Sameer Guha: Steering Away Legal Challenges With Years Of Wisdom And Experience | CEOInsights Vendor
Sameer Guha: Steering Away Legal Challenges With Years Of Wisdom And Experience

Sameer Guha: Steering Away Legal Challenges With Years Of Wisdom And Experience

 Sameer Guha ,     Assistant General Counsel and Director

Sameer Guha

Assistant General Counsel and Director

Every company today is reliant on a smooth flow of all legal activities to perform seamlessly in their spaces of specialization. Therefore, the role of a General Counsel is considered significant in a business to evaluate business opportunities and legal risks and perform relentlessly. A general counsel, or a chief legal officer or a legal director is one of the efficient advisors providing executive leadership support in regards to laws and regulations. They also impart advices for public policy, ethical, legal risks, and compliance. The influence of a general counsel thus plays a major role in preventing harassment and abuse within an organization. Their guidance assists organizations to strengthen their legal strategies and address diverse legal issues as these days legal issues are growing complex with changes happening in the global business. An inhouse general counsel or outsourced legal advice is, therefore, necessary for any business today to compete in the global platform, and contributing in this area, Sameer Guha, the Assistant General Counsel and Director of Mars has left a remarkable mark on the corporate law industry. He has been listed in the Legal Power List 2020 by Forbes India and Legit Quest as well as multiple editions of the Legal 500 GC Powerlist India.

Tell us about your professional journey so far and the factors that keep you motivated to contribute excellently as a General Counsel.
I graduated from ILS Law College, Pune in 2004 and joined a team in New Delhi that had a mixed practice. I worked on litigation as well as corporate matters then. Later, I joined Trilegal where I gained knowledge and experience in M&A, joint ventures, and private equity investments along with advising a number of foreign clients on several employment and real estate issues and other corporate aspects of their Indian operations. I joined Mars in 2014 and my role today is much larger than it was when I joined. Now I am heading the legal function for the larger South East Asian region in addition to India. I chose to join the bar after being inspired by one of my older family members who decided to join the profession. While I was in school, I had a passion for debating and theatre and I thought those talents would be helpful for me as a litigator. It was after I actually graduated from law school and joined the profession
that I realized that I enjoyed corporate work more. I moved inhouse many years ago and I enjoy my role as a General Counsel because it gives me the opportunity to show up not just as a functional expert but also as a senior leader within general management. Being able to work with brands that have a purpose and businesses that have a conscience is deeply fulfilling. Being part of teams that are building legacies that one can look back on and feel proud of is what drives me every day.

My team helps our business leaders navigate the challenges of doing business today for the world we want tomorrow

Tell us about the challenges you have faced and how have you overcome those challenges?
When I joined Mars India in 2014 as counsel for India and the Indian Subcontinent (a cluster of markets including Nepal, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Maldives, and Sri Lanka), I was responsible for legal support to two businesses. We had a pet care business that had been operating in India for almost two decades and a chocolate business was just getting established. For me, the real challenge was the two completely different approaches that I had to adopt when working for each. While I was working for Chocolate, I had to deal with the challenges confronted by a startup. When working with Petcare,I had to justify the contribution that Legal could make to a business that had been successfully running without inhouse counsel for many years. It was challenging as well as exciting to work and learn in such a space but what helped me excel was my previous experience from when I was in private practice and workingwith startups, proprietor ships and MNCs in a variety of sectors.

Define how the legal department on Mars plays an integral part in its business.
We often use a maritime or nautical analogy when describing our role in the business. We are the navigators. The captain decides the destination and the Legal department is in charge of charting the best course of reaching that destination leveraging our skills in map reading, knowledge of weather conditions, travel data and learnings from our own previous journeys and accounts of other travelers etc.In the VUCA world we live in, the ideal or even the quickest path from the point of origin to the destination is rarely a straight one. The Legal navigators advise the captain (MD, general managers and leadership teams) on what course should be plotted and are also caretakers of the maps, logs and records.
Tell us what transformation have you seen in the responsibilities of the General Counsel over the years.
The General Counsel is the head of the Legal Department, and the functioning of a legal department is different in different organizations depending on factors like age, stage, sector, size and culture. I don’t think the role itself has changed but the expectations that a company has from its General Counsel tends to evolve as the company itself evolves. That evolution could happen as the business gets bigger or if the company enters new businesses or there is a cultural shift driven by new leadership at the top. These changes could be gradual in some cases and more rapid in others. I In my view, the role of a general counsel is more than being just a functional expert involved in execution. It is about having a deep understanding of the business priorities of the organization and developing and implementing a legal strategy that complements those business priorities. It straddles team upskilling, crisis management and advocacy while at the same time being the gatekeeper of compliance and the moral compass of the organization.

What changes or opportunities do you foresee in the market for a general counsel?
As a senior leader, I would say there are a lot of opportunities now for a legal department to operate more efficiently than in the past. Many of these opportunities come from embracing new-age technologies and resources that are available in the research, contract management, regulatory compliance, litigation matter management and record keeping space. Not to mention software for billing, law firm management and budget control. There are also a higher number of companies that are open to giving opportunities to members of their legal departments to get involved in projects that are in other areas of specialization. Lawyers should embrace these opportunities and use them to learn more about business and show case how they can contribute beyond their functional expertise.

Sameer Guha, Assistant General Counsel, and Director, Mars International India Private Limited
Sameer Guha is a lawyer by profession who is presently working as the Assistant General Counsel and Director in Mars Inc., one of the world's largest FMCG companies in the confectionery, pet care, and food space. He is responsible for cross-segment legal support in the S Mars International India Private Limited outh East Asia and India regions. His extensive knowledge and immense experience as a corporate lawyer over the years have made him a regular panelist at legal and business events and recognition as one of India’s leading in house counsel. He sings baritone in his free time and has sung with choirs that have toured India and Europe multiple times

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