INTERVIEW: LYNDA AIT KACI
SENIOR COUNSEL - NORTH AFRICA,
GENERAL ELECTRIC INTERNATIONAL
Lynda Ait Kaci is executive counsel for North Africa at General Electric International, based in Algeria. She spoke to GC about her career highlights and what she has learnt from the journey so far.
G C I N T E R V I E W
EDITOR AND FEATURES WRITER
GC: Did you always want to be a lawyer? What appealed to you about the law and what led you in that direction?
Lynda Ait Kaci (LAK): I have always been passionate about compliance and integrity, and these are things that I value in my life, both professionally and personally. Belief in those values actually directed me to this career, to become a lawyer, but when I was younger I wasn’t sure whether I would go to the Bar or in-house. But for me, certainly the career path was always quite clear.
GC: When you decided to go in-house, was it because you wanted to be a part of a business?
LAK: Absolutely. I believe that an in-house lawyer (compared to a private practice lawyer) can be a good business partner and a key player in making business decisions.
GC: Did you work in private practice first of all?
LAK: Yes, I did, for just under two years.
GC: Were you always thinking you wanted to end up in-house, or was it more a case of taking an opportunity when it came along?
LAK: Actually, it was both those things. When I was in a law firm, I was discovering and experiencing things for the first time, but soon I wanted to join a corporation to become an in-house lawyer. I got the opportunity to join a pharmaceutical company as a junior lawyer and it went from there.
GC: What is it that you like about working for GE?
LAK: GE gives you the opportunity to push your own barriers and get out of your comfort zone. GE in general values its lawyers - being a lawyer at GE means you are a key business partner, you are involved in business discussions, and your voice is heard. You can challenge the status quo, your boss, the boss of your boss. At GE, your voice is definitely heard.
GC: You are based in Algeria. What is the market like there? What are the main challenges and opportunities for companies in Algeria?
LAK: The main opportunity for GE is in its product line: we offer products and services in the domain of interest for the Algerian government, such as power, oil and gas, healthcare and aviation. Although there are many opportunities from a business standpoint due to the diverse GE portfolio, the local environment is quite challenging due to the administrative constraints and difficulties to find local talents, but overall, for the business, it is a good place to be.
GC: When you say finding local talent, do you mean in terms of recruiting into your own team?
LAK: Yes, absolutely. It is not easy to find someone who can meet criteria such as in-house experience and the ability to speak English.
GC: What strategies do you have to solve that problem?
LAK: We look to other in-house lawyers. There are not so many of them but we try to attract those from other corporations in Algeria.
GC: What standout projects have you been working on over the past year?
LAK: Localisation is a big challenge for the Algerian Government, which is looking for strong partners to establish sustainable manufacturing facilities in Algeria. In 2013, GE committed to create a joint venture with the local state-owned electricity company to localise the gas turbine, steam turbines, alternators and control systems in Algeria. The company was incorporated back in 2013 and now we are at the start-up stage, which includes due diligence of the land, getting the authorisation and the permits to start building the facility, and at the same time building the start-up team with all the processes and policies in place. That project has required strong legal support.
GC: What have been the highlights of your career?
LAK: That’s a big question! I first thought that the highlight was when I decided to leave the Bar to go in-house. But then I thought the highlight was when I joined British American Tobacco (BAT) at the very early stage of its incorporation in Algeria. My English wasn’t ok, and it was a start-up. I took all those challenges and managed to do my job well. Since then the highlight is now being a regional counsel with GE covering four countries.
GC: What are the challenges of a regional role?
LAK: The biggest challenge is the fact that I was the sole lawyer for the region.
GC: Thinking about challenges that you anticipate you will be facing, what do you think you will be working on in the coming months?
LAK: Customer satisfaction is always crucial for us. When I mention clients, I mean internal and external. The fact that the team is growing means that expectation will be higher, and there is no excuse not to deliver.
GC: You say the team is growing - are you recruiting at the moment?
LAK: Yes, I was alone in my role for more than 3 years, but now we have a senior lawyer and a contract manager, and we are in the process of recruiting another senior lawyer too.
GC: Can you talk a little bit about your management style - how do you go about motivating your team members?
LAK: Well, a one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t work. I think that sentence speaks for itself, because you have to deal with different characters, with different temperaments, social background and genders, so you need to customise your management style. You can’t just have one style and expect that it works for everyone. As a manager, I will first take time to understand the various personalities in my team and then choose the right style to ensure I tap the right potential to help them to have a successful career. And most important is having compassion and empathy for each person – to show the person I value them, that I care when things are getting hard.
Overall, as a golden rule I would say that whatever the situation, a manager should always make his team feel that he is one among them.
GC: What advice would you give your younger self? Is there one thing that would have helped you?
LAK: In general, I would advise myself to become more patient. Sometimes you don’t have the full picture, just a part of it. Being patient helps you understand things well. But don’t compromise and don’t give up on your objectives, no matter how big they are.
GC: What do you do in your free time?
LAK: I have started drawing recently. When I was a teenager, I used to love drawing, but since then I felt I needed some courses, to be able to give space to my creativity. I love Gauguin and Picasso, and I tend to draw in an abstract style. I love watching movies, and I would rank Breaking the Waves [directed by Lars von Trier] as one of my favourite films.
GC: If you weren’t a lawyer, what would you like to do?
LAK: I would like to own a coffee shop. I love coffee and reading and would love to share this with other people. I also love making pastries - I love baking and I like to share my baking with friends.