KFC legal chief becomes WeWork’s first ever European GC

WeWork has appointed Sarah Nelson Smith as its first ever European general counsel, as it ramps up its legal capabilities outside the US.

Nelson Smith, who was The Lawyer’s in-house lawyer of the year in 2014joins the collaborative workspace giant from KFC, where she acted as European chief legal officer. 

When it started the hunt in April, WeWork stated that a separate regional head was needed as part of its “aggressive growth plans for the foreseeable future”.

Nelson Smith will be taking on WeWork’s first ever regional counsel role, assuming responsibility for matters arising in Europe, in which WeWork now has 11 different bases in the UK, France, Germany, the Republic of Ireland, Holland and Spain. She will also lead legal teams in Australia and Israel, which account for two and five offices respectively.

Before moving across to KFC, Nelson Smith spent three years as Yum! Restaurants’ legal director, having joined as legal counsel in 2011. In 2015, Yum! Restaurants, which owns a number of big-name fast food chains such as KFC, Pizza Hut and Taco Bell, restructured its legal function, which saw Nelson Smith’s remit widen. Under the new set-up, each company was designated its own dedicated legal team, with Maria Watkins taking over as head of legal at Pizza Hut from Lucy Powell.

As general counsel, Nelson Smith has solid experience in securing substantial panels. At the start of 2014, she was responsible for putting together the last panel for Yum! Brands, while at the beginning of this year, she oversaw KFC’s first European panel review.

Before moving in-house, Nelson Smith started out at Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer and then Baker Botts, where she worked as an arbitration lawyer for the oil and gas industry.

KFC is currently recruiting for Nelson Smith’s replacement. She will start at WeWork in December, whose core legal team is based in New York and led by overall general counsel Peter Greenspan.

WeWork has been sprawling out over London since 2012, leasing property amounting to 2.6m sq ft. In April, it snapped up a 10 per cent share of Devonshire Square in the City. Gibson Dunn & Crutcher advised WeWork, headed by real estate partner Alan Samson, while Herbert Smith Freehills advised private equity firm Blackstone.

Due to a surge in demand for flexible co-working, WeWork is now the now the largest corporate office occupier in central London, as well as Manhattan, where it rents 5.3m sq ft. When it moves into its new residence, WeWork will be shoulder-to-shoulder with fellow tenants Squire Patton Boggs at 7 Devonshire Square, as well as rival office company Regus.

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