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Name and title: Johnny C. Taylor Jr., senior vice president, general counsel and secretary age: 34 food processor: Next time you run down to the office cafeteria for lunch or munch on a prepackaged meal at the airport, spare a thought for the Compass Group USA, because it is likely you are eating its food. As one of the largest food service businesses in the country, Compass cooked up $5 billion in sales last year running food courts and cafeterias at such places as Microsoft, Boeing, IBM, the University of Arkansas, the Winter Olympics and airports across the country. The Charlotte, N.C.-based company also has ownership stakes in sandwich shops and eateries such as Au Bon Pain, Bon Appetit and Levy Restaurants, plus partnerships with Sbarro’s Pizza and Krispy Kreme. Taylor’s job is to manage the vast range of legal affairs that touch on the Compass Group’s three main constituencies: customer, corporation and employee. With 116,000 workers, food outlets across North America and thousands of new contracts to negotiate every year, Taylor said his 25-person legal department encounters “just about everything you can imagine”: discrimination complaints, slip-and-fall litigation, mergers and acquisitions and contract disputes. reforming from within: Compass Group USA is actually the U.S. subsidiary of Compass Group PLC, based in Britain and the largest food service business in the world. Compass Group only entered the American market in 1994, quickly snapping up an amalgamation of smaller food service outfits such as Canteen Vending Services, Chartwells and Crothall Services Group. Taylor joined the company as general counsel in May 2002. At the time it had a hodgepodge of lawyers and legal department operations scattered across North America and few strong guiding principles to steer the department. One example: of the 25 employees in the Compass legal department, eight report directly to him-and six of those eight work in the six branch offices Compass gained through the acquisitions. Taylor embarked on a series of steps to apply a more organized, strategic approach to legal department operations. He divided Compass Group’s legal work into four broad areas: employment, litigation, mergers and contracts. With that framework in mind, next came three goals to improve operations: forge better relations with Compass’ thousands of employees, develop a system to manage relations with outside counsel and computerize record-keeping for the 6,000 or so business contracts Compass signs every year. employment disputes: Generally comprising all manner of discrimination complaints, they are the largest demand on Taylor’s time. He estimates that labor headaches constitute 50% to 60% of all litigation at the Compass Group. Taylor began with a review of hiring and promotion procedures to ensure the company treats everyone fairly. He also insisted that the company establish an “ombudsman” position whose sole job is to hear employee grievances and try to craft resolutions before an unhappy worker heads to court. Until that point, Compass had no such person “and I said, ‘Listen, this is an invitation to disaster.’ “ The ombudsman’s position was created in April. Compass appointed its deputy general counsel, Phil Wells, to fill the job. (Wells had previously been responsible for Compass’ labor and employment litigation.) Taylor says the move paid off immediately; on Wells’ second day, he received a call from a woman who believed she had been denied an opportunity to apply for an internal job posting because of her gender. “She was headed directly to a plaintiff lawyer,” Taylor said. Wells heard her case and discovered that several other internal candidates had been allowed to apply without proper seniority-spurring the woman’s suspicion of discrimination. She was allowed to apply for the job, thereby avoiding lawsuits and clarifying corporate policy to all. “It was a perfect resolution,” Taylor said. outside counsel: Compass has no primary outside counsel at the moment-which Taylor considers another significant weakness that he is working to fix. Compass spends about $10 million a year on outside legal fees, he said, but it has no real system in place to select appropriate firms or to manage ongoing business with them, such as litigation or specialty legal work. For example, one recent piece of litigation unfolded in Baltimore, and the company had to use the Martindale-Hubbell directory because it had no better way to choose a firm. Taylor is still undecided whether he will choose one national firm as primary outside counsel, or split the work among several regional firms. During the last several months, he has consulted with other general counsel to get their opinions and has grilled 40 firms about what they could offer Compass. Taylor has three requirements: concrete budget projections from the firms; a clear commitment to diversity (“And not just commitment to diversity in the mission statement-[we] want their firm to look like our clients and employees”); and top-notch trial lawyers. So far, Taylor has pared his list of candidate firms down to 10. He hopes to make a final decision by September. contract management: Another major project for Taylor is contract management. He estimates that Compass drafts more than 6,000 contracts every year. Some are signed, some aren’t. Some exist in paper form, some have been saved electronically and a few, Taylor admits, might not be saved at all-nobody is entirely sure. He is now studying software systems to manage all contracts, which would include a central repository for electronic copies of all signed agreements so the company has easy access to all its deals. path to the top: Taylor received his bachelor’s degree in communications from the University of Miami in 1989. He then went to Drake University in Iowa, where he received both his master’s degree in communications and his law degree in 1992. After a short stint as a corporate litigator for Steel Hector & Davis in Miami, Taylor jumped to Blockbuster Inc. as associate general counsel in 1993. Four years later, he was vice president of human resources and labor relations at the video rental chain, overseeing policy for 50,000 workers. In 1997, at age 28, Taylor took a job as chief legal officer for Alamo Rent-A-Car, where he faced his most daunting professional challenge: to build a legal department entirely from scratch. Not only did he have to hire a staff (seven attorneys), but he had to decide which functions would exist in-house and which ones would go to outside counsel. Then he had to select that outside counsel. Taylor even had to work with architects to design an office and choose furniture. “They don’t teach that in law school,” he quips. In 1998, Taylor became general counsel for Paramount Parks, a subsidiary of Viacom Corp., where he managed a staff of 65. In the spring of 2002, a friend who was a corporate headhunter contacted him about the Compass Group. Within two weeks or so, following a flurry of interviews with the company, Taylor had accepted the job as Compass Group GC. He showed up for his first day of work on May 20, 2002. “Before that, I had never heard of the Compass Group, ever,” he said. personal: Taylor lives in Charlotte with his wife, Charlotte Smith-Taylor, a forward with the Charlotte Sting in the WNBA. The couple have no children. last book read: Good to Great by Jim Collins. last movie seen: Antoine Fisher. alter-ego: If he were not a lawyer and could pursue any other occupation, Taylor confesses he would love to host his own radio talk show or star in a television sitcom. -Matt Kelly

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