The Path to the Annie's GC Office
Isobel Jones started her latest in-house job at the beginning of April, as the first general counsel for the organic food company Annies Inc. Its the most recent step for Jones on a path through a legal career that has hopped through a trio of in-house jobs with food companies.
Jones, who was officially named general counsel and secretary of Annies on April 1, graduated from Harvard University in 1989 as an East Asian studies major with a minor in economics. She had been accepted to law school during her senior year, but decided to first spend a year working for a law firm in Japan. I wanted to step back and think about what I was doing, says Jones, to make sure that I really wanted to be a lawyer, rather than continuing to move down the path Id put myself on.
She passed the bar in 1993 and landed a job as an associate with Cooley Godward (now Cooley). A Bay Area native, Jones spent 10 years in the San Francisco office of the firm. She says that much of the corporate legal work that was going on in the area at the time focused on Silicon Valley clients. I had the typical Cooley corporate practice, says Jones, with some added advantages, having been in the city rather than Palo Alto.
Because that office was smaller, she says its lawyers practice tended to be broader. Jones worked with companies through all stages of the corporate life cycle. She counseled small start-ups, larger growing companies doing later-stage private financings, as well as companies that were going public.
Jones also got her first taste of in-house work while at the firm. Your typical Cooley client at that time did not have in-house counsel, she says. As she became more senior, Jones became a de facto outside GC to those clients.
She joined the law department of Del Monte Corporation in 2003. Until 2012, Jones was associate GC of the company, where she was responsible for Securities and Exchange Commission reporting and compliance, corporate governance, M&A, and investor relations.
Del Monte really let me hone my skills as an in-house practitioner, she says. As much as I had operated as a de facto outside general counsel, theres nothing quite the same as being planted directly in the midst of your clients, where they can just walk down the hall and ask you a question.
Working with then-GC James Potter, Jones gained a heightened appreciation of the value of planning. The reality is theres never going to be a company where nothing goes wrong, says Jones. The question is, did you have in place appropriate processes and procedures to take reasonable steps to avoid things going wrong?
When something would go wrong at Del Monte, she says, Potter looked for a process breakdown. He searched for a change in process that could have prevented the problem and considered whether an improvement could be made to avoid the same sort of mishap in the future.
Jones most recently served as general counsel, vice president, and corporate secretary of Peets Coffee & Tea Inc. The sole member of the legal department, she managed to get through her first round of public company reporting for Peets when the company was taken private last year. I was just beginning to get into the rhythm, she says, when lo and behold an offer came in for the company out of the blue.
Luckily, she was prepared. One of the last matters Jones had worked on at Del Monte was the companys acquisition by a group of investors, so she was well versed in the process. I think it was good for Peets to have a general counsel onboard, says Jones, particularly someone who had recently gone through a very similar transaction.
Jones now becomes the first GC for Berkeley-based Annies, her third in-house position in the food industry. What keeps attracting her to those companies?
I must say, theres something I really enjoy about being part of a company that everyone can relate to, she says. Theres something very tangible about food companies. We feed people. Were part of their daily lives.
Founded in 1989, the natural and organic food company now offers more than 125 products, including macaroni and cheese and, Joness favorite, shitake and sesame vinaigrette.
Annies is a leader in organic and natural foods, says Jones. Its committed to doing well by doing good. It has really shown that a company can be successful and socially responsible.
Dedication to its mission of social and environmental responsibility is apparent throughout the entire company, says Jones. Employees here really do walk the walk, according to the new GC. On her first day, she saw composting and recycling bins in the lunchroom, adding that shes already enjoyed a carrot from the company garden.
Once again, at Annies Jones will be the only in-house lawyer at a growing public company. Annies is focused on getting our products into stores that dont currently sell them, she says, and whenever possible, getting our products placed adjacent to the conventional products, on the mainstream aisle.
What will be Joness role in that expansion?
Ill be working with the executive team to build the company, while really ensuring that we maintain and stay true to Annies core values, she says. I think theres a real willingness and interest in developing and refining policies that can be the backbone of that growth effort, and I think I can bring value to that.