July 12, 2023
Group General Counsel, Company Secretary, Chanel
Having grown up in Austria with an English mother, Marianna Nitsch ’91 (Capital Markets, 1991-1995, Paris) worked as a summer associate in Shearman & Sterling’s Paris office for a couple of years before joining the Capital Markets group as an associate. After a tenure of more than three years with the firm, she changed to the French law firm Gide Loyrette Nouel upon passing the French bar and after went to work for Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer. Some years later, she went to work in-house for the U.S. biotech company Biogen Idec and then the American multinational conglomerate General Electric. In 2013, she joined Chanel, where she started out as the General Counsel for the EMEA region and where she is currently Group General Counsel and Company Secretary.
When I started as a summer associate for Shearman & Sterling, I had not yet finished my studies in Austria but was working part time in Shearman & Sterling’s partner firm in Austria. It was thus an incredible opportunity for me to land an internship in the U.S. firm in Paris. I did have the advantage of speaking a few languages, but the firm still took a chance and allowed me to gain invaluable work experience very early on in my career.
I got to know a lot of fantastic people in the Paris office. One of them was a French law professor, working as Of Counsel, Dominique Carreau, who persuaded me to pursue a post-graduate programme with him once I obtained my law degree in Austria. Shearman & Sterling allowed me to do this while working full time, taking off the time I needed to pass my exams. I owe a lot to Shearman & Sterling—without the opportunities they gave me, I might never have left Austria (which was not even part of the EU at the time).
Working with Shearman & Sterling started me off on my international law career, and until this day, I still have a lot of friends from my time at Shearman & Sterling.
All the skills I learned at Shearman & Sterling are applicable in my job today. Excellence, attention to detail, learning how to do high-quality work, sifting through information really quickly, looking at things from all angles, thinking about risk through the eyes of your client, being challenged to work to a very high standard and being able to learn many different things every day, from people that were excellent at their jobs; all of these skills are highly relevant for any role.
When I recruit lawyers, I always like to take people who went through training at a big law firm—they usually offer a very high standard of professionalism, rigor, high-quality approaches to client relations and attention to detail not always easily learned elsewhere.
I have been very lucky with my career. Once I passed my French bar, I got an offer in the French law firm Gide Loyrette Nouel and then joined Freshfields, at the time when they were merging with German law firms Deringer and Bruckhaus, to work on French-German cross-border work. When working towards becoming a partner at Freshfields, I started to ask myself all kinds of questions. Being an M&A partner in any law firm at the time was not an easy career choice for a young woman wanting to start a family. I was lucky, as at the same time, I was approached to take on an in-house role with Biogen Idec and thought I could do that, have my children and return to private practice some years later. It turned out that I absolutely loved working in-house, especially at a biotech, but also, that the work-life balance was not necessarily easier!
When Biogen Idec moved their headquarters to Switzerland, I was lucky enough to be offered a job at GE in France. After some years as the General Counsel for their Real Estate Division, I became the General Counsel for the Global Growth Operations in Europe, covering all of their different operations. During this time, I spent my life on trains or planes. With two small children at home and my husband in a different country, it was not sustainable.
As luck had it, I got the opportunity to join Chanel. Chanel is a fabulous brand and a fantastic company and for me, it was a great opportunity to discover yet another different industry, something I greatly enjoy with my background of business school and M&A practice. I joined Chanel nearly ten years ago as the General Counsel for the EMEA Region. When the company moved their headquarters from New York to London in 2018, I was asked to become the new Global General Counsel and move to London.
Everything. I always say that being in Legal is one of the best jobs. You get to work with everyone in every part of the business. My team covers many different areas of law, including of course brand protection and intellectual property law in every shape and form, but also every other area of law you would expect to find in a global law department of a multinational company, from corporate and commercial law to innovation and tech, but also compliance and data privacy as well as a strong legal operations function. And, maybe less typically, my department also covers Public Affairs. Chanel is a great place to work, a leader in its industry and a company that takes its responsibilities towards its people, its partners and the planet very seriously.
I never regretted leaving private practice. When you go in-house, it is so fulfilling because you don’t only do law. Your value add versus outside counsel is that you really get to understand and think about your company’s business models and strategy as well as the broader picture of the impact you have on the society and world you evolve in. With my team we get to work on anticipating the impacts of what is happening, from a regulatory, societal and geopolitical point of view, on our business, and how to turn it into a competitive advantage. It is certainly not an easy, but a fascinating job, because anything can happen any day in a world where everything is complex and connected on a global level. I love the challenge of learning something new every day.
Remain open to opportunities and do not be afraid of change or learning something new. That does not have to mean changing your employer, but it does mean thinking about what interests you and where you would like to have an impact. Also, whatever you do, whether it’s your dream job or not, do it to the best of your ability—a job worth doing is worth doing well.
It’s also important to be a real team player, to like working with other people and collaborate. I have always enjoyed working with others and I learn from everyone around me, every day. I also enjoy learning with my team and finding solutions to challenges with them—it is what makes me get out of bed every day. When I did decide I needed change, I always tried to leave on the best terms possible and have kept many good friends from every step on the way. Even though my work and family do not leave me much time to do other things, I try to keep in touch with the friends I have made throughout life, whether I see them often or only from time to time. Human connections, that’s what life is about. So, keep your eyes open, do your job well, never stop learning and take care of your friends and colleagues.