On leaving comfort zones and finding opportunities in times of change
Q: Tell Us About Your Professional Background, Giving An Overview Of Experience As Both External And In-House Counsel.
I hold a master’s degree in Business Law, University of Paris II Panthéon – Assas (Paris – France), and a postgraduate degree in Corporate & Tax Law, University of Paris IX Dauphine (Paris – France). I was a member of the Paris and Luxembourg Bars.
Prior to joining Nestlé MENA, I worked for nine years as a lawyer at leading law firms and as in-house legal counsel for multinational groups headquartered in Paris and Luxembourg. I have gained considerable experience in advising, both as an external and as an in-house counsel, on all areas of business law with a focus on the legal considerations of mergers, acquisitions, cross-border acquisitions, corporate restructurings and commercial transactions.
I am currently the Head of Legal & Compliance of Nestlé for the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) market (covering 19 countries). Based in Dubai, I advise on all areas of business law with a focus on commercial, contracts, corporate matters, antitrust, corporate governance and compliance.
Q: You Have Built A Career Across Multiple Jurisdictions And Now, As Head Of Legal And Compliance Of Nestlé – Mena Market, You Manage A Practice Area Equally Traversing Borders. What Challenges And Opportunities Have These Experiences Provided You?
In-house lawyers, like other functions, are not immune from the human tendency to “do what you know” rather than “do what the job demands.”
When I decided to relocate abroad, I was leaving my comfort zone as I would no longer practice the laws of my home country that I studied and practiced for so long. It was a risk, but I was willing to take it. I had to adapt my legal skills to a new legal environment, but I personally found it easier than adjusting to the culture of a new country.
Nestlé, as the largest FMCG multinational, has amongst its main activities infant nutrition, confectionary, dairy, coffee and beverages, culinary, cereals, health science, pet care, waters etc. These businesses are diverse and require a broad range of legal skills.
Within Nestlé MENA, as we are a small multijurisdictional team, we are all generalists and able to advise our colleagues on any area of law in our 19 jurisdictions. It means that we are not specialized (anymore) and we have a strong, broad legal knowledge. However, none of us are true experts in a specific legal field hence we partner with external lawyers to find such expertise.
Q: As Head Of Legal And Compliance, You Manage How The Legal Function Is Positioned And Marketed Within The Business And Beyond. How Do You Approach This Task?
In most organizations, it remains a challenge for the legal function to prove its value to the business.
One of the biggest challenges legal departments face is that they have to be on top of everything connected to legal at all times while it is physically impossible (in large organizations) to review every single clause of every single contract. To avoid spreading yourself too thin, empower the business with simple, standard contract templates that have your vetting, but will still require your final approval.
Not only can templates save you time, but they can also help non-legal employees to play a more active role in managing the legal risks attached to their business.
Too often, legal teams have a reputation of being insular or isolated. If you want to be seen as a valued part of the business, it is crucial to make the legal department visible in the eyes of both management and employees.
Too often, legal teams have a reputation of being insular or isolated. If you want to be seen as a valued part of the business, it is crucial to make the legal department visible in the eyes of both management and employees. Just as in-house counsels tend to operate under the radar, so do their accomplishments! Instead of operating in stealth mode, proactively let the C-suite know about your successes — particularly if your actions have generated income for the organization or resulted in significant savings. Make your wins visible to the whole organization, talk about them, and promote them to your boss, your peers and colleagues. The more you talk about your wins, the more the C-suite and colleagues will appreciate how much you are contributing to the organization.
Q: Covid-19 Has Ushered In An Era Of Change. What Impact Has This Had On Your Work As An Inhouse Lawyer, Especially One Leading A Large Team, And What Advice Would You Give To Others Managing Change?
Over the course of 2020 much of what businesses regarded as normal changed, almost overnight. As a result, every business had to review its strategy. For legal departments, this meant adopting simultaneous reactive and proactive stances as they helped their organizations manage change triggered not only by COVID-19 and the resulting business disruption, but also by events that have generated serious conversations about gender equality and racial injustice. In advising their organization, in-house lawyers do not only give legal advice, they also have to consider whether the matter is right or not.
Disruption brings increased regulation and risks, but also opportunities.
Disruption brings increased regulation and risks, but also opportunities. Businesses have seen governments react to COVID-19 with an array of new rules, regulations, and laws that could impact a number of areas, from cashflow management and cost reduction, to supply chain management and employment and tax. Legal departments that have successfully navigated these changes will be key to guiding their organizations into the future.
Added to this are governance issues — such as those arising out of the “Me Too” and “Black Lives Matter” movements, and growing concerns about climate change. Such issues speak to the strategic vision of an organization and bring to light the vital role of the legal department, not only in safeguarding their businesses’ reputation through good governance, but also in helping to lead the way in driving cultural change at the enterprise level.
Q: What Do You Most Look For In A Law Firm When Outsourcing Work?
I would say:
- Practical experience and excellence with the subject matter.
- Responsiveness – Are they churning a matter or resolving it quickly and cheaply?
- Personality fit / chemistry – Will we have a good working relationship based on personality, character, etc.?
- Diversity, equity and inclusion – Can we see visible efforts and proven results?
- Budget – Will the fees work with our budget?
More and more, I increasingly look to create true partnerships with external legal services providers. It cannot just be words, it has to be reflected in a genuine understanding of our Nestlé MENA legal business strategy, our goals and drivers.
Q: The Pandemic Has Given Us Pause To Re-imagine The Ways In Which We Live And Work, And In What We Place Import. As A Knowledge Leader, What Topics Do You Believe Need To Be Envisioned Anew?
The role of the GC is increasingly morphing towards one of leadership, resource optimization, budget management and boardlevel strategy.
There is a feeling among GCs that technology (and the legal technologists and legal operations experts who apply it) will change the face of how both legal departments and law firms operate. But the general consensus in the discussion was that technology is not the answer in and of itself. Rather, it is the careful application of technology in shoring up departmental inefficiencies, freeing up internal lawyers to focus on more strategic and higher-value application of their skills, which will separate the top-tier GCs from the crowd.
In summary, it is a time of change, which is not always welcome as budgets are cut and headcounts brought under scrutiny.
In summary, it is a time of change, which is not always welcome as budgets are cut and headcounts brought under scrutiny. But for many GCs, it’s an extension of wider pressures that their businesses are facing and have been grappling with for some time. Therefore, the emergence of these same pressures in the legal profession was seen by many as having been a long-time coming.
Legal departments can determine their destinies and decide if and how they choose to embrace innovations in technology, new service delivery models, and increased operational efficiencies. No matter what future a legal department envisions for itself, it will need to start forming a strategy and vision for how to get there today.
Q: What Values / Attributes Do You Believe A Budding In-House Lawyer Should Be Cultivating In Order To Succeed And Create An Impactful Career?
I recently wrote an article called “Becoming General Counsel” which talks about that and was really well received by my legal peers.
I can summarize the different skills as follows:
- Demonstrate a ‘presence’, but adjust it to the audience: always be yourself, but do not forget how you can be perceived or misunderstood by others.
- Understand the business…and a P&L: it is very challenging to be effective and strategic unless you understand your company’s business and the competitive dynamics it faces in the market.
- Being the boss…and facing the storm when things go badly: as general counsel, you are the final legal decision maker, you will be the scapegoat and/or the person to blame.
- Make your way to the top…everyone should know that you would like to be the next / future general counsel: promoting yourself will not automatically get you on the list but you will be noticed and considered.
- Think strategically, not only legally.
- Enhance your legal skill and your non-legal skills: just being a good lawyer or a strong legal technician is not enough anymore.
- Seek out complicated projects that have exposure to senior management: these types of projects are usually high profile and will give you an exposure to senior management.
- Play politics and understand power dynamics: if you want to get to the top, you need to be able to learn to understand what motivates people, what drives them and what their objectives are.
* This article was first published in April 2022 issue of the IHC Magazine. You can read/download the magazine here.