Bharat Kumar Mehta, APM Terminals

Mehta shares with GC the challenges of joining a company with a fresh legal department in an unfamiliar country and environment.

I believe that in-house legal personnel now have to be a business partner, and not just a legal adviser. I try to partner with each department and establish good relationships with each stakeholder, be it internal departments or external parties – which include regulators, investors and vendors. Because everyone is a partner, without everyone’s support we will fall. So it’s important that everyone is speaking the same language and has the same objectives. We have to ensure stakeholder management and that is where I try to get buy-in from everyone and, accordingly, provide a solution that doesn’t create any unnecessary hassle for them, while also protecting the company.

In previous roles, I was doing standard commercial work, but it was mostly investment on the private equity side and therefore we were dealing with the Cayman Islands and private equity transaction documents. When I moved to APM Terminals, I had to deliver an IPO in a very short span, which is a different market all together – dealing with capital markets and so on. But getting to grips with a new set of laws was an exciting challenge.

Overall, my transition was fascinating, because once you get comfortable in a role, the excitement is gone. But, fortunately, that is where in-house legal roles usually get more and more exciting – every day is a new day. APM offers another challenge – being part of an international group. Being based in 200 countries, it did mean that it was a challenge to integrate their international policies within the APM brand locally – but it was one I felt I was able to rise to.

Also unique was the fact that the APMT brand had a very fresh legal department – it was only two years old. Before that, there was no legal department in APMT per se. APMT Bahrain has over 500 employees, so to establish the department and the right documentation across the different segments was in itself a great learning experience, and has developed me into a better professional.

In setting up the legal department here, the structuring was really a good experience in terms of deciding how and what we should do, what kind of communication we had with each department, and what kind of role we should play in helping each department.

In terms of supporting investment, I think Bahrain will succeed faster and faster. They have actually liberalised quite a lot of commercial laws and requirements in particular. For example, earlier, the minimum capital requirement for any small entity to be incorporated was 20,000 BD, which equates to around $55,000. Now, they have reduced this substantially to $300.

From a regulatory perspective, I think Bahrain still needs to evolve quite a lot when compared to other developed or developing nations – like for example, India, which has a robust regulatory environment or Europe, where they have a more robust regulatory environment still. But Bahrain is going in the right direction, at least. I would say they are getting closer to most developed regulatory environments, but it still needs some work. n