Act Two

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Bjarne P Tellmann

Legal Era Magazine recounts the meteoric rise to fame of an international lawyer who started out as an actor...

Leader, lawyer, writer, public speaker, Karate black belt, actor… BJARNE P. TELLMANN is indeed a man of multiple talents… Currently, BJARNE leads a 170-strong pack across functions and continents, as Chief Legal Officer and General Counsel of Pearson and Member of its Executive Team, even as he continues to pursue his other passions.

Wonder Years

Born to a Norwegian diplomat father and a New York-based teacher mother, BJARNE spent his growing up years in Paris, Cairo, New York and Oslo, and had the good fortune of living and working all over the world. Not surprisingly, he is fluent in five languages, including English, German, Norwegian, Swedish and Danish.

BJARNE boasts glowing academic credentials: an Advanced Management Program (AMP) from Harvard Business School; J.D. (with Honors) from The University of Chicago Law School; M.Sc. (Econ.), International Relations, from The London School of Economics; B.A. (Summa cum Laude), Political Science, from Boston University; and Post Graduate Diploma (with merit), European Competition Law, from King’s College, University of London; among others.

BJARNE started out, rather unconventionally, as a professional actor, landing plum roles in a couple of Norwegian films and a Swedish television show to boot. Eventually though, he opted for a career in law, beginning his professional journey as an Associate Attorney in the New York office of White & Case LLP.

Career Graph

BJARNE experienced, first-hand, the firm’s global reach when he was sent to its Stockholm office on what was supposed to be a six-week assignment, working on the restructuring of The Coca-Cola Company’s Scandinavian bottling operations. Little did BJARNE imagine that the “brief” task would balloon into over 20 years in various roles across the world with multiple organizations, before he would return to New York.

Somewhere around this time, BJARNE also married his German/Dutch girlfriend, planning to settle down in Germany only to join the Frankfurt office of Sullivan & Cromwell LLC as he realized that White & Case LLP did not have a German office. The highpoint of this stint came when he represented Switzerland and Swisscom AG in connection with the company’s US$5.5 billion initial global public offering, the eighth largest IPO in history at the time.

It dawned upon BJARNE however that he craved the commercial exposure and variety an in-house career would afford, and subsequently, he joined Kimberly-Clark (Europe), Ltd. as International Attorney at its Greater London, Europe, Africa & Middle East, office. One year into his role, BJARNE was offered the position of Deputy General Counsel at Coca-Cola HBC, AG (CCHBC), a publicly-listed major bottling group with operations across 28 countries spanning Russia, Eurasia, Europe and Africa; approximately 36,000 employees; and net sales revenues of EUR 6.5bn. Too good an opportunity to refuse, BJARNE soon found himself living and working across the globe, taking on the entire gamut of legal responsibilities involved. One of his biggest projects was leading the legal function to list the company on the New York Stock Exchange.

Soon enough, BJARNE was offered another critical role – i.e. General Counsel Japan for Coca-Cola (Japan), which he took up instantly as a window to newer opportunities within The Coca-Cola Company. Based in Tokyo, BJARNE got first-hand experience of one of The Coca-Cola Company’s most dynamic and profitable markets. Simultaneously, BJARNE also got to serve both as Assistant General Counsel, Bottling Investment Group (BIG), leading over 20 lawyers across China, the Philippines, and Singapore/Malaysia, and handling competition law/antitrust matters globally; and Director on the Board of Coca-Cola West Company, Ltd., an independent and publicly-traded bottling company in Japan with 10,000 employees, and revenues of approximately $4.6 billion. The experience taught BJARNE to look at issues from the perspective of a Board member rather than just a lawyer.

While in Tokyo, BJARNE also served briefly as General Counsel, Asia-Pacific Group, at The Coca-Cola Company, reporting functionally to The Coca-Cola Company’s General Counsel and operationally to the President, Asia-Pacific Group.

Still with the Coca-Cola Company, BJARNE went on to serve in senior leadership positions such as Associate General Counsel based in Atlanta, where he was responsible for the Bottling Investment Group (BIG), one of the company’s three global business units managing all directly-owned manufacturing, distribution, sales and supply chain activities worldwide. At the same time, he also served as a Member of the Supervisory Board of Coca-Cola Erfrischungsgetränke AG, Germany’s largest beverage company. The experience afforded insights into how well-managed businesses should be run, including strategy and working effectively with organized labor.

It was four-and-a-half years’ ago that BJARNE left The Coca-Cola Company to join Pearson as Chief Legal Officer and General Counsel, and Member of its Executive Team. For BJARNE, Pearson presented a very interesting opportunity as it had transformed itself from a media and publishing conglomerate to a technology-enabled education and learning business, necessitating a lot of energy, imagination and commitment from the legal team. What’s more, Pearson had also restructured itself into a vertically integrated business, requiring consolidation and strategy from the legal department. Here was a chance in a million – one that BJARNE could not miss!


Under BJARNE’s able supervision, Pearson’s fixed legal costs have dipped by over 40 per cent through rightsizing of internal to external spend, service delivery optimization, appointment of panels, technology deployment, and talent development. As part of efficiency optimization, a transactions’ service center has been rolled out, and efforts are underway to include “special ops” teams of legal professionals which can be deployed as and where needed. TM and patent strategies for Pearson’s new brand architecture and digital strategy are being designed and implemented. Signature programs like “Ethos” have been introduced to promote innovation, culture and diversity. In a first, Pearson, in collaboration with the National Federation of the Blind, has launched a unique mentoring program for disabled lawyers christened “Changing the Channel” which helps them build the confidence and strategic focus needed to succeed. So far, the program has had a demonstrable impact on both mentors and those being mentored.

Hall Of Fame

BJARNE’s rather long and illustrious career spanning more than two decades has been peppered with accolades, including “General Counsel of the Year” at the Legal Era Global Achievers’ Awards, 2018, in New York; “Lifetime Achievement Award” at the Legal 500 Awards, 2018, in London; “General Counsel of the Year” at the British Legal Awards, 2017, in London; “Legends in Law” at the Burton Awards, 2016, in Washington DC; “UK GC Power List” in 2016; and “The Lawyer Hot 100” at the Lawyer Magazine Awards, 2015, in London.

A Fellow of the American Bar Foundation, and Member of the GC 100, GC 50, American Bar Association, and Association of Corporate Counsel; BJARNE serves on the Boards of prestigious institutions such as The University of Chicago Alumni Board, Chicago; The University of Chicago Law School Council, Chicago; and Modern Legal Practice, London.

Interests Galore

Among other highbrow pursuits, BJARNE has authored several books, including the critically acclaimed Building an Outstanding Legal Team: Battle-Tested Strategies from a General Counsel (Globe Law and Business, 2017), of which, The Times noted, “The book astutely captures the mood of today’s legal market. It is a combination of vision and pragmatism that leaves the impression that the most formidable competitors to law firms may soon be in-house legal departments.”

BJARNE is a prolific writer and publishes regularly in legal journals and periodicals on legal technology, culture and practice management. Some of his more recent articles comment on the rise of the legal “special ops” team, making AI a reality and so on. BJARNE also regularly participates as public speaker at major corporations, law firms and universities across USA, Europe and Asia.


Ask BJARNE what his advise to young lawyers would be, and the KRAV MAGA (Advanced Level) Instructor belts out bullet points with the speed of a Shaman:

  • Have a plan (set measurable and achievable goals, and work backwards towards them);
  • Nurture chance encounters (some of the best things that happen are unanticipated); and
  • Prioritize what’s truly important (live your eulogy, not your CV)

After a brief pause, he prescribes two great reads: “How Will You Measure Your Life?” by Clayton Christensen, and “The Road to Character” by David Brooks…

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