One year ago when Cox Automotive needed to select a new General Counsel, it chose someone with great international business experience. Working for Coca-Cola in places as varied as London, Atlanta, Sydney, Tokyo and Shanghai, Angus Haig had seen many ways of doing business and relating to people across the globe. “My international career allowed me to enjoy so many different cultures in the developed and developing world,” he says, “and experience how business practices vary from place to place.”
With over $7 billion in revenue and more than 40,000 auto dealer clients, Cox Automotive is transforming the way the world buys, sells, owns and uses cars. Their footprint extends across 5 continents through a multitude of global brands and businesses.
“We offer an unparalleled set of innovative solutions in many markets around the world to Dealers, Manufacturers, Car Shoppers, Lenders and Mobility Providers that touch upon every aspect of a motor vehicle’s lifecycle,” he says.
Haig was born in Adelaide, Australia and started his career there, first as an associate to a Supreme Court judge and later as a solicitor. “My work for the Supreme Court was both criminal and commercial and later as a solicitor I worked in litigation, mostly small cases, but it was great experience because I got to see the complete litigation lifecycle,” he says. “Next I did entirely corporate and commercial work involving companies in mining, gas, sale of businesses and real estate. I really got to learn the art of drafting legal documents at that time.”
Haig moved to Sydney and joined Coca-Cola in 1998 as the division marketing counsel for the South Pacific. Increasingly responsible positions in the company’s legal department placed him at various times in the US, Europe and Asia. His last job with Coca-Cola was as international general counsel – Asia Pacific and general counsel of Japan. He and his family lived in Tokyo for almost three years.
“The breadth and variety of my experience at Coca-Cola definitely helps me here at Cox Automotive, where we deal with a multitude of issues every day,” he says.
Actually living in other countries gives one a better sense of how their organizations, businesses and governments run and operate, Haig believes. “Just visiting another country doesn’t really count,” he says, “because you’re still insulated. Until you live there and have to shop at the local grocery store, obtain a driver’s license, open a bank account and pay taxes etc, you don’t really get a good feel for what it’s truly like to live in another country.”
Haig’s role means that he is working constantly with executives at all levels and all functions across Cox Automotive to provide strategic, creative and commercial solutions and legal advice, whilst mitigating risk. “Communication and relationships are so important these days – I am trying to learn as much about the automotive business as I can as I believe the better an in-house counsel knows the business the better business adviser and legal problem solver they will be” he says. “Anyone can just say ‘no, you can’t do that. However, the days of in-house counsel pontificating from an ivory tower and only providing technical legal advice are over.” The role and responsibilities of in-house counsel continues to expand and increase in complexity. The real value add of effective in-house counsel is when they really know the business and are able to come up with the best solutions to business and legal issues.”
Supporting the business through change is more fun anyway. Being able to be flexible and adaptable to change is essential these days, as it’s an ongoing process in most industries and successful companies these days, according to Haig. He sees big changes in the industry ahead. “Our Mobility Solutions Group is focused on innovations and technology in the areas of vehicle subscription services, car sharing, ride sharing, electric vehicles, sensors, autonomous vehicles, as well as fleet services such as detailing, storage, cleaning and reconditioning. And it’s the legal team’s job to stay up to date with these advances and support the business through the continual evolution of the industry.”
When arriving at Cox Automotive, Haig first made sure that the right attorneys were in the right positions to be supporting the business. He moved some people around and also added new roles for mobility, technology, strategy, data, marketing, legal operations and intellectual property.
Next he worked on team spirit and collaboration. “When I started morale was quite low. My approach was to bring everyone together so they felt part of a cohesive and collaborative team, with as much diversity as possible. I believe in the end you get better solutions and results the more collaborative and diverse your team is.”
Haig also pays attention to the development of his people. “People are a legal team’s number one asset. I try to make time to get to know the team as much as possible and understand what they are interested in doing, how I can best support their development and interests and professional goals.” He has also hired several younger lawyers into the legal department to be developed as a pipeline of future leaders.
“The way I think about the legal team is like an inverted pyramid with me at the bottom, the team above me and the business at the very top,” he says, “because I’m here to support the team and in turn we all support the business. I trust my team, support them and I want them to know that I have confidence in them and they can come to me whenever they need to. I don’t ask anyone to do anything that I have not done before or would not do myself.” He has a team of 28 lawyers today. Most are in Atlanta but he also has lawyers in other U.S. locations as well as the UK, Canada and Australia.
A lot of Cox Automotive’s legal work is done in-house to keep costs down. The Cox companies as a whole have recently been working on a project called Convergence whereby the legal departments of Cox Enterprises and its three divisions aim to streamline how they engage outside counsel, increase efficiency and effectiveness of legal spend and ultimately better support the business and its objectives.
Working as an international in-house counsel has its challenges but has been extremely rewarding for Haig. “I’ve been very lucky with my family,” he says, “and my wife has been extremely supportive of me and all the moves we’ve had to make.”
His four children were born around the world as a result; two in Sydney, one in London and one in Atlanta. They are a true international family.
“We love being in Atlanta and have a lot of respect for it as an international city. The airport, accessibility, variety of businesses and the friendliness of the people are all a fantastic package for anyone who wants to live and work here,” he says, “and Atlanta is a great place to raise a family. The schools are terrific. Our older kids are at The Howard School and the younger ones are at Trinity.”
Haig currently serves on the board of the International Dyslexia Association as well as its Ethics & Standards Committee and its Nominations & Governance Committee. He is a member of the Board of Trustees of The Howard School, a school specializing in educating children with learning differences and disabilities in Atlanta.