Any top-quality in-house counsel must be a flexible person, open-minded and considered as a valued internal business partner for the company management, divisions and functional departments.
Ana Prado Blanco Head of legal and general secretary Mercedes-Benz España
What are the top three highlights of your in-house career and state how they have moulded you as a legal professional?
Regarding corporate governance, I am serving as secretary of the board of five different companies in Spain, including Mercedes-Benz España, which is the holding company of the Daimler Group in Spain.
Based on a new regulation which affects legal entities in Spain with more than €2bn revenue and more than 4,000 employees, Mercedes-Benz España has been considered as a public interest entity. This consideration implies very high standards (similar to the ones required for listed companies) and the necessity of setting up of an audit committee with non-executive directors.
In the last two years, I have actively participated in the restructuration of the board of directors’ processes and organisation, having organised trainings on the new legal requirements, director’s duties and obligations and the key principles on corporate governance such as leadership, integrity, accountability, sustainability and risk management. I firmly believe that getting the commitment of the directors and promoting a balanced and dedicated corporate governance has a positive impact on the business, increases the effectiveness of the internal controls and risk management and that leads to multiple benefits in a sustainable way.
Also within the corporate governance functions, I would emphasise the setting up of coordination bodies integrated by the management of the different companies of the group in Spain, in order to grant synergies for cross-divisional issues and harmonise the application of corporate principles. I do my best in order to promote a fair and collaborative environment, based on integrity and compliance.
Since January 2017 I took over the function of data protection coordinator for Mercedes-Benz España, Mercedes-Benz Trucks España, Mercedes-Benz Vans España and Mercedes-Benz Parts Logistics Ibérica. The most important project in which I am involved right now is the implementation of GDPR. This complex project requires the involvement of the whole company and implies interaction with IT, marketing, HR and all the stakeholders that deals with personal data at every level in order to make sure that the company will fulfil the new requirements in terms of processes and technical and security measures. The complexity of the project increases, as there is a need of coordination with the central processes at headquarters’ level and the dealer network.
Training is very important and in order to be prepared for this new challenge, I participated at a data protection officer training at the Madrid Bar Association. This topic is directly linked to the specialisation on connective services, cybersecurity, electrification and a wide range of new projects based on new technologies that my team and I are supporting from a legal perspective, in line with the current tendencies that the company is facing. In this regard, I would like to emphasise the legal support provided on projects like CASE (an acronym of connected, autonomous, shared and electric vehicles) or the legal assessment for cloud computing.
What changes have you made to the workings of the legal department during your time in your current role? How has that affected the wider company?
The main achievement on processes organisation is our contracting model based on standard templates for contracts valid for both commercial and production activities of Mercedes-Benz España and all group entities in Spain. The standard clauses included in a wide portfolio of contracts are adapted to the law, fulfilling all corporate requirements. All documents are customised for our procurement department who issue the majority of the company contracts, but is also available for all the departments of the company through the intranet.
The same applies in terms of data protection. My legal department has set an immediate way of internal communication offering a wide range of tools and resources available online for the whole company, providing information and support in a very accessible way. In order to make sure that the information flow is efficient, we have organised an internal training called “Know Your Legal Department” with a high level of participation and satisfaction.
The most important change has been the spin-up process of the company, a restructuring and reorganisation project that has taken place on 2016. This reorganisation is part of an overall strategy of Daimler, aimed at strengthening the company, granting greater flexibility to increase the dedication and ability to provide a more personalized attention to the customers of each business unit. In the praxis this has meant the split of the company into four different legal entities, with a great impact in the daily work at the legal department, especially in our duty of granting a homogenous legal framework and maintaining the coordination between the new legal entities.
What characteristics do you feel make a top-quality in-house counsel and why?
Any top-quality in-house counsel must be a flexible person, open-minded and considered as a valued internal business partner for the company management, divisions and functional departments. I pursue to manage, organise processes and gain efficiencies, in a way that my team and I are able to deal with the ever-growing workload. I am proactive, with a high level of target orientation, responsibility and personal commitment. I think strategically and I am dedicated to my customers. I want my team and me to be involved in the projects at the earliest stage and my motivation increases when facing new projects in line with the current changing environment.
I focus on the empowerment of my team that has been increased with a new legal position for the Vitoria plant (in total we are six people, five of whom are lawyers) and my aim is to create commitment, pride and motivation. I encourage innovation, knowledge sharing and I am a very active member of the EMEA region and other practice groups within the Daimler legal team (which has circa 200 lawyers worldwide, with headquarters in Stuttgart, Germany. Spain belongs to the EMEA legal region).
In this regard, I love working in cooperation with colleagues of different departments and other legal teams.
What are the unique challenges of operating in the Iberian legal market, and how do you stay abreast of these challenges?
The biggest challenges faced by our legal team are digitalisation and technology. New skills on IP law, the Internet of Things and new technologies are required in order to cope with an always-evolving environment that moves extremely quickly. This is definitely a fascinating challenge and we try to support the business by promoting and accompanying our peers in any innovative project that they may initiate, being involved since the ideation phase and contributing all the way through. We learn a lot at each stage, from the roots to the top of the tree.
This is a part of a learning process that impact greatly the legal profession’s progress. Lawyers must be part of the vision and gain in humbleness and willingness to share and contribute to different projects in close cooperation with a wide range of multi-profile people, such as IT, marketing and risk expert colleagues.
Communication and open minds are key. Opportunities are enormous, because today, sharing views and ideas is not limited to our closest area of influence as it used to be. Thanks to new tools like corporate social media, it is possible to share views and ideas in the blink of an eye with a variety of colleagues of all backgrounds and interact with different countries and regions. This would lead to building more flexible, diverse and disruptive projects.
And sharing is the enabler tool in order to spread the message to the world. What a rich opportunity to learn and develop projects and ideas by doing. We live in a complex world and this approach makes me feel much more comfortable in new areas such as cloud risk assessment, data protection privacy and cybersecurity. Just to put some examples, because, who knows which would the new challenges of tomorrow?
Are there any technological advancements that the legal team has adopted recently?
I am a big fan of exchange tools in order to grant access to everybody to the legal tools we all may need in our daily work. Therefore, at least the half of our effort should be focus on developing the content to be used by the colleagues in their own projects providing the necessary legal framework.
Looking at the wider industry in which Mercedes Benz Spain operates, what trends do you see currently taking place and how do you see them evolving?
The automotive industry is facing the most significant transformation since the invention of the car and there are a lot of instruments willing to play at the orchestra. This means that that we should cope with complex factors such as high environmental awareness, IoT, digitalisation, privacy, car-sharing platforms and regulations with a very important impact, like WLTP or the traffic restrictions that are specifically affecting Madrid and will arrive to other cities soon. We are all well aware of the need of provide our best legal support with flexibility and balance.