Sophie Anger on Her Journey to Mars

Sophie Anger reflects on the decisions that brought her to Mars and allowed her to thrive

In laying out her legal journey, Sophie Anger instinctually highlights not the jobs nor the accomplishments that followed one after another, but the actual decision she made to pursue her goals. To her mind, that decisions is the high-water mark of her career.

While it may seem a subtle difference, it’s anything but. The associate general counsel and marketing properties attorney for global petcare systems and processes at global manufacturer Mars possesses an inherent strength that credits her own agency, not any job title or award, for moments that have been particularly meaningful in her professional life.

Sophie Anger, Associate General Counsel and Marketing Properties Attorney for Global Petcare Systems & Processes, Mars Photo by Jordan Anger

The decision she made to leave her home in France to study abroad, her decision to take on trademark work as a young attorney, despite having minimal training in the field, the decision she made to ultimately go in-house after finding the firm world unsatisfying—those are the moments that matter most to Anger. Each one of those decisions meant having to stretch far beyond what she felt prepared for—and succeeding anyway.

After rising through the ranks at Mars, Anger is now using her experience to help motivate, mentor, and support those who may need a hand in making their own tough decisions.

When IP Gets Personal

Anger came to Mars in 2013 just as the company was pivoting to a new model. Mars had made the decision to bring the bulk of its trademark legal work—previously handled externally by five different regional firms—in-house.

“They needed to build a bigger in-house team to accommodate all of the trademark work, and the way it was set up was a little bit unusual,” Anger explains. The trademark team was essentially split in two. One team, known as the “legal practice” team, handled the back-office work, while the other team worked in a more in-house, client-facing position. Anger was tapped to lead the former team.

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“It was a big challenge for me in my journey,” Anger recalls. “It meant taking on a much larger team than I had led before and really establishing not just the kind of work we were doing but how that work was going to get done.”

This was all further complicated by the fact that the majority of Anger’s team had already been hired. She inherited her team and had to teach them an entirely new way to work across all segments of the Mars business: Confectionary, Petcare, Food, and more.

Since then, Anger has only seen more evolution within both the company and her own role. When the entire legal team at Mars was restructured to work in a more segmented capacity, Anger was asked which division she’d like to lead trademark matters for. The pet owner and animal lover chose the Petcare segment, and her team now interacts with its clients from soup to nuts.

“Sophie is among the best in-house counsel I have worked with in twenty-five years of practice,” says John J. Dabney, a partner at Snell & Wilmer. “Her passion and collaborative leadership style, coupled with her extensive knowledge of the business and law relating to the field of pet care, make her a bright and leading light at Mars and throughout the industry as a whole.”

Anger oversees the trademarks for four distinct segments within Mars’ Petcare brand: Pet Nutrition, Royal Canin, Kinship, and VHG. These segments include household names like Pedigree, Whiskas, and Royal Canin, as well as veterinary hospitals and clinics such as Banfield Pet Hospital, VCA, and AniCura.

The AGC has taken on an additional trademark segment with Mars’ development of its Kinship coalition. “Kinship is centered around cutting-edge innovation and the future of pet care and pet services,” Anger says. Along with an in-house incubation lab and $100 million venture fund start-up accelerator, Mars has made some strategic acquisitions, including the Whistle GPS dog tracker—an activity pet tracker for which Anger herself can offer a convincing stump speech.

“I got one for my own dog, and the tracker noted an increase in its licking and scratching,” Anger explains. “It wound up being a rash that required medication, and we were able to be alerted much earlier than we might have been because of the Whistle tracker.”

Strength in Numbers

Sophie Anger has always believed herself strong in spirit, but the lifelong athlete (and New York Marathon finisher) wanted to be able to express that resolve in a more physical manner. And after attending a leadership program at Mars, Anger found just such an outlet: holistic health. Already a near vegetarian, she went full vegan—and also decided to start muscling up.

To accomplish these goals, Anger undertook an intensive, three-month training challenge. In doing so, she made connections with women from all over the country within and beyond the legal industry. “Talk about a group of strong women,” she says with a laugh. “I’ve met so many fantastic people here who all have the same goal of finding ways to improve themselves.”

On a recent road trip, Anger even made sure to pack her thirty-five-pound kettlebell in the trunk. “My husband might think I’m a little crazy, but I just enjoy finding this strong version of my physical self,” Anger says.

Making the Leap

 For Anger, supporting Mars’ Petcare brand means supporting a team that stretches from Australia to Europe to Tennessee. “We are a somewhat decentralized company, and one of the five principles—freedom—empowers local units to make decisions,” Anger says. “At most companies, decisions are made at a headquarters and then trickle down. That’s not the Mars model.”

Anger admits that this model can make looping in the right stakeholders at the right times a little more challenging, but she emphasizes that working cross-functionally has allowed her to get to know the inner workings of the company and develop a keen sense of who needs to be where, when.

“Mars is a very relationship-building kind of company,” Anger notes. “Once you get to know people, you’re able to develop that important level of trust. That’s why this company is such a good match for me. I like the collaboration and knew this was the kind of environment where I would thrive.”

Feeling comfortable and at home in her role isn’t a feeling Anger takes for granted. In her early firm years, she experienced some conflict in her work environment with other attorneys as well as partners. It wasn’t until Anger went in-house at Merck that she found a truly collaborative environment and a manager she wanted to emulate.

“She worked on developing people and collaboration and really represented what I wanted to be,” Anger says. “I feel like I’m still trying to emulate her to this day.”

Anger’s focus on building out her leadership potential has included regular attendance at leadership workshops, taking on an advisory position for the Transforming Women’s Leadership in the Law organization, and making the decision to lead in her own way.

“I’m inherently a very shy person, so I’m not the kind of boss that yells or demands,” Anger says. “I want to hear my team’s ideas, and when a decision needs to be made, I give my team a chance to provide their input.”

The AGC says the culture at Mars encourages employees to take risks, and it’s a mentality she tries to embody on her own team. “I want people on my team to feel empowered to go with their portfolios and do their best work,” Anger says. “Seek my input if you need it, but I’m not going to be micromanaging you.”

Anger’s leadership, whether consciously or not, might be a direct refutation of how she grew up. “You could say I grew up in a little cocoon,” Anger says, laughing. “I was an only child, but I just had to take that leap into the unknown.”

For Mars, that meant securing a continually curious and motivated leader. For Anger, it’s meant not just appreciating the leap itself but understanding that making the decision to jump was a victory in and of itself.

Advancing Opportunities for Women in Law

As an advisory board member for Transforming Women’s Leadership in the Law (TWLL), Sophie Anger is advancing the organization’s goals of fostering conversations between law firms and general counsels in order to better connect senior women in law and address the barriers preventing women from advancing in the field. “Coming from an organization like Mars where our general counsel is a woman, I feel empowered to be able to help TWLL raise awareness to a broader audience,” Anger says. “You have the opportunity to be exposed to these incredible women over and over again, and it makes it easier to reach out to them for advice and to learn more about some of the challenges they might have faced in their own careers.”

Over the last year, the organization has increased its scope, moving on from merely recognizing the struggle of women to making gender equality an explicit goal, complete with measurable and strategic aims. Those aims include making sure women receive their fair share of subject matter experience and client exposure as well as taking measurable action against bias in the workplace.

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Expertise Spotlight:

Snell & Wilmer is home to one of the premier trademark practices in the country. Our decades of experience, business perspective, and long track record make us uniquely equipped to support your needs. We offer sophisticated advice to large and small companies in every aspect of trademarks. From global search and clearance and registration to portfolio maintenance, brand licensing, and due diligence for corporate transactions to litigation before the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board or in the courts, Snell & Wilmer can assist throughout the life cycle of a brand.

John Dabney represents companies throughout the United States and around the world in trademark, trade dress, copyright, false advertising, and unfair competition litigation. Before joining Snell & Wilmer in April 2020 with two other trademark partners to launch its full-time Washington, DC office, Dabney headed McDermott, Will & Emery’s trademark litigation group for more than a decade. He has been lead counsel in more than one hundred federal court actions and seventy-five cases in the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board. He also has been lead counsel in appeals before the First Circuit, Second Circuit, Third Circuit, Sixth Circuit, and Eleventh Circuit. Dabney has been repeatedly recognized as a leader in the field by World Trademark ReviewThe Legal 500Best Lawyers of America, and Super Lawyers.