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27 April 2021

Introducing a Benchmark team – Benchmark legal team

As Benchmark reflects on its first two decades of business, it can certainly be recognised as a company known for technological innovation and striving to reach its mission of “enabling food producers to improve their sustainability and profitability”. Securing major customer agreements has been a huge achievement for Benchmark this year, and has required the support of many different Benchmark teams. One of the teams key to this has been the in-house legal team, headed by Jennifer Haddouk, Group Legal Counsel, Company Secretary and Compliance Officer.

In recent years some of the largest companies in the world have had varied approaches to how they run their legal function. One method is to hire one legal counsel while outsourcing the majority of legal work. At the other end of the spectrum, some companies have large legal teams with lawyers in each critical country and business area. Benchmark has taken an intermediate approach and taken the strategic decision to hire a small central team influencing the growth of the company but utilising external law firms for specialised and country-specific advice and to support larger products.

John Marshall, Head of Benchmark Health says of the legal team:

‘Over the past 18 months the Health Business Area has been supported heavily by our legal team, which has been essential during the re-structuring of the business, providing legal support and even leading on some of the divestment projects with reliable and empathetic delivery. They are not just the legal team now, they are ‘our legal colleagues’, all part of the same One Benchmark team.’

From left: Luanna Schultz, Jennifer Haddouk, Claude Kaplan, Sarah Gibney, Florian Albert

Having an in-house legal team working to achieve the best for the Group has meant that Benchmark has been able to deliver successfully on numerous projects internationally, from raising finance in the share and debt markets to its strategic efficiency drive in 2019 and 2020, and now its strategic priorities.

‘In any given week we might be dealing with twenty different countries and ten different projects, from the artemia business, salmon land-based farming, and setting up a joint venture to chartering a Vessel in Norway. Some businesses focus on one business line, but Benchmark does many different things, in many different countries.’ – Florian Albert

This agile team expertly supports Jennifer, the 3 different business areas (Health, Nutrition and Genetics) and the Group.  Alongside Jennifer’s Group Legal Counsel position, she also advises on statutory duties, corporate governance and stock market disclosure obligations in her role as Company Secretary and ensures the company is aware of legal requirements, the different policies in place and that any issues are dealt with before they become too big in her role as Compliance Officer.

Jennifer is supported by Claude Kaplan, Head of IP Commercialisation. As an innovative company researching and developing new technical solutions, the development, protection and management of Benchmark’s IP assets is a critical success factor in delivering the Company’s mission. Florian Albert joined the team to support with the Group’s structural efficiencies last year as an experienced mergers and acquisitions lawyer, and has stayed on to help with the ever increasing workload. Charlotte Sumner joined the team earlier this year, contributing her diverse, commercial experience. Luanna Schultz, currently on maternity leave, has provided extensive, valuable support over her 2 years with Benchmark and will return later this year. Sarah Gibney provides legal support and company secretarial assistance to the team, encouraging the development of the team through the training platform, workshops and compliance.

Geir-Olav Melingen, Commercial Director for Benchmark Genetics, commented that:

“Over the last year, my commercial team has worked closely with the legal team of Benchmark. This has been a pleasant surprise, with a legal team understanding our commercial needs and collaboratively finding good solutions together.”

The Benchmark legal team give a real sense that they are a professional and pragmatic team with diverse experience who enjoy what they are doing and naturally collaborate within the team and across the business. They emphasised that they are not the stereotypical lawyers that you might imagine:

‘We’re a really friendly team. If you are not a lawyer, talking to a legal team can seem daunting, but we’re very approachable and a nice bunch of people.’ – Claude Kaplan

What the team find most energizing about working for Benchmark is that no day is ever the same and it’s an exciting industry to work in, with a lot of complexity.

During their recent legal strategy meeting the team discussed how they embody the Benchmark values, what really came out was how committed they are to their work. Jennifer says:

‘We are really passionate – about the business, the job, giving the best of ourselves. The drive from the team is exceptional, they have given devotion and energy to this business and they make a difference. We’re also very commercial in the sense our customers are internal – so we adapt to them and their needs as a team. We’re definitely living the values through the way we deliver our work.’