14 September 2020

Around the house: Google, Unilever, Zurich and Allstate in the news

Halimah DeLaine Prado is new Google GC; Libra and Unilever also feature as senior UK government lawyer departs

By Ben Rigby and Madeline Anderson

Halimah DeLaine Prado

Halimah DeLaine Prado, Google's new general counsel

Tech giant Google has found a new general counsel in Halimah DeLaine Prado, who has taken over legal duties from the incumbent, Kent Walker. 

Prado, who has worked for Google since 2006, has most recently served as vice president of legal where she oversaw the global products and agreements legal team, giving legal and commercial advice on Google’s flagship products, including YouTube. 

The move comes at a crucial time for Google as it, along with other ‘Big Tech’ companies, faces potential antitrust cases against it from the US Department of Justice as well as the European Commission.  

“Halimah has been a trusted counselor and exceptional leader, having navigated a variety of cross-product and company-wide issues over the course of her nearly 14-year career at Google,” said former GC Walker, who was promoted in 2018 to the wider role of senior vice president of global affairs.

In January veteran Google lawyer David Drummond, former Alphabet chief legal officer and Google GC, stepped down amid sexual misconduct allegations.

Libra change

Elsewhere in the tech world, the Libra Association, Facebook’s cryptocurrency membership network, announced Steve Bunnell as the new chief legal officer. Bunnell’s arrival comes just three months after incumbent CLO Robert Werner’s appointment to the role. 

Bunnell previously served as the US Department of Homeland Security’s general counsel and brings deep legal, national security and regulatory experience to the role. He joins Libra from the Washington office of O’Melveny & Myers, where he co-chaired the firm’s data security and privacy practice. 

Stuart Levey, the Libra Association’s chief executive officer, stated Bunnell would be a “tremendous asset” as the company worked to establish a more open high-functioning payment system.

Allstate transition

Lastly in the US, insurance powerhouse Allstate announced Rhonda Ferguson as the insurer’s new general counsel. Ferguson will take over from Susie Lees who plans to retire next year after spending 32 years at Allstate.

Lees will remain with Allstate as acting chief legal officer and secretary during a transitional period, focusing on environmental, social, and corporate governance initiatives. Ferguson joins Allstate from Union Pacific Railroad in Omaha, Nebraska, where she was chief legal officer and corporate secretary.

Pharma deputy GC takes top job at Zurich

Zurich announced the appointment of Katja Roth Pellanda as its new group general counsel. The move comes on the heels of the company unveiling a new legal panel to handle complex claims across the EMEA region. 

Pellanda succeeds Yannick Hausmann, who departs after 12 years, to take up a new role as a senior advisor to the group’s CEO, Mario Greco. 

Pellanda possesses broad experience in corporate and regulatory matters including corporate governance, restructurings, capital markets, and M&A work, both in national and international forms for the multinational Swiss-headquartered insurer. 

She joined Zurich from Swiss big pharma corporate Novartis in April 2020, where she served as deputy group general counsel, spending nearly five years in various in-house roles. Prior to Novartis, she spent nearly ten years in private practice with Bär & Karrer.

Refresh at Unilever

In the UK, meanwhile, snack food brand Graze’s chief legal officer Anna Cosgrave moved across to parent company Unilever as its general counsel for food and refreshment. Cosgrave spent four years as head of legal at Graze, prior to which she spent two years as a managing associate at Addleshaw Goddard between 2014 and 2016. Her in-house expertise includes 18 months at Olive Group in Dubai. 

The move comes three months after Unilever announced a major restructuring aimed at abandoning its dual Anglo-Dutch legal structure in favour of creating a single company in Britain. Linklaters is heading the unification venture, having replaced Slaughter and May as the company’s corporate advisor in 2014. 

Brexit tussle

Finally, as first reported by the Financial Times, top UK government lawyer Sir Jonathan Jones has stepped down over proposals to amend the agreement that enabled Brexit in January 2020. Jones, the head of the Government Legal Department spent nearly seven years at the helm, having been a career in-house lawyer for over 30 years. 

Jones’ resignation comes as the government navigates criticism over its plans to clarify parts of the Northern Ireland protocol, part of the Withdrawal Agreement that facilitated Brexit. 

Whitehall sources claim he disagreed with Attorney General, Suella Braverman QC MP, over the UK government’s intention to use domestic law to potentially override parts of the Agreement, an action which would be both against international law, and call into question its commitment to the rule of law more generally. 

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