Funke Abimbola: Profile of an achiever
Funke Abimbola is the most senior lawyer in the world’s largest biotech company Roche.
Based in the United Kingdom, she is a practising solicitor leading the legal and corporate compliance, company secretarial and data protection functions that support the company’s pharmaceutical operations in the UK, Ireland, Malta and Gibraltar. The company makes a difference to the lives of patients by providing innovative medicines that are targeted to the needs of individuals. Its medicines help healthcare professionals tackle a range of diseases including cancer, rheumatoid arthritis and hepatitis. Her diverse team provides first class support and is made up of trusted advisers who support on all aspects of day to day activities for example commercial matters, intellectual property, competition, employment, litigation, pensions, data protection, pharmaceutical, regulatory, corporate compliance, anti-bribery & corruption law.
Tenacious and determined, when looking to enter the legal profession almost 16 years ago, Funke was advised to steer clear of corporate law as this area of legal practice was “too competitive for a black woman”. Undeterred by this, she drew up a list of the top 100 UK corporate law practices and in-house legal teams and proceeded to cold-call the heads of department within each organisation with a sales pitch about what she had to offer as an entry-level employee. This brave and innovative approach secured her several interviews and an entry level position with a large, fully-listed PLC company.
Now a multi-award winning solicitor, Funke is currently the most senior black lawyer working within the UK pharmaceutical industry and is the most senior globally. In addition, she is a multi-award winning diversity campaigner and has received both national and European recognition for her diversity work.
She speaks regularly at conferences in the UK and abroad with extensive reach and impact in doing so. She has impacted 1000s of lives across all ages, races, genders and social backgrounds. Passionate about the next generation, she addresses and advises state school students as a speaker for Speakers4Schools (www.speakers4schools.org) and spoke to over 1,000 school children during 2015 alone. As a Professional Ambassador for Aspiring Solicitors (an organisation founded to break down entry-level barriers to the legal profession) (www.aspiringsolicitors.co.uk), she supports University students by providing guidance, work experience and mentoring as well as speaking at Universities and at graduate recruitment events. She created a summer placement scheme within her team at work, offering future law students valuable work experience within a global, blue-chip organisation. Now in its 5th year, the scheme has changed the career trajectories of over 20 students. She also created an annual internship role within her team, specifically aimed at bright, A-level students taking a gap year before University. This paid internship not only gives students the opportunity to gain work experience before furthering their studies but also encourages them to save valuable funds to assist with their tuition fees and other expenses.
Other speaking engagements include speaking at the 30% Club, The Law Society, the BBC and in Parliament. In addition, she has participated in several “roundtable” events held by The Law Society Gazette.
She is a Champion for both the Women in Law London network, supporting the pipeline of women lawyers (www.womeninlawlondon.com) and the First 100 Years Project, a ground-breaking initiative that will create a digital library to celebrate 100 years of women lawyers in the UK. The library will be archived at the British Library in 2019 (www.first100years.org.uk). In addition, she is a Steering Committee member of DRIVE (Diversity Recruitment Institute of Value and Excellence), a diversity in recruitment initiative founded by Green Park Interim & Executive Search with the aim of effecting an extra 10,000 diverse hires per annum. The initiative is chaired by Baroness Royall, a former leader at the House of Lords (www. green-park.co.uk/drive-diversity-recruitment).
In 2015, she founded the Women Leaders in Life Sciences Law network, the only network of its kind, supporting the international pipeline of female legal talent within the life sciences sector.
Funke is an expert mentor and sponsor. As a proud working mother to a 13-year-old son, Funke is also a single mother with principle day-to-day responsibility for her son. She juggles the demands of career and home, advising working mothers on how to achieve life balance. She is passionate about the law, diversity, education and the healthcare sector. A regular media commentator, she is also a keen fundraiser for various charities including Cancer Research UK. She has twice served as a school governor and as a board director. She was recently appointed as a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts to recognise the impact of her diversity work within the UK’s legal profession and British society.
Recognition in legal directories
• Leading in-house lawyer, Legal 500 directory since 2012
• Leading lawyer from a black ethnic minority background, Black Letter Law since 2012
• Expert in corporate/M&A law, Chambers legal directory 2012
• Listed in “Who’s who in the law” Legal 500 directory since 2011
• Recommended for commercial law, Legal 500 directory 2011
• In 2014 she was invited to join the Innovative GC (General Counsel) Club following her ranking in the Financial Times Innovative Lawyers report.
Awards and recognitions
2016 Women4Africa – Recognition award for outstanding achievements and contributions
2015 Positive Role Model (Gender) Award, National Diversity Awards 2015 – Winner
• Career Woman of the Year Award, Women4Africa 2015 – Winner
• Outstanding Woman in Professional Services, Precious Awards 2015 – Winner
• Inspiring Member of the Year, Inclusive Network Awards 2015 – Winner
• Top 30 Inspirational Woman Champion of Diversity, Brummell Magazine 2015
• Outstanding Mother of the Year Award, Women4Africa 2015 – Finalist
• Diversity Champion of the Year, Excellence in Diversity Awards 2015 – Finalist
• Most Innovative European in-house legal team, Financial Times (Innovative Lawyer Awards) – 2015 ranking
• STEM Leader of the Year, Black British Business Awards 2015 – Finalist
• Certificate of Merit, British Citizen Awards 2015
• Fellowship of the Royal Society of Arts
Funke Abimbola, is an example of the value some Nigerians in the diaspora are creating for the UK economy. We are proud to celebrate her as a 2016 Women4Africa Recognition recipient.