29 Jul 2020

Coca-Cola hires former Ford GC as its new top lawyer

Bradley Gayton will join the soft drinks giant at the end of August, with John Mellen lined up to replace him

New Coca-Cola GC Bradley Gayton (left) will be replaced at Ford by John Mellen (right)

Coca-Cola has hired Ford general counsel Bradley Gayton as its new head of legal, replacing Bernhard Goepelt in the top job following his retirement earlier this year.

Gayton, who spent nearly 30 years at the US-headquartered carmaker, will join Coke as senior vice president and GC at the end of August, with Ford’s associate GC John Mellen set to take over from Gayton.

Mellen, who is a nearly 40-year veteran at the carmaker, was previously responsible for the company’s global litigation practice, as well as heading up compliance advice on practice areas ranging from health and safety, to employment law, environmental law, and insurance claims. 

Mellen’s post as chief litigator will fall to another Ford veteran, Thomas Falahee, who has spent more than 12 years at the carmaker.  

Jim Hackett, Ford CEO, said Mellen had been “invaluable in advancing and protecting Ford as associate general counsel,” praising Mellen’s wisdom and relationships in particular. He also praised Gayton for his positive influence on the carmaker, and in the wider community.

“Bradley is an exceptional strategic business leader and advisor, and we’re grateful for everything he’s done,” said Hackett, who also praised Gayton’s pro bono work, including with aspiring minority lawyers.  

“His legal and administrative functions are world-class, partly because of how Bradley uses agile teams to operate most efficiently and create a rich environment for development,” Hackett added.

Gayton acknowledged that leaving was tough, saying “Ford is deeply part of me,” but would always remember his work on diversity, which he believes could enhance achievement for future generations. 

On his move, Gayton said he is always looking for fresh ways to think, learn, and innovate in his work. He replaces German lawyer Bernhard Goepelt, who retired in February after eight years at the helm of Coca-Cola’s legal team, having spent nearly three decades in various roles at the Atlanta-based company.

Gayton told his new colleagues at Coke that he was “looking forward to the new challenges and growth that awaits me,” to which he was ready to bring his experience to “a storied brand”.

James Quincey, chairman and CEO of Coca-Cola, said Gayton’s global perspective would be very valuable as a new member of the executive leadership team at the company. Gayton’s CV arguably mirrors Goepelt’s own diverse career history within the drinks maker, having held a number of in-house positions.