Zeno Capucci, general counsel at DocPlanner group, talks to The Lawyer about the benefits and challenges of heading up the legal team of a global business, including striking the right balance between harmonisation and decentralisation and considering the attitudes and cultural viewpoints of local stakeholders.
What are the main challenges of being the general counsel of a global company?
Striking the right balance between harmonisation and decentralisation is often difficult, but is always key to achieving the best outcomes when dealing with global projects. On the one hand, legal advisors need to be as close as possible to the business, understand the local needs, and be perceived as allies. On the other hand, a global company has global goals, and to operate efficiently it is crucial to leverage the advantages of scaling: reinventing the wheel in every market, and starting from scratch every time, is time consuming and pointless. It is important to listen attentively to the local needs, support local teams in deviations from centralised projects where needed, while continuing to steer the ship so that everyone goes in the same ultimate direction.
What is the best thing about working for a global company?
Working for a truly global company, with hundreds of people representing cultures so different from each other, is a challenging but tremendously enriching experience. Interacting with other lawyers, or professionals, from the other side of the world, forces a lawyer to continuously challenge assumptions and conventional wisdom. It is a fantastic opportunity not only to learn about different cultures and legal traditions, but also to call everything into question, think more creatively and be more courageous in your decision making.
Listening to so many different voices, in different languages, can be tiring and distracting sometimes. However, with the right level of self-discipline, the decisional process will end up being richer, and the shared outcome likely more innovative and “disruptive” (which is what management expects from a scale-up’s legal team).
Does the culture of a country impact your decision making around legal risks?
It certainly does. Working in a regulated environment (whether it is financial services, healthcare, or even the handling of personal data), it is essential to consider not only the letter of law, but also the attitude and cultural viewpoint of local stakeholders. Customers in different countries will have a very different perception of what is right and what is not; what is of primary importance and what is just a mere formality; what is considered tolerable and what is instead an unacceptable challenge to that community’s way of doing/seeing things.
These factors, obviously, are a massive influence on regulators and tribunals, but (perhaps even more importantly) on customer’s satisfaction and on product adoption rates. You can fight principled battles based on your “ivory tower” legal knowledge as much as you want: but if you do not understand what is really behind the letter of the law, you will not be able to assess legal and regulatory risks correctly, and help the company take the best path among various options available.
How do you, as a GC, overcome the view that legal teams slow down the pace of acceleration in start-ups?
By trying my hardest not to!
It is undeniable that, at times, lawyers are not the ones “making things easier” for the business, if by “making things easier” we mean delivering the first viable outcome as quickly as possible, no matter the cost in the long run.
When facing a decision that entails a risk-based approach (basically, the day-to-day in a fast-growing tech-company…), I try to ask myself: what could REALLY go wrong, and how likely is this risk to materialise? What are the incremental steps that could make this process a bit safer, and how can we implement them in a friction-less (or “friction-right”) way? What are the ancillary risks that need to be addressed, and what mitigations can we put in place quickly (low-hanging fruit), and then gradually over time (long-term plans), to reduce them?
This is what, I think, “business-oriented” means in the context of in-house legal teams. And so far, I have found that sales, business development and marketing partners are extremely receptive of this attitude, and happy to listen and execute, if they know that you are constantly striving to minimise friction.
Who has been the biggest influence in your career?
It is difficult to point to one person specifically, as I have learnt from so many people, and the learning continues to this day (unfortunately, I am still learning much more than what I am able to give back!). However, it is when I started observing my very first mentor, and principal, during my initial months of training, that I realised that embarking on the legal path had been the right choice. He always was the calm voice in the room, and the quiet listener that people would turn to for ultimate advice. His intellectual and professional honesty, and the way he commanded attention and respect by being cool-headed and impartial, have always been a source of inspiration… perhaps because it is sometimes so difficult, for me, to emulate that behaviour and distance myself from the heat of the moment!
Tell us 3 things that are on your bucket list
- Finding a meaningful, original way of “giving back” and contributing to the community. I am passionate about human rights and helping others, and I would love to be able to spend a significant part of my time and resources doing that, one day.
- Improve my numeric and financial skills and, why not, learn coding and programming.
- Make wine. It does not matter whether it is from my own vineyards (I will need to win a lottery first!) or as competent helper: I love the world of wine and one of my dreams is to be “part of the process”. I find the idea fascinating, inebriating even.