INTERVIEW: MOHANNAD AL NABULSI
GENERAL COUNSEL, SAMSUNG ELECTRONIC LEVANT
Although based in Jordan, Mohannad Al Nabulsi also oversees Samsung’s legal affairs for Iraq, Lebanon, Palestine and Syria. He talks to GC about operating across diverse countries, and his pioneering role at the company.
G C I N T E R V I E W
EDITOR AND FEATURES WRITER
GC: Why did you decide to become an in-house lawyer?
Mohannad Al Nabulsi (MAN): In our region, and specifically in Jordan where it is a very competitive market, it’s very hard to decide whether to be an in-house lawyer, to open a law office, or to work in a law firm. When I started my training, my number at the Jordan Bar Association (which had been established for about 50 years) was around 6000, and soon after that there was huge growth in the sector, with numbers at the Bar Association reaching above 20,000 after 15 years. So many people are still becoming lawyers, and opportunities are very limited for any lawyer when he or she comes to deciding what kind of work to do.
For me, I started my career working in a law firm, but I found the work as an in-house lawyer in a corporate environment to be more dynamic, more flexible and more interesting; it gives you the exposure to the commercial and operational side of the business rather than being limited to the typical legal environment, where you just look after rules and regulations. The role requires you to understand the business, to understand the operation, to dig deep in commercial transactions, and overall it definitely enhance your experience and knowledge in a specific sector. I started my corporate career with a telecoms company, so I gained experience in the telecoms sector - on the technical side, on the business side, and the operational side. For me it’s more interesting, and more challenging to be an in-house lawyer than to work in a law firm.
GC: What have been the standout projects of the last 12 months that you’ve had involvement with?
MAN: At Samsung we work in the Levant office (based in Jordan) and we are responsible for the operations in Jordan, Iraq, Lebanon, Palestine and Syria. For the past 12 months or so we were studying the possibility of having regional offices or branches in the region. Currently we have a branch in Iraq. We studied the Lebanese market and it took a long time for us to decide what kind of branch to have there – whether to be operational or non-operational. That project was very interesting; we had to study the legal environment and requirements in Lebanon and to prepare all the legal documentation for such project. We did eventually establish the branch in Lebanon and it was a very successful project for us.
GC: What are the highlights and challenges of a multijurisdictional role?
MAN: Working in a multijurisdictional role you have to deal with different legal environments, different laws, different regulations, different processes and procedures in terms of legal and admin issues with the government, litigation processes, etc. It’s often very complicated and it can be difficult to have a clear vision regarding your future steps in different countries and in different areas. Nevertheless, it’s interesting as it gives you the unique experience in being exposed to different legal environments. Sometimes the challenge occurs when you want to justify to the management needing some details to assess a transaction - which might take one month in one country and one year in another country.
Things are also difficult because of the region we operate in, which encompasses unstable countries, countries with crises. Working in such areas is very challenging, but at the same time it’s very interesting to benchmark between one country and another country.
GC: Does that mean you work more often with external counsel in some countries than in others to get that support on the ground?
MAN: Definitely. We have to use external counsel in other countries because we are not really familiar with their local laws and regulations and processes. So we have law firms in Iraq, we deal with a law firm Lebanon, we deal with a law firm in Syria. We have to get feedback and information from their side. But as the head office, or regional office, we have to manage all operations with external legal advisers within the legal department, and to study their opinions, review their local laws and take the appropriate decisions.
GC: What do you think is the secret to being a good legal leader?
MAN: Coaching, giving tasks or projects ownership, delegation, team empowerment - I think these are the real drivers of becoming a successful legal manager. Also, the successful legal leader will always engage their team in general legal discussion, to share opinions and information about different legal matters, and support the team to take joint decisions. This will empower, build loyalty, and motivate the team.
GC: How big is your team at the moment?
MAN: At Samsung Levant the role of general counsel was established two years ago, and I was the first to become the GC of Samsung Electronics Levant. I started alone, currently I have one member in my team and I use external legal advisers for support in different legal issues and matters. Before that, at other companies I used to have four or five members in my team.
GC: It must have been very interesting - not only being new to the company, but also taking an entirely new role?
MAN: Yes. It has been very interesting. Sometimes you find resistance from some members who are not used to having a legal adviser to consult or to getting approval regarding different operational matters. But you have to build the system, create the need and show what kind of support you can provide, and build the trust. In some companies legal advisers are obstacles to the business, but ultimately you should be there to understand, support and accelerate the process by being flexible and business-oriented.