Hogan Lovells General Counsel Series: Episode 1, Part 1 - 'Business leaders, legal experts’
Hogan Lovells recently launched their new podcast, The Africa GC Series, where leading GCs from some of the world’s largest corporates share their experience and insights. In Episode 1, three panellists focus on the evolving GC role as a business enabler and driver.
In seeking to expand their knowledge of what keeps their clients up at night, international law firm Hogan Lovells partnered with Africa Legal to bring together three leading African GC for an extended conversation. Deepa Vallabh introduces the first episode which was hosted by Hogan Lovells’ former Chair of Africa, Andrew Skipper, who is also the founder and current CEO of Polymetis Professional Solutions. For this podcast, Skipper spoke to Samallie Kiyingi of African Export-Import Bank, Vivian Osayande of Novartis, and Wellington Chimwaradze of Unilever.
The role of in-house lawyers has evolved in recent years and general counsel can no longer focus on legal risks alone to help their businesses succeed in a rapidly changing marketplace. The trio spoke of how their senior roles now go far beyond offering reactive advice and managing legal risk; instead, modern-day general counsel must be proactive, highly engaged with their business and seen as “enablers” of broader business strategy.
For Kiyingi, her role as general counsel goes beyond the expected high-level legal advisory aspects, to making various contributions as and when the business needs it. “What I do on a day-to-day basis, I think, is future-proofing the organisation: thinking strategically about the transactions we’re doing, the risks, the policies we’re pursuing, and where that will put the bank in the next five to ten years.”
Osayande concurred. As Head of Legal for Novartis’ Asia-Pacific, Middle East and Africa (APMA) Operations, her job encompasses the traditional lawyer role – including a large focus on ethics – but also includes conversations around price, access, ESG and speed of delivery. Then there’s the added responsibility of acting as a mentor and guide to the company’s team of 60+ lawyers.
Chimwaradze, Vice-President Legal for Unilever Africa, also noted that although all three came from very different industries, there are many commonalities in what they focus on on a day to day basis.
“I see myself playing the role of a defender in the team as well as an attacker/offence,” he said. Chimwaradze believes he is a facilitator for what the business wants to achieve, not just a manager of legal risk. “It’s about identifying the issues, depending on what your business wants to do, understanding and appreciating the risks that might be associated with that. But, even more importantly, it is also to understand the opportunities that might lie within those conversations.”
Osayande, Chimwaradze and Kiyingi also spoke about building confidence with external counsel, the importance of leadership, business acumen and emotional intelligence, and the growing impact of ESG and climate change. “Beyond your corporate priorities,” said Osayande, “all of us have to be more conscious than ever as to the sustainability of our businesses and accountability for our actions.”