Alumna Beatrice Vos has been keeping busy in her role with the international animal health business Elanco, but then, in her case, that’s nothing new.
Beatrice Vos was concerned the first time her BlackBerry remained silent all weekend. She’d just joined the pharma company Eli Lilly and Company and wondered if her device was faulty.
Back in the office on the Monday, she reported her concerns to the company’s IT department. The response: her BlackBerry was working as it should.
She then raised the issue with her supervisor, who told her she hadn’t received any emails because none had been sent. “We like our people to enjoy their weekends and switch off from work,” she was told.
“That was a real change for me,” Beatrice says. “After the birth of our first child, it was important to me to balance home and work life, and Lilly always gave me opportunities to grow professionally and at the same time be there for the children. We now have three.”
A corporate associate in Allen & Overy’s Amsterdam and Brussels offices between 2005 and 2009, Beatrice is now head of legal international for Elanco Animal Health, which was spun off from Lilly and went public on the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) in September 2018.
In her career to date, she has worked in her native Germany, the Netherlands and Belgium, as well as in the United States, and travelled extensively. She has operated in different cultures and different areas of law, in private practice and in-house, as a single person and as a working mother.
All of this has led to her becoming a passionate advocate of the benefits of working flexibly. “I strongly believe that if you give not just working parents but anyone the scope to work flexibly, trusting them to get the work done whenever and wherever they wish to, you create loyal, dedicated and committed employees,” Beatrice says.
After studying law in Cologne and qualifying as a lawyer, she first worked for an M&A boutique before joining Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer in 2002. There she switched from competition law to corporate, following her studies at New York University School of Law where she earned a master’s degree in corporate law and was admitted to the NYS Bar. It was also at Freshfields that she met her Dutch husband, Sebastian Vos, with whom she moved to Amsterdam in 2005.
In Amsterdam, Beatrice joined A&O, partly for personal reasons but also because she recognised that A&O had the leading corporate practice in the Netherlands. It was an intense but highly satisfying period of her career, as she worked on numerous public takeovers and other high-profile mergers and acquisitions, mostly under the leadership of the partner Jan Louis Burggraaf.
Working in the Netherlands also highlighted the differences between German and Dutch office culture. “In Germany, we were all rather formal, calling each other by honorifics such as ‘Herr Doktor’ or even ‘Herr Professor’. In Amsterdam, it was all much more informal, calling each other by our first names.
“This was a culture shock to me and it took weeks until I felt comfortable addressing my boss by his first name. But after a while, the informal Dutch approach was much more to my liking, and it certainly did not mean we worked any less hard. I remember we completed five public takeovers in two years.”
“Demonstrating appreciation and sharing credit for success goes a long way in creating a motivated and top-performing workforce.”
One of the most important things Beatrice says she learned during her time with A&O Amsterdam was demonstrating appreciation and gratitude to those you work with. “Jan Louis was always extremely demanding, but also highly appreciative,” she continues. “Following every bigger success – be it defending a client in a minority shareholders’ suit, signing a merger agreement, or closing a deal – he would stop at a patisserie on the way back to the office to buy cake and celebrate with the team. He was a true leader by inclusion and motivation, and I’m doing my best to follow his example now that I’m leading a larger team myself.”
With her husband, Beatrice transferred to Brussels in 2007, where again she had a shift of practice focus, working predominantly on private equity deals.
In 2009, Beatrice had her first child, but being a stay-at-home mother was never an option for her. She was also clear that she intended to continue working full-time. It just so happened that an ideal opportunity presented itself: Eli Lilly was looking for another member of its in-house team, based in Brussels. She’d always had an interest in pharma, and had briefly studied medicine before switching to law (“I had to opt out because I’m a hypochondriac,” she jokes).
She joined Lilly in September 2009, initially with the general legal in-house section focusing on Europe. Here, again, she broadened her legal knowledge, advising on anything from contracts and ethical compliance to non-litigious dispute resolution. She also counselled on strategic matters and delivered legal training to the company’s management.
In 2012, Beatrice took on responsibility as the general counsel, EMEA, and then in 2013 as general counsel, international, for Eli Lilly’s animal health business, Elanco.
In 2015, following Elanco’s USD5.4bn acquisition of the animal health section of Novartis, she created the global business development and transactions legal team that she led. The focus was to provide legal and strategic counsel to Elanco’s business development group in transactions with third parties. These deals contributed significantly to the company’s growth through M&A transactions, licensing deals, research collaborations and co-promotion agreements, among others.
In 2018, Beatrice has been focused on the spin-off and listing of Elanco on the New York Stock Exchange. Eli Lilly continued to hold about 80 per cent of the Elanco shares for a transitional period, but the aim was to enable Elanco to develop its business independently. The IPO raised USD3.8bn for Lilly. Beatrice has taken on the role as head of legal for Elanco’s international business which contributes approximately half of their global revenue.
Private practice vs in-house
Eight years in private practice and nine years in-house give Beatrice the perspective to draw a comparison between the two. She likes working in-house, emphasising that it combines dedicated, hard-working people with a friendly atmosphere.
She admits that it took a bit of time for her to adapt to the culture at Eli Lilly. She learned to temper her directness – “I would tend to get down to business immediately when speaking to people” – with a more personable approach: asking people how they were, how their weekend was or what their children were up to, before asking them about work. “That was a lesson for me, and helped me to develop better relationships with my colleagues,” she says. “I’ve come to value having a positive personal connection with my colleagues, and consider many of the members of my team friends.”
As others who have made the switch from private practice to working in-house have noted, one of the principal benefits of working in-house is the scope for becoming immersed in the business. In-house lawyers are increasingly called upon to advise on a growing set of risk scenarios, or counsel on opportunities to maximise the business outcome, and a core part of the job description is their involvement in strategic commercial decisions. Beatrice has certainly found this to be the case. “I often feel as much a counsellor as lawyer, offering judgment that extends beyond pure legal considerations,” she adds. “It’s stimulating, but certainly adds to the responsibility.”
Elanco’s becoming a public company generated a new set of compliance obligations to add to existing high levels of regulation that impact the animal health business. On top of that there was the EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), trade sanctions, the unpredictability of the current U.S. administration’s approach to trade and an increasingly competitive landscape in animal health, not to mention Brexit, to factor into decision-making and the advice Beatrice and her team must deliver to the business as it develops.
China, for example, presents a huge opportunity for Elanco. Members of China’s growing middle class are keeping more pets. Elanco is a supplier of, among others, disease prevention drugs such as parasiticides and vaccinations for household pets. However, Chinese regulations on the face of it require any supplier to manufacture vaccines locally, rather than importing them. That has a considerable effect on the supply strategy of animal health companies wanting to sell their products in China. Also, raising healthy animals limits potential for disease spread, supports livelihoods, and provides nutrient-rich meat, milk and eggs to nourish and support human health. Elanco’s antibacterials, anticoccidials, vaccines and other products improve animal health and make food safer by preventing and controlling disease.
Or take another example of the changing environment for lawyers – the impact of the digital revolution. There are plenty of opportunities, such as using artificial intelligence (AI), to generate contracts or, in Elanco’s case, assisting farming customers to use technology in the care of their animals. But there are also unknown consequences, both for the business as a whole and for the way legal advice is delivered, that have to be recognised.
“I strongly believe that if you give people the scope to work flexibly you create loyal, dedicated and committed employees.”
Clearly, Beatrice has plenty to keep her busy as she goes to work each day. This is where the beauty of working flexibly comes in. Now, with children aged nine, seven and 18 months, she is able to work her own hours and in the place that suits her best, which is often in her home office. This not only suits her and her family, but also Elanco, as her availability far beyond a 9 to 5 schedule benefits her clients based in time zones literally around the world.
“Lilly has always encouraged flexible working,” Beatrice says. “There are a lot of working mothers, but the company is fully open to them working at home, and being able to work in their own time.
“So, for example, we can do our conference calls after the kids have gone to bed. In effect, we’re creating virtual collaboration,” she continues. “It’s not face to face, by definition, but the technology now is so good it almost feels as if it were. As far as I’m concerned, there are no downsides, only upsides, both for the individual and the company.”
In fact, Beatrice goes so far as to say that the ability to combine a rewarding career with being a mother of three children, able to prioritise them whenever needed, is her biggest achievement. “I think (hope) this will be standard for parents in the long-term future,” she says. “I am pleased to see the steps A&O is taking to support flexible working and hope other law firms follow suit. My personal experience shows that combining a career with parenthood is doable without sacrifice – in fact, it’s a benefit for the employer.”
Reconnect with Beatrice Vos via the Alumni Network at allenovery.com/alumni