Senior vice president, general counsel and corporate secretary, Sysco Corporation
Sysco is based in Houston and provides food and related products and services to approximately 390,000 restaurants, health care and educational facilities, lodging establishments and other customers. Sysco’s operations, supported by 47,500 associates, are located throughout the United States and Canada and include broadline companies, specialty produce and custom-cut meat operations, Asian cuisine foodservice distributors, hotel supply operations, and chain restaurant distribution subsidiaries that serve both domestic and international locations.
Since its initial public offering in 1970 Sysco has experienced outstanding growth and for the fiscal year ending July 2006 saw sales in excess of US$32 billion. In 1977 Sysco became the leading supplier to ‘meals-prepared-away-from-home’ operations in North America. Since then, the industry it serves has expanded from US$35 billion to more than US$200 billion.
Michael Nichols joined Sysco Corporation as general counsel in 1981 and after a three-year tenure as chief administrative officer of Texas Supermarkets rejoined the company in 1991 as vice president of management development and human resources. In 1998 Nichols became Sysco’s vice president, general counsel and secretary and was promoted to senior vice president in 2006. In his role Nichols oversees the management of Sysco’s legal risks, supporting and providing counsel to Sysco Corporation and its operating companies, and matters including mergers and acquisitions, securities, contractual issues,
and supporting the corporate governance responsibilities of Sysco’s board of directors.
Prior to joining the company Nichols practised law in Georgia. He received his law degree from Emory University in Atlanta in 1977 and in 1976 was elected to the State of Georgia House of Representatives where he spent two terms and served on numerous committees, including the Ways and Means Committee and Special Judiciary Committee. Nichols received the Outstanding Legislator award from the Georgia Municipal Association after introducing legislation protecting the environment, improving education, decreasing the crime rate, as well as promoting services for urban areas. Nichols currently serves on the boards of the Texas General Counsel Forum and CLO Roundtable and is active with the International Foodservice Distributors Association and the Human Resources Policy Association.
The company turns to a group of around seven select international and US law firms, based on their particular strength. When looking for advice in a given jurisdiction it tends to seek guidance from local outside counsel and focuses on hiring the individual as opposed to the firm. Key attributes the company looks for are the ability to lead, a strong moral compass and a solid understanding of the business.
Preferred law firms: Arnall Golden Gregory LLP; Bracewell & Giuliani LLP; Deacons; Allen & Overy LLP; Wachtell Lipton Rosen & Katz; Susman Godfrey LLP; Zimmerman Axelrad Meyer Stern & Wise PC.
Sixteen. What advice would you give someone moving to an in-house role from private practice? Have a great chief financial officer.
Must be a legal adviser not only a lawyer; Must have excellent legal skills; Must understand the company’s business; Must not be paralysed by risk; Must be a moral compass; Must be leader of lawyers, must develop a team; and Must be able to lead groups who do not report to him or her.
Clear communicator and clear thinker.
When I need expert counsel.
Ask outside counsel.
Overbilling and poor advice.
The fast pace of change.