In conversation: Preeti Balwani, General Counsel, India, The Kraft Heinz Company

Heading up the legal function at The Kraft Heinz Company in India, Balwani discusses her role and what she values in a business.

The decision to get into law was decided at the early age of 17. I think what excited or drove me to be a lawyer was the fact that I was always interested in pro bono work and the uplifting of society. I used theatre as a medium to communicate changes to society, I was always involved in street plays.

It was a long journey to becoming the general counsel at The Kraft Heinz Company (KHC) in India. Like most, I started out in private practice and worked as an M&A lawyer. After ten years’, I felt that I had reached my potential in terms of what I could learn in private practice and sought opportunities in-house.

In 2017 I joined KHC and one of the things that I identified with was that we are a meritocracy – we value that and I’m an example of merit in action: when I joined I was the GC for India, but today I’m also on the board of directors, earning that seat after a year. I really value that here, we invest in our people and reward those who perform.

Having a system which rewards on merit is important, because I think that for women, a glass ceiling does still exist. Especially when you get to senior management positions, in a lot of places, there are some very natural stereotypes that get perpetuated – and they’re not necessarily consciously perpetuated, it’s woven into the fabric of the DNA. It’s still an old boys club. Having said that, I think we’re making major growth into looking at this issue seriously and not mere tokenism.

On a personal level, the other thing that attracted me to them was the fact that they have really iconic brands that have stood the test of time. I’m a foodie, so working in a company like that is a natural fit. And how could it be better than working for a company that makes cheese? I love cheese!

At KHC in India, I am responsible for the legal and regulatory functions, corporate secretarial work, as well as corporate and governmental affairs. So it’s three big functions rolled into one. It requires me to be the custodian of the vanguard of the company’s ethics and compliance, along with their litigation and business risks, as well as managing their governmental affairs and making sure that – not only are we maintaining very high standards in compliance, but we are managing the company’s legal exposure.

A typical work day for me could start at seven in the morning to put out a crisis in the factory regarding labour issues, and it could end with me trying to make sure that we’ve signed a celebrity for a brand representation contract. So it can be a very different dynamic every day, with several fires to put out!