General counsel Orijit Das has taken Genpact Europe from ostensible start-up to being one of the fastest-expanding companies around. He tells Andrew Pugh about the changing face of life as an in-house lawyer
When Orijit Das was offered the European general counsel job at Genpact Europe he was asked to help the company build ’rollercoasters’. It has been far from a bumpy ride.
The business outsourcing company was established in 1997 as a unit within GE Capital called GE Capital International Services, performing outsourcing work for companies within the GE group. In 2005 GE decided to sell the business. One of the companies interested was the outsourcing business Convergys, where Das was general counsel for Europe, the Middle East and Africa. He was closely involved in the negotiations, which ultimately proved unsuccessful, but when Genpact went independent shortly afterwards, Das was offered the job of building up the legal function.
“It was essentially like a start-up and I found that hugely exciting,” he explains. “In the life of a lawyer there aren’t many entrepreneurial opportunities like that. Five years on and I’m reaping the benefits.”
There are no questions over the company’s success since it went solo in 2005. Its revenues have grown at a rate of 25 per cent a year and in the past four years it has opened offices in Hungary, Romania, Mexico and South Africa, with another in Turkey in the pipeline.
Genpact listed on the New York Stock Exchange in 2007 and turnover in the last financial year stood at $1.11bn (£740m).
“It’s extremely exciting to be working for a company that’s expanding at such a rate,” says Das. “One of the biggest challenges in a position like this is winning the trust of the key stakeholders. Fortunately the company was born out of GE and they were absolutely fanatical about things like regulatory issues, having had their fingers burnt. They live and breathe that culture and that’s still the case at Genpact.”
Das’s work ranges from drawing up and monitoring business contracts to chaperoning staff on the corporate side through the myriad of complex European regulation. With 41,000 staff worldwide, there are also frequent employment and immigration issues.
Das often brings in outside counsel but the company does not have a formal panel.
“We’ll use external counsel when we lack expertise in a particular jurisdiction, or don’t have enough hands on deck and get inundated with work,” he says. “But the firms we work with really differ from country to country. We’re not of the thinking that one size fits all.”
Having said that, Das often likes to work with firms with a large international offering such as Baker & McKenzie or Bird & Bird, where he once worked. He also keeps a lookout for what he describes “diamonds in the rough” – firms such as UK immigration specialist Magrath.
Das is the UK representative for the Association of Corporate Counsel (ACC) and regularly addresses conferences on the challenges facing in-house lawyers. He has worked in-house for seven years and believes that during that time the role and perception of in-house counsel has changed.
“It’s no longer just about being a lawyer within a company,” he elaborates. “In the past it was sometimes seen as a place where lawyers who couldn’t hack it at a private firm ended up, or where mothers went for a cushy life. That’s no longer the case and there’s been a huge shift in prestige. There’s now a lot more talent.”
When Das first started working in-house he sought the advice of colleagues in companies such as BP via his association within the ACC.
“I was told that this is a marathon not a 100-yard dash, so pace yourself. I also learnt that simplicity is important. Obviously when you spot major issues you need to flag them up quickly. But you also need to be commercial and practical – there’s no need to go crying wolf every time you spot something. External lawyers will highlight every single point – that’s what they’re paid to do – but in an in-house role you have to look at the context of the issue. It’s about being effective – you can’t translate diligence into reams and reams of documents.”
He adds: “The in-house role is very different. You’re not surrounded by lawyers, you’re working with human beings and need to develop different skill sets.”
Name: Orijit Das
Sector: Business process outsourcing
Position: Senior legal counsel and vice-president (Europe)
Turnover: $1.11bn (£740m)
Total legal capability:60
Main external law firms:Baker & McKenzie, Bird & Bird, Franklin, Magrath, Solv, Vestius
Orijit Das’s CV
1991-96: BA LLB (Hons), National Law School of India University
1998-2000: Manager, PricewaterhouseCoopers
2000-01: Associate, Bird & Bird
2001-02: Solicitor, K&L Gates
2003-05: Senior attorney, Emea (Europe, the Middle East and Africa) and India, Convergys
2005-present: Senior legal counsel and vice-president (Europe), Genpact