30 April 2021

Around the house: new GCs for Luminar and UBS

In-house moves round-up also sees Fremantle acquire an Uber heavyweight and an O2 veteran leave ahead of its mega merger with Virgin Media

By Victoria Basham

Luminar's new chief legal officer Alan Prescott Image courtesy of Luminar Technologies

From Tesla to lidar unicorn 

Elon Musk’s scepticism about lidar sensors for autonomous vehicles hasn’t stopped his acting GC Alan Prescott from joining Luminar Technologies in Palo Alto. Prescott has become chief legal officer at the Peter Thiel-backed lidar sensor and software unicorn, which went public last December through a SPAC merger. His stint at Tesla lasted just under four years, serving initially as deputy GC and director of regulatory affairs before becoming acting general counsel and corporate secretary.

Prescott began his career crash testing vehicles at Ford as a safety engineer before receiving his law degree from Georgetown University. He spent more than a decade after that leading various legal operations within the automaker, concentrating on product development and manufacturing, as well as several years as special counsel to the GC. Between Ford and Tesla he had a brief stint at Uber, where he led the Advanced Technology Group’s legal team as senior counsel overseeing commercial, regulatory, litigation, privacy and cybersecurity.

Luminar founder and CEO Austin Russell described Prescott as an “outstanding” addition to the company, which also saw Katharine Martin, chair of the board at Silicon Valley-focused firm Wilson Sonsini, join its own board of directors in February. Russell added that Prescott “understands the challenges and nuances of operating in both the autonomous driving space and in the automotive industry more broadly and we look forward to his expertise as we continue to scale our business and accelerate the expansion of our product and commercial roadmaps.”

CNBC has reported that Tesla’s current head of litigation Bill Berry, who joined last October and was previously at Google, is set to lead the automaker’s legal department but not take on the GC role. The company lost three general counsels – Todd Maron, Dane Butswinkas and Jonathan Chang – between December 2018 and December 2019. Tesla didn’t hire another top lawyer after that, with Prescott serving as acting GC.  

From Rio Tinto to UBS

Barbara Levi, chief legal officer and external affairs at Anglo-Australian metals and mining corporation Rio Tinto, is set to join Swiss investment bank UBS as its new general counsel. She will succeed Markus Diethelm, who will step down from the role effective 1 November.

Levi spent just over a year at the London-headquartered mining giant as a member of its executive committee and group general counsel, having taken on the expanded role of chief legal officer and external affairs only this March. Before joining Rio Tinto, she spent 15 years at Basel-based pharmaceutical company Novartis in various senior management roles and prior to that was in private practice at New York boutique Ferrante and in the New York offices of Italian firms Zini & Asociates and Dobson & Pinci.

Rio Tinto has yet to name a replacement general counsel.

Uber jump 

London-based multinational television production and distribution company Fremantle has named Matthew Wilson as general counsel. He will step into his role 2 August following six years at Uber in Amsterdam, having most recently led the tech giant’s EMEA and APAC legal teams as associate general counsel.

Wilson began his legal career as a trainee at Baker McKenzie in London and later as an associate focusing on commercial, media and IT law. He then racked up a bank of in-house expertise as legal counsel for Arsenal FC and O2 UK and later as the head of business affairs for Spanish telecoms heavyweight Telefonica.

As general counsel at Fremantle, Wilson will have a seat on the company’s executive board and investment committee and lead the global legal teams, reporting directly to CEO Jennifer Mullin.

Fremantle’s most popular productions include the Got Talent and The X Factor global franchises, as well as the game shows Family Feud and The Price is Right.

O2 veteran says farewell

Legal business has reported that Edward Smith is set to leave his role as O2 UK general counsel after two decades at the company. The news comes shortly after a £31bn merger between O2, which is owned by Spanish telecoms giant Telefonica, and Virgin Media, itself owned by US multinational Liberty Global, was provisionally approved by the UK’s competition watchdog.

Smith initially joined O2 as legal counsel from Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, then served as head of corporate and commercial law and head of legal before landing the GC role in 2011. Prior to Freshfields, he spent nearly four years at Pinsent Masons in Leeds and London as a trainee and then solicitor.

Telefonica veteran Enrique Medina Malo is set to take the reins as general counsel and chief regulatory officer of the proposed joint venture, with the rest of the leadership team to be a mix of names from both companies and Virgin Media boss Lutz Schüler confirmed as the incoming CEO.

Quantum leap   

Silicon Valley data management solutions provider Quantum has tapped former NVIDIA head lawyer Brian Cabrera as its new general counsel and chief compliance officer. Cabrera is replacing former legal chief Regan MacPherson, who left Quantum for solar energy company SunPower earlier this month.

Cabrera began his in-house career with tech companies in 1993, when he joined computer hardware company Silicon Graphics as legal counsel, and has since worked for Netscape Communications, PeopleSoft (now Oracle), Callidus Software and Synopsys. Prior to joining Quantum, he had a three-year stint as assistant US attorney for the Justice Department’s criminal division and before that served as senior vice president and general counsel of Santa Clara-based software company NVIDIA.

Quantum, which went public in February, has made a string of executive hires in recent months as it began to transition to an as-a-service business model, including former Silver Peak and Symantec leader Rick Valentine as its new senior vice president and chief customer officer.

AXA promotion

French insurance multinational AXA has named Emily Coupland as general counsel of AXA UK and Ireland, effective 1 May. She will join from AXA Partners, where she has been general secretary for the past five years, and will take over from Edward Davis, who is retiring after 27 years with the business. Coupland will provide legal counsel on all aspects of the UK and Ireland operations and will report to UK and Ireland CFO Roland Moquet.

Coupland spent fifteen years with AXA’s UK and Ireland arm prior to her stint at AXA Partners, including 11 years as general counsel for the life and wealth businesses and as deputy head of legal. Before that, she spent three years as a senior associate at New Zealand law firm Harkness Henry and had a stint as sole in-house counsel at Power Beat International, a kiwi firm that licenses and develops emerging technology.

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