Nicoletta Ravida was delighted to interview Patrizia Carrozza on the difference between working as Legal Counsel for an Italian multinational and a foreign multinational.
Thanks Nicoletta for bringing me on board for this!
Yes, I have been lucky enough to work for both an Italian multinational and a European one and try myself in both conditions.
I started my career in 1997 in Shell Italia S.p.A., then in 2000 I joined SAES Getters S.p.A., a listed Italian company heading a group, working in b2b. In 2010 I joined Philips S.p.A. (no introduction needed here!) where I spent five intense wonderful years, before I decided to go back and join again SAES legal department.
I must say that Saes Getters is not a totally standard Italian multinational: they decided to have an internal legal department as from early seventies, when almost no Italian company had this function, and for sure not in-house. So they always paid attention to compliance and legal matters. Paolo della Porta, the founder, was “enlighted” from this point of view (and many more, as the brilliant entrepreneur he was). When I joined Philips, on the other hand, believe it or not, the general counsel was not part of the leadership team and was considered a “simple” staff function (classic overhead!).
Let’s be honest: the content of a general counsel job is always the same, of course. Environment might not be the same: soft skills required are probably a little different as well, either you work for an Italian multinational or an European one. I do think that having both experiences in the cv shape a better equipped counsel.
During my Philips years I learnt a lot from managerial point of view. As you can imagine, a European multinational has a wider organization with very specialized functions and very structured processes. The very same legal department is organized at central level in different practices and everything is much more standardized and uniform across the various countries. Some directions and inputs are given at central level (and this can translate into less autonomy in most cases) but still there are possibilities to contribute. In this respect, I had the opportunity to attend cross countries meeting where legal departments had the chance to discuss relevant topics, share experiences, tips and tricks. So, working in a European multinational favors learning, and not only on the job, through connecting with pairs outside the local team. International environments in my view give you broader experience working with people from different backgrounds, cultures, especially if you have cross borders roles or projects. Non-Italian organizations, for this reason, are in a way already set on the “diversity” mode. I tend to think this is less frequent in Italian companies.
On the other hand, usually in European multinationals there is more than one reporting line, hybrid organization and this for sure complicates a legal counsel’s life… The levels up to reach a consensus on any deviation from a standard or a certain decision on a litigation, just to make some examples, are many. I do not regret heavy and time-consuming reporting. The fact that it’s harder to get decisions taken…Decision making is not as straightforward and quick as one can hope and differs from decision making process in Italian headquarters of a company which might be less structured but more efficient, in my personal experience. The advantage of less bureaucracy is evident: decisions happen faster. The downside of this is that in Italy plans change more often and therefore priorities change almost on daily basis. Often you have to “re-invent the wheel” and start processes from scratch.
If I must super summarize, although there are always nuances to consider (I hate clichés), in Philips I developed the ability to “buy in” and create consensus. In SAES I developed the ability to set priorities, quickly adapt to changes and to have the right flexibility as you sit next to the Board and you can, more than in other cases, make the difference and have a more direct (less intermediated) impact on strategy. Which is fun…. Let’s admit it! That’s probably the reason why I decided to go back to SAES.
Both organizations however pay attention to legal and legal is one of the major stakeholders. I don’t think there is a view of legal function that differs from complex organization to less structured ones: it’s always a matter of who holds the function, how one interprets his/her own role and tone at the top (if a managing director brings you in from the beginning of a project and acknowledge the value you add, as a cascade, business will follow and do the same).
In both cases I was given the tools to voice legal matters: in Philips I had less resources, but the surrounding environment was more receptive, in SAES I have more resources, but the environment is a little less sensitive. Different stages of the same path, I guess.
In both cases I had and have the privilege and pleasure to guide great teams and work with amazing individuals.