Profile: Peter Coveney, General Counsel at Godiva

2 Nov 2018 , 12:59pm

Peter Coveney talks to Jodi Bartle about supporting growth and overseeing legal and compliance for this international luxury chocolatier.  

As general counsel of the luxury Belgian chocolatier, GODIVA, he is, not surprisingly, a chocolate lover although he confesses to being more of a fan of the company’s simpler dark chocolate bars than some of its more luxurious ranges. 

A century of growth

GODIVA was founded by the Draps family in 1926 as a small praline-making business run out of the Draps’ home in Brussels. Since then, nearly a century later, GODIVA chocolates are still produced in the heart of Brussels using hundreds of recipes created over time by their Belgian chefs.  

In the early years GODIVA grew throughout Belgium and into neighbouring European countries before being acquired by the Campbell Soup Company who expanded GODIVA into the US, Japan and Hong Kong. Since being taken over by Yildiz Holding in 2007 (the largest food company in the CEEMEA region) GODIVA has expanded into the Middle East, China, Singapore, South Korea, Malaysia, Indonesia, Macau, Vietnam, Thailand and Mongolia, and is now present in over 100 countries.  Many people will be familiar with GODIVA’s famous retail boutiques, but GODIVA also has a number of cafes, as can be found in Harrods, and has a multi-channel approach extending to global travel retail, e-commerce, b2b markets, hotel chains and high-end department stores around the world.   

Supporting an ambitious global growth strategy

Peter was brought onto the international management team five years ago in the London office as GODIVA’s first lawyer for its international business. He was tasked with supporting the ambitious growth strategy as well as overseeing legal and compliance covering Europe, the Middle East, Japan, China and the Pacific Rim region and GODIVA’s global travel retail business.  In recognition of his work, Peter was awarded Global Legal Post’s Luxury Business General Counsel of the Year in 2016.

He says that whilst covering such wide geographies brings its own challenges, the role is made more so due to GODIVA’s operating complexity, given that it is a fully integrated business from manufacturing to retail and that it has multiple channels of operation. GODIVA operates lean structures for its functional teams, including legal. As a result he relies on a tight network of firms on a preferred relationship basis that has been built up over time. “For our key markets in particular, I rely on establishing close relationships with partners at local firms, who have been integrated into the business and who act almost like a quasi in-house counsel," he says adding that he operate a two-tier approach - using local firms for the day-to-day business support and using a larger regional firm on more complex matters. Law firms with international networks are used to support projects with a global context, such as compliance projects: “The higher value or more complex work we might give to firms isn't necessarily relationship-driven but more capability-driven, especially if the firm has an international reach that can cover the Pacific Rim region.”

As to managing risk, there are certain similarities in his overall approach to managing legal risk across the world, he says adding that he adopts “a risk-based approach resulting, for instance, in more time and oversight being given to the Chinese business and managing our external counsel in China than for Japan.”

Imaginative solutions

UK firms taking a more holistic approach to their service offering is a a very positive move, he says.  “I have been impressed with some UK firms that are offering more imaginative solutions geared at looking at how they can support small legal teams and in-house counsel dealing with the business-as-usual workload.”  The key problem for an in-house counsel is “ensuring that you efficiently manage the churn of the day-to-day so that you aren't distracted from what you should be concentrating on.”

He has also joined forces with a law firm in China with whom he has a fixed retainer for the year. “This means that I know that I can give our China business the legal support it needs for a transparent amount that the business can budget for. That’s really what I (and our regional MD) are looking for.”

Operating to a higher standard

As to challenges in the luxury food business, food regulations are clearly a major part of Peter’s horizon scanning, although at the moment he does not foresee Brexit having a major impact on the business. However, a critical issue for a business like GODIVA and its partners is being able to invest behind the brand in the knowledge that they can rely on a strong local legal environment to protect their intellectual property, and that this can prove particularly challenging in some developing countries. The recent Pret A Manger case (where a teenager died after eating a baguette which, in accordance with EU food regulations, did not have specific allergens labelled on its packaging) is the kind of issue that keeps him up at night. “One of the things this tragic incident highlights is that as a business we need to continually challenge whether operating in a legally compliant way is sufficient or whether we should be operating to a higher standard. The reputation of our brand is paramount," he adds.