Apple Has Named a New General Counsel

Apple Computers announced Friday that its longtime general counsel Bruce Sewell will retire at the end of 2017 and be replaced by Katherine Adams, the former general counsel of Honeywell.

At Apple, Adams will hold the title of general counsel and senior vice president of Legal and Global Security, and will report to CEO Tim Cook, according to a press release.

Sewell, who has been general counsel since 2009, has been in the spotlight over the years: Most recently, he has been leading the company at a time when it is in a long running patent feud with Samsung, where billions of dollars hang in the balance; in March 2016, after the deadly terrorism in San Bernandino, Sewell faced down Congress to defend his company’s refusal to unlock the terrorist’s iPhone data because it could set a precedent for future privacy cases; and of course, Sewell’s compensation has placed him at the top of our GC compensation report for two years running.

Adams has guided the legal department at Honeywell — a conglomerate that produces software, engineering for transportation and other services and had about $39.3 billion in revenue in 2016. Her duties as general counsel since 2008, have included SEC disclosures, human resources, mergers, intellectual property, litigation, environmental compliance, government relations and security, according to her bio.

Neither Sewell nor Adams were available for comment.

Below are five facts about Adams:

  • In 1990, Adams graduated from the University of Chicago School of Law, with Order of the Coif distinction, and then clerked for two Supreme Court Justices from different political parties. One of them, Justice Stephen Breyer, a Democrat, was the chief judge of the First Circuit Court of Appeals at the time of her clerkship. The other, Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, a Republican, retired from the bench in 2006 — according to her alma mater.
  • She spent nearly a decade at Sidley Austin, joining in 1994 and working in the environmental, as well as the appellate and complex commercial litigation teams. Several years after joining, Adams paused her career and gave birth to a son, but credited the firm’s maternity leave and other policies with making it possible to return with an 80 percent workload and make partner. “I give them enormous credit that it did not affect my career path,” she said in an interview posted on the Sidley website.
  • Adams has been at Honeywell since 2003, originally serving as vice president and deputy general counsel-litigation. In 2005, she became general counsel to one of the company’s strategic business groups, Performance Materials and Technologies. In 2008, she started in her current position. Adams was not listed in the company’s most recent summary compensation table, where each company discloses its top paid executives.
  • Her father John Adams is also a lawyer and in 1970, cofounded the Natural Resources Defense Council, one of the first environmental advocacy groups in the U.S., which has been a major legal force lobbying for new laws and filing litigation for better enforcement of environmental protection laws such as the Clean Water Act.  “I have never experienced any conflict at Honeywell with the environmental values I grew up with,” she told her alma mater.
  • Adams is active with the Leadership Council on Legal Diversity, an organization comprised of 265 chief legal officers and law firm managing partners. In 2014, she that 40 percent of her approximately 250 lawyers at Honeywell are women. “We would like law firms to be more representative of the people coming out of law school,” she said in the interview posted on Sidley’s website.

Contact the reporter responsible for this story: Gabe Friedman at gabefriedman@outlook.com.

Contact the editor responsible for this story: Casey Sullivan at csullivan@bloomberglaw.com.