Indesit in-houser Alessia Oddone may have joined the company just nine months ago in the depths of the cycle, but she’s not in a spin. By Corinne McPartland
Alessia Oddone is legal counsel for white goods manufacturer Indesit Company UK and has spent the past week fielding calls from hundreds of the company’s customer service advisers.
It has been reported that manufacturers are hiding behind a standard one-year guarantee, when really EU law creates a minimum period of two years in which a faulty product can be returned, while in England and Wales that figure is six years.
“I’ve had to provide a response for the customer support department to give to consumers who say that our one-year warranty on labour – the warranty on parts is five years – is unlawful and explain that is not in breach of UK law,” says Oddone.
After only being in her role for nine months, Oddone has taken it upon herself to be part teacher, part lawyer and provide training sessions for her non-legally trained colleagues who have to deal with clients on a day-to-day basis.
“I think it’s important to try to make them more independent and to empower them so that they can discuss legal matters without just reading from a pre-prepared script,” she explains.
Indesit operates a central legal department based at the company’s headquarters in Italy. This global team consists of six lawyers, led by the general counsel. Its main function is to provide legal support to all the individual subsidiaries, with the exception of Russia, the UK and Ireland, which have their own dedicated legal departments. In total, Indesit has 14 lawyers globally.
Oddone covers the UK and Ireland. Single-handedly. And her first few months have not exactly been quiet.
Coming into an industry at a time when buying a new washing machine rather than fixing it is seen as a luxury, it is not surprising that Oddone has seen many of the company’s suppliers default on their payments or go into administration.
“In light of the current economic climate I’ve started to deal with many more cases where retailers are entering into administration because their businesses are suffering,” says Oddone. “However, that’s started to ease recently.”
In the boom, when getting paid was less of an issue, agreements were not put in place to ensure that, in the event of suppliers going into administration, Indesit would have its stock returned.
“I’ve really had to look at risk management to make sure we have solid agreements with our retailers and our suppliers,” admits Oddone.
Almost all commercial and corporate matters are dealt with in-house. Oddone says she tends to outsource work on an ad hoc basis, mainly due to time constraints. This includes litigation, property and trademark work, as well as some more complex corporate and competition law issues.
Currently, Oddone says her main priority is to provide ongoing legal support for strategies relating to the property portfolio and the newly formed Irish company.
“Management of the company’s property portfolio is another area where regular advice is sought, as well as a more universal need for legal assistance by various departments seeking support in relation to consumer issues,” reveals Oddone.
Even though Oddone has had her hands full since she started at Indesit last year, she says she is driven by working with people who are proud to be part of a business behind iconic UK brands such as Hotpoint.
But most of all, Oddone has a desire to empower her colleagues to be confident in dealing with customers on legal matters directly.
“They’re in direct contact with the client and it’s really important that they can have a meaningful conversation with them,” she states.
Organisation: Indesit Company UK
Legal counsel: Alessia Oddone
Reporting to: Head of finance and administration Andrea Giubboni and Italy-based general counsel Giuseppe Catalano
Groupwide turnover: Approx €3.2bn (£2.79bn)
Total number of employees: 17,000-plus (groupwide)
Total legal capability: One in UK, 14 groupwide
Main external law firms: Buckles Solicitors, Greenwoods Solicitors, Plexus Law, Stephenson Harwood, Taylor Wessing, Urquhart-Dykes & Lord (patent and trademark attorneys)
Total legal spend: £300,000
1989-93: Law, University of Genoa, Italy
2001-02: LLM, University of London
1994-2000: Solicitor, Studio Carbone & D’Angelo, Italy
2001-02: Registered European lawyer, Mills & Reeve
2003-08: Legal counsel, Domino Printing Sciences
2009-present: Legal counsel, Indesit Company UK