Under the direction of SVP and Chief Legal Officer Julie Kinch, Heineken USA navigates the extraordinarily complex—and often archaic—world of state-specific alcohol regulations and requirements. “Trying to apply laws written back in the 1930s to the technology, communications, sales, and promotions of today makes for a really interesting job,” Kinch says.
Kinch, who holds a JD from Boston College Law School, has almost 20 years of experience in the beverage industry. After acquiring its US distribution arm, Heineken called Kinch in 1998 to build, from scratch, the brand’s US legal department. She had the chops to do it, having spent six years at White & Case LLP as a senior associate, and five years at Rémy Martin’s US import arm as general counsel and VP. “I wanted Heineken’s legal function to be viewed as a true business partner,” she recalls. “Oftentimes there are jokes about the legal department being where ideas go to die. I wanted to create a legal function that was viewed as helping the business, so that we could navigate the complexities and have great ideas with the help of legal, not in spite of legal.”
To that end, she’s been hugely successful. Take the company’s new BrewLock system, a one-way, nonreturnable, fully recyclable keg for bars and restaurants. “It’s new technology that uses compressed air rather than carbon dioxide or nitrogen,” explains Kinch. “But it requires the retailers to get an additional piece of equipment, and because of the myriad regulations in the US, every state looks at providing equipment to retailers differently from a legal perspective. We became a true partner with our marketing and sales teams to come up with innovative solutions and creative interpretations of the law to optimize the rollout.”
Kinch has other priorities, too. She used her female-exec-in-male-dominated-industry status to co-found Heineken’s Women’s Leadership Forum. “I had a responsibility to do something with my platform,” she says. “I wanted to empower women to expand their influence and increase their visibility. And as women do better, it will help the company do better.”