INTERVIEW: Jose Camino
Group General Counsel,
Metalor Technologies SA
Jose Camino chats to GC about business and compliance in Switzerland, and his journey to the top
legal role at Swiss-headquartered international precious metals company, Metalor.
G C I N T E R V I E W
THE LEGAL 500
GC: Why did you decide to become a lawyer?
Jose Camino (JC): At first it was never on my radar screen, and until my last year of high school I was very much focused on science matters. It was at the time of going to university that I considered law as a serious option. Maybe the reason was practical, since at that time I wanted my efforts to pay off, and I guessed law would be a good field in that sense. Obviously one always has the general idea of contributing to justice, but that was not a main driver in my decision. I have to admit that then I was really engaged and never regretted my decision. It has been an excellent choice.
GC: How did you end up in the precious metals sector?
JC: I was working for almost 16 years in the metal industry (aluminium in this case) as European GC of a big US multinational company. One day the CEO of Metalor called and asked me to join his team, and I decided it was a good time to change gears and face new challenges.
GC: What have been the high points of working for Metalor?
JC: Metalor is a Swiss multinational company, and is one of the biggest players in the precious metals industry. Size-wise it is smaller than my previous company, and overall it is much leaner in all respects. However, this gives you the opportunity of making a bigger impact on the company. The time from ideas to action is significantly faster, and this is always a plus. It is a challenge, but very rewarding at the same time.
Another important aspect of Metalor is that because of the nature of its business, the company is regarded as a financial institution under Swiss law, and is subject to the control of the Swiss Financial Market Supervisory Authority (FINMA). This adds complexity, particularly in the field of compliance, since you have to have solid processes to make sure that all your business relationships and transactions are up to the demands of the Swiss authorities which, as you can imagine, are very stringent.
GC: What has been the highlight of your career so far?
JC: I always think that the best highlight will be the one ahead of you. But looking in retrospect I believe it has been working internationally, with a business-oriented approach. I started my career as an associate at Baker & McKenzie in Madrid, and that opened my mind to a different world, dealing with foreign clients and complex deals – which is impressive when you are fresh from university. That exposure made a difference. Then I moved to IBM, where I got the opportunity to get on the inside of the business, living and working in different countries. Luckily that continued with Alcoa, where I got the opportunity to work in Spain, the US and Switzerland, while practicing law in many jurisdictions, until I arrived at Metalor a year and a half ago. Baker & McKenzie was an incredible experience, but I enjoyed much more being closer to the business as in-house counsel.
GC: What are the main economic challenges and opportunities in Switzerland?
JC: For industrial companies that have plants in Switzerland but serve clients internationally, one of the challenges has been the strong appreciation of the Swiss currency that came as a surprise early in 2015. Having the cost in Swiss francs but selling in euros or US dollars puts an enormous pressure on the organisation. However, the situation has forced the company to become even more competitive, revisiting and improving processes and reducing costs across all across. My view is that we are on the right track in that sense, despite the difficulties.
Regarding opportunities, the reputation of [the label] ‘Swiss Made’ is still a plus, simply because it means added value in terms of quality and good work. The challenge is to maintain and enhance current standards.
GC: What are the main legal and compliance challenges for Metalor?
JC: Metalor is a Swiss group headquartered in Neuchâtel, but it is an international company where an important part of the business is done overseas. In this sense, the main challenge is to secure that we have the same compliance standards wherever we operate. This means that as a minimum we have to comply with the Swiss law and international standards, but in addition, the local legislation. That requires a strong degree of centralisation, especially regarding the onboarding process for customers, where we have developed a strong KYC [know your customer] system. In fact, we decided to set up a group compliance committee at the highest level of the company (CEO, CFO and GC) to make sure that this matter is really embedded into the DNA of the organisation. Since we are audited by FINMA on a yearly basis, and also by external organisations like the London Bullion Market Association (LBMA) or the Responsible Jewellery Council (RJC), pressure is never down. Because of the nature of our products, the risk of money laundering is very present and we cannot afford to be off guard under any circumstances. Reputation is a very important intangible asset in this business and I have to say that our management is prepared to give away business if this is at risk.
GC: Do you have any tips for other GCs looking to operate in the region?
JC: Switzerland is a very mature market, where innovation is at the heart of its business. This way Switzerland has managed to do quite well and will continue to do so. Legally-speaking, the system is very solid. An aspect that it is worthwhile to highlight in the legal arena, particularly dealing with international transactions, is that the country is still perceived to be quite neutral and independent, so it is generally a good choice in terms of applicable law and jurisdiction. The other aspect I recently learned because of moving to Metalor, has been the possibility of approaching the authorities whenever a given situation is not clear enough. I have found them quite responsive.
GC: What’s a typical day in the life for you?
JC: There is not a ‘typical day’ for me in Metalor. It is always about interacting with business colleagues and my team, but with the motto of solving problems. We are here to support the business and find legal solutions to their challenges.
GC: How big is your legal team?
JC: I have a lean organisation with a core team based in Switzerland (four lawyers) and other professionals (lawyers and compliance) in China, Hong Kong and the US.
GC: How would you describe your management style?
JC: I always believe that discussing the key matters with your team will make the function stronger and more efficient. You have to provide that atmosphere of trust within your team so that anybody can freely express his or her views on a certain approach. I am convinced that in terms of results, this is a much better way than simply telling people what to do.
GC: What do you think is the secret to being a good legal manager?
JC: Giving autonomy to your team members and measuring them by results is a good recipe for me. Micro-managing is not only very time consuming but puts you away from other key priorities. In terms of expectations of a business lawyer, you are supposed to not only explain what the law says but what your recommendation is. We are living in a world of greys, so it is important to be clear as to the options at stake, the risks, and the suggested way forward.
GC: If you could go back in time and give your junior self some careers advice, what would you say?
JC: I would say be exposed, go out of the comfort zone. That happened to me when I took my first international assignments and has been very rewarding, both professionally and personally. You are required to put in a bunch of effort and dedication, but it will make sure you are a better lawyer.
GC: If for some reason you weren’t a lawyer anymore, what would you do instead?
JC: I have always beeen attracted by mountains, so why not be a mountain guide?
GC: What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?
JC: Certainly spending time with my family, friends and being outdoors doing some sports, or simply enjoying nature.