IN HOUSE VET: Unlike many of his peers, Christian McGrath did not become a private equity GC straight from private practice. After six years of M&A work in the Chicago office of Latham Watkins, McGrath joined Sara Lee in 2000 at the consumer products conglomerate's headquarters in the city. While at Sara Lee, he held a number of positions, including general counsel of the company's European apparel and bakery units, eventually becoming GC of US foodservice operations where he remained until joining GTCR in 2007.
GC as CAO: In choosing the firm's first general counsel, GTCR sought previous experience as a corporate GC over a private equity expert. “In the past, the firm had different people play a type of chief administrative officer (CAO) role,” says McGrath. “As time passed, the complexity of the firm's legal issues argued that the CAO role should be blended with that of a GC.” GTCR felt a powerhouse deal attorney may not be well suited to the administrative aspects of the position, but a lawyer adept at working in the confines of a traditional corporate structure could master the private equity issues. “They've had a long and fruitful relationship with their outside counsel, especially Kirkland & Ellis, so they didn't need to bring aboard additional private equity expertise,” says McGrath. “They needed someone who could manage the internal legal work and oversee the consistency and quality of our outside counsel's efforts.”
SCHOOL DAYS: McGrath took the position knowing full well it would require a crash course on the asset class. “Back at Latham & Watkins I dealt with some private equity deals, but I had a lot left to learn about fund formation and administration,” says McGrath. “Honestly, that's what made the opportunity exciting – the chance to apply my experience to a whole new arena.” He collaborates closely with the firm's lawyers at Kirkland & Ellis, to the point of taking one to two day seminars on aspects of private equity law. “[Kirkland's] close ties with the firm made them a natural partner in my education,” says McGrath. He also learns quite a bit working alongside GTCR's CFO and HR executive as well. “As we tackle various employment or administrative matters, I'll learn an aspect of the industry that I'll need to explore further – either on my own or with other internal or external resources,” says McGrath.