do with you, and what your personal development should be and where you want to go. And they should be weekly, talking to you about what's next. That doesn't often happen, your boss is busy, they're having a bad day, etc, etc. So it's like you're self-owning your solution. So say, right, well, I want to develop and I need this, this and this, and I found this, this and this course, what do you reckon? It's that kind of thing. And I've definitely learned in my career, where I have been a victim, it hasn't gone so well with me. But where I've been really proactive and thought this situation isn't working, right, what can I do next? I've got far more results.
Scott Brown (18:51):
Right. Owning your own development. I hadn't heard the victim mentality described in that way or used in that way, but it makes a lot of sense. And do you think that, um, how much company culture plays into that? Have you always felt like taking those "this is what I want to do next", in developing your own career? Has that always been something that's been well received?
Mollie Stoker (19:12):
Mostly, mostly has. Different companies have different visions of what development means. Law firms? It's, here's your clear career path or not, although they're changing and developing all the time with that, but less about how to become a brilliant leader, and manager, you're sort of somehow meant to automatically know it. Some companies have amazing talent development programmes. I mean, I was lucky at Suntory, that they were like, right, you've been a great GC, you're quite commercial. So we think we're going to be brave and stretch you and put you in this commercial role for a couple of years. Which then if you want to come back into the law, you'll be really good at it. Recently at Ocado, my Head of Legal Commercial is just about to head off into a fully commercial role in our solutions business and leave the law behind for a bit or forever, who knows where her career will take her. I'm sure she'll be brilliant, whatever she does. So, you know, I enjoy those things. It's great seeing other people do the same.
Scott Brown (20:18):
Yeah. Tell us a little bit more about that how you made that switch? And how the opportunity came around? Because it's a question we're always asked, the grass is greener doing X or Y, that we come across it all the time speaking to people, whether they're looking to move or maybe not entirely content in their current position. So how did that come around into a non non legal role? Because it's still quite uncommon, I'd say.
Mollie Stoker (20:41):
Yeah, although getting more common, but yes, quite uncommon. Well, I mean, for new roles, your networking is always really important, including internally in the business, and building up trust, taking every opportunity to present in front of people in those different divisions, really paying interest to what they're doing. I was lucky there that we had a sort of yearly, what do you want to do? Would you go abroad? Where's your interest? And I think I'd put corporate development down as a potential because I've got a background in M&A. So, in my slightly arrogant legal way, I thought I've done loads of M&A, executed loads of deals. I'll know how to do this. Yeah, no, not at all. So very good to go through that humbling experience of starting again, and having a finance team reporting in to me, and then looking at me like, Oh, God! This woman's going to be leading us! She was a very good lawyer, but what does she know? So yeah, challenging, interesting experience. So you've got to be brave to do it. Yeah. And then you definitely are outside your comfort zone, but it helps you exponentially.
Scott Brown (21:57):
And how many years did you do that? In that role?
Mollie Stoker (22:00):
Yeah, it was nearly two years. And I'd probably have done longer just the opportunity for my next role came up. And it was an offer, I couldn't refuse so, and a way back into law, which I thought, I could be a mediocre business development person, or I could be a really good lawyer with business development skills. So I think I decided that was, it was right for me to go back that way.
Scott Brown (22:26):
Yeah, you have to perceive yourself as not limiting yourself to being a lawyer, there or having that mindset of I'm the lawyer. So having a more, the business, it must have given you a lot of confidence in that to go beyond the, even the legal rule where you are defined within within law.
Mollie Stoker (22:41):
Scott Brown (22:42)
Thank you for sharing that. We're just about running out of time. For last series we had a finish up question on room 101. And what people would put into room 101. So we're mixing it up a little bit this series and I'm asking people to get onto Spotify and refresh their memory on Baz Luhrmann's Wear Sunscreen song, so he offers advice to graduates. So, if you were looking back on your career today, if you were talking to yourself before you started your legal career, what piece of advice, one piece of advice, would you give yourself, Mollie?
Mollie Stoker (23:14):
Yeah, this is hard to only give my young Mollie one piece of advice. But the thing I will go with is that as a lawyer, try and get win-win solutions, not win-lose solutions. So it should work for everyone involved. If one side has to lose, that's not great. It's not a good contract. It's not a good deal. It's not a good thing. And it can lead to really aggressive behaviour. And I've got this story, I always remember of a partner I worked with who leapt across the table and nearly throttled the lawyer on the other side. With his tie because he was so frustrated with the argument. That generally never worked out for anyone, I have to say. So negotiating cooperatively, and collaboratively always works best.
And I've got this really good story that a lawyer in my team gave me and I'm probably going to explain it really cack-handedly and she'll be cross with me. But it's, it's in the context of win-win, win-lose. So, there once was a mum with two kids and there was an orange. Both kids wanted the orange and they were fighting. And there's only one orange, typical with small children. So, what should the mum have done? So, I think some people would say split it in half and give them half each, or one would say take the orange away and just send them to their bedrooms for fighting. One, cut it in half and then the other one, pick the half, you know. I always do that and one would always cack-handedly cut a large portion and they'd want that, but there is another route. So how about asking the children "what is it you want to do with the orange?" And you'll be surprised that one says I want the juice and one says I need the orange zest for my cake. So happily, you can squeeze the orange full of its juice and use the zest in the cake and everyone goes off merrily.
So, basically, as a lawyer, and in society, we're sort of told to think there's always a conflict and one person has to win or lose. That's generally always almost never the case even in litigation, although that is more fraught, but there's generally a way to find a compromise. I'm sure all mediators would be thinking yes, Mollie. Great.
Scott Brown (25:32):
Yeah. US litigators, they crush the other side for all their worth. That's good. I'll remember that next time I'm on nursery and school runs and got that one, one orange. I think sometimes they're just looking to get one over the other. Take the bigger half just to have the bigger half, then don't even eat it. But, I'll try. Awesome, well thanks so much, Mollie! Been great chatting and learning a bit more about your career and lessons. Thank you for joining us.
Mollie Stoker (26:02):
Thanks for having me.
Scott Brown (26:07):
Thanks again to my guest today, Mollie Stoker, who is Deputy General Counsel at Ocado Group. She's had a fascinating career, both in law and in that business development position that she held. Really great to hear about that. And we didn't even get the chance to scratch the surface. She also held the role as General Counsel at DWF, which is I'm sure a lot of you know, a listed law firm. So I'd love to have heard what it was like having you guys, the lawyers as her internal clients, but maybe that's for another day.
If you've enjoyed my chat with Mollie, then please do go back and listen to some of the previous episodes from series past. I loved chatting with Abigail Dean in series three, for example. Not only is Abi a successful technology lawyer at Google, she is also, would you believe it, a New York Times best selling author. She had a smash hit debut novel, Girl A. Abi also shared how her attention to detail and her keen eye for detail help her in the creative writing process as an author. You can search for that episode on Apple podcast, Spotify, and all those podcast listening platforms, or head over to heriotbrown.com/podcast.
If you have any feedback, or you'd like to appear on the podcast or if you just have a suggestion of someone that you'd like me to talk to then please drop me a line. I'm all ears! It's firstname.lastname@example.org. Or come and connect with me or Heriot Brown on LinkedIn. Thank you for listening. Until next time, cheers!