LexTalk World interviews Mr. Raghwendra Verma. Raghwendra has over 20 years of experience as a Corporate Legal Leadership. His gamut of experience includes cross border M&A/ Privacy Laws /Cyber Security/Strategy/compliance/ Contract Negotiations /Litigation/Risk Management. In a career spanning 20 years, Raghwendra delivered business-driven Legal strategy at global, regional and national levels across several industry verticals. Currently, he is Serving ISON as Group Head- Legal, Compliance and Corporate Secretary. ISON Group is into IT & ITES and have business operation in 29 Countries across Africa, Middle East and India. He has a unique capability of identifying root cause of issue and is excellent solution provider, whether issue is related to contract, Litigation, Human resources, M&A, Board & Shareholders related, Regulator, Corporate Governance or Compliances. He helped organization in spreading its wings by Carrying out acquisitions in Egypt, South Africa, Dubai, Cyprus, Mauritius, Kenya, Nigeria, Tanzania, Mozambique, and in other parts of Africa. He ensured smooth transition of business considering law of respective countries where acquisition was made.
Raghwendra worked with Promoters & Board and has been in the midst of building scale globally and in managing complexity. Some of his key achievements include, spearheading private equity investment in the organization, setting up of business in many countries in Africa & Middle East, Building a robust compliance system in Organization, Building culture in organization to minimize risk of employee related issues and litigation In public life, Raghwendra is active in social services like organizing various stress elimination courses, distribution of foods, instrumental to launch “Girl Connect” project in Nigeria, writes articles on social issues for Magazines, social media.
Host: Please brief us about your journey as a Legal professional so far.
Raghwendra: I was Born and brought up in Samastipur district of India., After my graduation moved to Delhi where I did LLB and Company Secretaryship. Started my professional journey as junior legal officer and slowly and steadily kept climbing on ladder and presently serving ISON as Group Head- legal, Compliance and CS.
During my around 20 years professional journey, I Served various industries which includes Manufacturing to Real state to Mining to IT, ITES and BPO.
I was instrumental in implementing various new ideas/processes in almost all of companies where I served. Towards this endeavor, I developed a unique and innovative Compliances and corporate governance process across organization covering Africa, India and Middle East which led to win best corporate governance award in Kenya
Merger and acquisition are one of the regular features of our Company. We acquired companies in various jurisdiction like Dubai, EGYPT, South Africa, sub Saharan Africa etc.
Keeping in view the M&A as a regular phenomenon and secondly professional development of team members, I gradually build up inhouse capability to execute these cross-border transactions. Now we are not taking help of external consultant.
During my journey I spent few years in Kenya, few years in Nigeria and now settled in Dubai. In order to discharge my professional responsibilities, I travelled almost 1/3rd of globe. Also, got opportunity to know about different culture during my stay in Kenya, Nigeria and Dubai at present.
Taking risks in life at most of time were rewarding for me. If not then it taught me a valuable lesson.
My hobby is writing and reading. I do service as a volunteer of Art of living.
Host: Tell us about your most memorable case and what are your key takeaways from there?
Raghwendra: There are so many interesting cases in my 20 years of professional journey. Mentioning few as below
In one of the country in East Africa, Labour Ministry issued a notice to us to implement Minimum Wages of telecommunication industry though we are a BPO company. The Impact on us was hundreds of millions of dollars. We objected, represented and exhibited them every proof that we are BPO company which is distinguished from telecom industry. But they did not agree with us. Finally we moved to high court and then they agreed to withdraw notice and settled the case. This was one of the landmark case which define BPO industry in that country. For me the Key takeaway was that even if opposite party is so powerful like Government of country, we must fight for our cause.
In BPO Industry, transitioning of employees (popularly known as Rebadging) from one company to another is regular feature. When company outsource part of their business to a BPO company, rebadging happens. The law and process defined therein for rebadging is extremely cumbersome. In Kenya, our client meticulously followed the law. However, they missed out some procedural aspect required to be followed in rebadging. Employees while working for us and serving the client sued to client and eventually won the case. Our client had to pay millions of Dollars. The Key Takeaway for me was that while complying substantial law is fine, but at the same time adhering to due prescribed process is equally paramount. After this case and with the learning from this case, we rebadged more than 5000 employees across Africa and never experienced any issue.
There are few interesting cases of Trade mark in India, Retrenchment in Tanzania and South Africa. In the interest of time please allow me to discuss these cases in details some other time.
Host: How can an In-house Counsel add more value to his organization by being a true business partner?
Raghwendra: It is true that In-house lawyer is known for their technical expertise in litigation, contract, Risk Management, Compliance, governance etc.
However, this is the high time for in house lawyer to be actively involved in day to day business of the organization and be a true business partner.
He should be the member of business team and should focus on how to grow the business. He must speak business language and sync with the organizational goal of the Company. He should understand the Business, Industry where he is working and should have deep knowledge of product and services organization is offering. He should also understand the challenges his industry experiencing and also understand the battle of business/commercial team and provide general counsel solution not just in the legal sense. Only giving advice will not work.
Keeping balance between law and practicability is paramount. A law cannot be road blocker of any business prospect. Lawyer should find out the solution. Simply put, he must be solution provider. Balancing risk versus reward is equally important. Becoming team player is very important. People come to legal team with problems. Proactively, In house counsel should search for root cause and address it. The old saying If there is problem then there is solution is always true. Collaboration with different department is key here.
Host: What are basic challenges In-house lawyers faces in discharging their duties?
First and foremost challenge which In-house lawyer faces is Perception management. General perception is that law is back-office job and it cannot be involved in day to-day business. This is general industry mindset that a lawyer do not possess commercial or sales capability. Seldom a lawyer becomes CEO of an organization, despite exhibiting all capability. So many times, it has been seen that lawyer potential remain untapped.
Second challenge in house counsels which they face that when matter is brought to their notice, it had already reached at extremely critical stage. In my opinion, if the matter come to legal person as soon as the problem is perceived, a lot of problematic issues could be avoided. In house lawyer can take proactive steps in such a situation and can stop issue before it become a headache. Let me cite few example.
1. Employee related issue: Employee related issues can be avoided by proactively streamlining various process which can take care employee sensitivity and at the same time employer interest.
2. Project related matter: training to the people about how to communicate with other party in case of any deficiency/delay in implementation & completion of project.
3. Acknowledgment of debt:- same principal is applicable here. Direct admission of debt in general mail communication may create serious problem.
4. Contracts are backbone of an organization. Contract is basically a marriage. This marriage can be for short term or for long term. However, contract is draft with keeping future divorce in mind. Liaising with all department and getting timely inputs are extremely important for drafting a good contract and protect the interest of company. Legal team faces challenge many times in getting timely inputs.
Training and updating Directors. Directors have the fiduciary duties towards organization. They need to be trained about their role, responsibility, obligation in ever-changing complex legal and regulatory environment. Many times it is a challenged due to various reason.
Host: Where is the impact of technology advancement on BPO industry and particularly in house lawyers?
Raghwendra: BPO industry has undergone into sea changes due to technology advancement. Technology advancement has taken Customer experience to the next level. Customer experience is the real battleground for any business where it flourishes or fails. Automation and robotics are changing the way of business. It brought digital transformation of processes and empowering agents and enhancing productivity and accuracy in process which leads to happier customer. Advanced Analytics & AI can analyze customer behavior and recommend products and services as per customer need. Data interpretation & analysis become much easier. So now BPO is not being seen as low cost service provider by client but basically they are seen as valued partner who brings value to brand and happy customer.
On legal profession
Artificial intelligence (AI) is changing the legal profession in big way. AI together with Data analytics, Blockchain are changing the life of lawyer.
Now contract drafting, reviewing of contract are being done through AI.
Research work is now being done by DATA analytics. We receive result of search in just few minutes. Digitalization and storage of case law, statutes, and regulations is so easier now.
The concept of smart contract is now a reality.
Within the next few years, there would be revolution in the practice of law led by the advancement in technology
In-house lawyers should adopt and embrace the change otherwise will be left behind.
At one hand there are many positive impact of this technology advancement whereas on other hand there is some important concern are:
Job of lower level legal jobs, legal secretary etc. would not be available in future.
The technology advancement also force the legal community to think the liability and enforceability of law in case of cybercrime/fraud. In many cases it has been seen that the fraudster is in one country, the victim is in another country. This is really a tough call for legal community to come out with some solution.
Host: What is your advice to young Legal professionals in this dynamic corporate world?
Raghwendra: The importance of In house lawyer is increasing day by day due to complex regulatory environment together with challenges faced due to dynamic nature of Law, regulations, cumbersome compliance process in the current global market.
Strategic and analytic skill is a lawyer strength. Young professional should leveraged on that. Be a value creator, should be a business person and a solution provider. Law should not be a barrier for furtherance of business interest. So he must be innovation and must bring innovating solution to the problem.
In the current world, adoption of technology is must, must be techno savvy.
Young professional should develop Leadership quality- Deep knowledge of law and Broad knowledge of all the department of an organization.
This transitioning from a legal person to a strategic business partner is not easy. However, Young professional don’t have choice. Young professional should learn business language. At the same time, should not compromise on value system, integrity.
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