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Sam Barnes

Consumer focussed

Alumnus Sam Barnes tells us about his legal career so far: from the panicked dash to his initial interview to his appointment as a legal director at PepsiCo, one of the world’s largest producers of consumer products.

How did you career with Freshfields begin?

My first experience of the firm was my training contract interview. I went to the Northcliffe entrance instead of Whitefriars and there was a last-minute panic where I had to run around the building so I wasn’t late! Thankfully, I made it on time and from the moment my interview began, I had a really good feeling about the firm.  

I formally joined in 2006 as one of around 50 trainees and many of us are still in touch 11 years on, mainly thanks to Paul Yates, Head of Pro Bono at Freshfields.

He is the lynchpin of the group and last year he was the driving force behind our 10-year reunion – it was a great opportunity to come back to the office and catch up with old friends and former colleagues. Paul brought along the ‘Class of 2006’ book, which has all our photos in along with a list of our hobbies. I’d forgotten how creative some of my peers were – and probably still are.

After you qualified, you worked in the employment team.

That’s right. I’d spent two terms of my traineeship in the employment, pensions and benefits group as it was then. On one matter, I reviewed the contracts of Liverpool FC players as part of a prospective takeover of the club.

I think it was my visit to Anfield that made me realise that employment law was where I wanted to be. I particularly enjoyed the people aspect, which made it feel like a really meaningful area of practice.

My interest in employment law was reinforced by my secondment to the London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games (Locog), during which I was part of the team which developed the volunteer ‘games makers’ programme. This gave me the chance to be part of something unique –  it was a fantastic experience.

How did you make the move to PepsiCo?

I joined as the UK employment lawyer responsible for all issues relating to the company’s 4,500 UK & Ireland based staff. I have to admit, I didn’t know if I’d succeed but I took the gamble and luckily it paid off. It was a challenge going from having so many experts on hand across Freshfields to suddenly being the expert!

As I grew to know the business I became more and more involved in matters outside of employment law, and after 18 months I was offered the role of UK legal director. The role is incredibly varied, covering everything from intellectual property, contract and property law to health and safety and consumer protection. In fact, the only area I don’t cover now is employment.

One particularly interesting aspect of the job is working with the marketing team. I oversee the legal aspects of our promotional and sponsorship deals, social media activity and advertising. For one TV advert, I had to assess the legal issues around featuring a racoon!

Also, in my position on our activation board (where we discuss new product development) I get involved with the testing, packaging and launching of new products.

That sounds like a good excuse to eat and drink…

Product testing is a vital part of the cycle but, admittedly, it is a nice job to have!

Everyone I come into contact with at PepsiCo loves working for the company and is passionate about our products. There’s always a great spirit among the teams – so not that dissimilar to Freshfields in many ways.

And of course, consumers really love our products too – each day we make 10 million packets of Walkers crisps and one in six people around the world consumes a PepsiCo product, so we have to get it right.

How have you found the move to a more generalist role?

Even though I specialised in employment law at Freshfields, working at the firm taught me to be commercially minded, customer focused and intellectually rigorous. These have come in handy during my time with PepsiCo.

I also worked on some massive deals while at Fleet Street, so I am in familiar territory when my counsel is sought at PepsiCo on a restructuring or an M&A transaction, for example.

Equally, I love the more unusual requests, like casting a wild animal in a TV advert or whether we can run an advert showing Gary Lineker in his pants!. 

What’s business looking like for PepsiCo?

We have a wide range of well-known brands, including Walkers, Doritos, Tropicana, Quaker Oats and the various Pepsi drinks. But we operate in a very competitive market, so we are constantly seeking to innovate. For example, we regularly reformulate our products and have just rebranded one of our top selling items, Walkers’ Sensations.

Like Freshfields, we’re also putting the consumer at the centre of everything we do. To do this, we want to generate a strong dialogue with them to understand their needs. For example, a recent Walkers crisps campaign asked people to vote for their favourite flavour – we received over a million votes.

If I was to draw a parallel with Freshfields, I suppose it’s a bit like the firm asking clients who their favourite partner is. But I’m not sure whether the marketing team would ever get permission for a survey like that…