fivehundred magazine > > Interview with… Başak Gürbüz Lead Regional Counsel at Visa

Interview with… Başak Gürbüz Lead Regional Counsel at Visa

Tell us about your career choice and journey. What made you decide to get into law?

I was used to the legal profession because of my grandfather and dad. My grandfather was one of the head judges in the Court of Appeals and my father also used to be a judge and then the legal consultant in Turkish Prime Ministry.

I was always impressed to see my grandfather in his giant judge’s cape and I guess this made me choose to go to law faculty.

I began my career in Ankara at Bayındır Holding in 2006 and then I moved to Istanbul as I always longed for working with international clients in a reputable firm. I worked at Pekin & Bayar for 2 years and then I moved to Gün + Partners where I worked for 8 years and specialized in IP and Media Laws.

In 2015, I decided to change path in my career and moved in-house to be close to the business itself and to be surrounded by colleagues from different professions and having different angles. This gave me a lot of precious experience, insight and business acumen. I started my in-house counsel career at The Walt Disney Company where I used to work as Legal & Compliance Director for approximately 4.5 years. At the beginning of 2020, I moved to Visa as Regional Counsel for Southern Eastern Europe covering 9 countries and I still work there as the Lead Regional Counsel for Southern Europe and parts of the Central Eastern Europe clusters.

Before moving in-house in 2015, your career up to that point was in private practice What prompted this change and what were your motivations?

As mentioned above, I felt the need for a change of path. I think changes in career path are key when done in right times. In private practice, there are lawyers everywhere and law is the priority. It is the laboratory of the profession as I see it and you learn how to look and design a solution for a legal matter with the right resources.

Moving in-house is a totally different world. I struggled at the beginning because you need to have a different angle, indeed angles to see bigger pictures and create alternatives for the business partners. I truly loved this challenge and was quite educational and constructive for me. You also realise that you are directly influencing commercial decisions and thus share responsibility for those.

What has been your experience as a woman working in both private practice and in-house environments?

There is a lot to say in terms of experience. Both have specific dynamics and I always tried to harmonize them. I always consider myself lucky in terms of my workplaces and colleagues because I was supported and respected all the time both as a woman and a lawyer.

How do you view the new generation of female lawyers?

Hard working and agile! I had trainees and also the opportunity to work with new generation female lawyers thanks to our external firms and I really appreciate their dedication, new ideas/fresh way of thinking and energy.

What is the size and scope of your current role at Visa. Can you give us a day in the working life of Başak Gürbüz?

I am the Lead Regional Counsel for Southern Europe cluster focusing in particular on 5 countries (Turkey, Israel, Greece, Malta and Cyprus) and for aspects of Central Eastern Europe cluster covering 4 countries (Romania, Bulgaria, Croatia, Slovenia). We have a growing Regional Counsels team based across our other clusters (currently 8 colleagues) and also we have a larger hub team based in London which we closely work with.

A working day at Visa just flies by. Typically, every day is very busy – my legal colleagues and I are much in demand for advice on a wide number and breadth of issues – and there are priorities which make me work on matters in the right order. I always have a notebook with my daily and weekly and monthly to do lists and I use the traffic lights system to flag matters depending on their urgency and status. During the day, it is usually very busy with emails, calls and meetings but I always spare time for my coffee and lunch breaks.

How would you define the culture at Visa?

I love Visa’s motto: “Meet Visa. A network working for everyone”. I see Visa’s fundamental values as inclusion & diversity, social impact and operating as a responsible, ethical and sustainable company.

With that, how I define the culture at Visa? Highly ethical and inclusive, respecting everyone’s thoughts and well- being. Also in my view, Visa is a company that always targets to provide the most secure and reliable payment methods and network and I appreciate the sensitivity on that.

With both law firms and corporate legal departments valuing diversity, how do we get more women into leadership roles in the Turkish legal market?

By creating more opportunities and I think networking groups and events are very key to that. The awareness of diversity increases in the work environment day by day when compared to the very past and I find it really promising. I think we can also support this by remaining as flexible and accommodating as we can.

Can you talk about any positive trends or changes in the diversity landscape you are seeing emerge within the Turkish legal market?

I see many woman colleagues with reputable titles in the Turkish legal market. As far as I can observe it on LinkedIn, approximately 80 % of the job anniversaries or new role notifications I run into are from my woman colleagues. I also see that there are increasing numbers of female colleagues in working groups or legal social networks. As said, I see that there is a positive trend in Turkey on diversity.

Can you name a woman who’s inspired you the most during your career?

I would like to name two women. Nikki Keat- my ex-manager at Disney – and Emma Slatter – our Europe General Counsel at Visa. Both women guided and supported me always by staying positive and constructive. Also, I always admired (and try to adapt myself as well) their time management skills. Despite a crazy work schedule, they make time for leisure, pro bono & volunteering activities and their private lives.

How do you motivate yourself and stay motivated?

By remembering how much I love my profession and work. It is not always easy to stay motivated due to various reasons from work, schedules, private life, country’s well being etc. but when I feel overwhelmed, I just stop for a while and try to indulge myself with good and positives, by remembering the things I love and respect.

What has been your greatest achievement, in a professional and personal capacity?

When you use a superlative, it is hard to pick the right one. I think what comes to mind in the first place should be spoken out in these cases. I will go with moving in-house and designing a “how to work with Legal” system with all my colleagues in both companies. The common expectation both at Disney and at Visa was to create a local legal infrastructure and legal communication guidelines since I was the first local in-house lawyer to work for the designated country and cluster in both companies.

What do you see as the major challenges facing Turkish legal counsel over the next 12 to 24 months?

To name a few, the constant and challenging law and regulation changes as well as some unclear regulatory body practices. Also, I see the slow judgment processes quite challenging and if no solid measures are taken, it could be worse within the next couple of years.

When you look back at your career and the knowledge you’ve gained, what advice would you give to young female students who are about to embark on a law career in Turkey?

Law is a great but very hard and also sophisticated profession. We are all aware that practicing law is full of challenges in Turkey but still, I am so happy that I became a lawyer and I would do the same if I had a second chance. I would advise our young female students to be ambitious, curious to learn, questioning, determined and care for ethical values in whatever they do and whatever they are faced with.

I would like to end with my favourite quote from Disney’s Cinderella movie: Have courage and be kind.

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