Based in Zagreb, Anita Pejic Ilisevic is the Head of Legal for Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina for Henkel, where, in May 2016, she was also appointed the Compliance Representative Adria Region. Prior to Henkel, Ilisevic was a Corporate Lawyer with Tisak.
Tell us a bit about your background.
A.P.I.: Although I started my career as a legal trainee in a law office – which gave me firsthand experience of law and litigation in practice – after the bar exam I decided to join the corporate world to gain the full perspective of a corporate lawyer’s career. As a corporate lawyer in Tisak, Croatia’s largest news-stand chain and distributor of print products, I experienced the breadth of different legal topics and challenges specific for corporations which a lawyer in a law office can rarely come across. There I had the opportunity to actively participate in all of Tisak’s projects related to the company’s service portfolio diversification, from retail to financial services. Working with amazing professionals and experts in their fields during a time of transition between business models helped me as a lawyer to learn a lot about the business itself and how to become a truly business-oriented legal counselor. This experience definitely determined my future professional development and steered me permanently to the world of corporations and corporate law.
You’ve spent the better part of your career in the retail/consumer goods area. Why is that?
A.P.I.: Retail and FMCG are areas in which every day is different and brings new challenges. I can hardly remember having two days with the same topics. The market is constantly bringing up new challenges and setting the pace, forcing retailers to respond promptly if they want to survive and thrive. Being a legal counselor in this industry is often a challenge, especially while trying to maintain a balance between legal and regulatory requirements and business needs and demands.
Since you took on the role of Compliance Representative within the company as well, in what ways do you find the two roles (of legal and compliance) complement each other?
A.P.I.: Before taking the role of Compliance Representative I was (and still am) Head of Legal for Croatia and Bosnia. My prior experience as a legal counselor and corporate lawyer is definitely good grounds for a compliance role because, in certain situations, the two of them are inescapably intertwined. Compliance implies assuring the company (employees) complies with external rules and regulations and internal company regulations (standards). Thus it would be almost impossible to excel in your compliance duties without intimate knowledge of the legal framework.
Speaking of the two functions, are they under the same umbrella in your organization, or are they separate?
A.P.I.: At Henkel, Compliance and Legal are two separate organizational units. In my opinion the benefit of this organizational set up is a clear separation of functions and tasks of each role.
What would you identify as the leading challenge faced by General Counsels in your jurisdiction?
and to an extent, still is) a substantial change of legislation in certain areas after entering the EU, a consequence of which is certain inconsistencies in practice. An unavoidable issue in Croatia is debt collection, bankruptcy, and the insolvency of a growing number of companies forcing creditors to write off receivables. Finally, I must stress the importance of inefficient legal protections in cases of unfair competition.
By contrast, Bosnia and Herzegovina is not an EU member and is, as a country, very complicated from within because of its political set-up. You have three jurisdictions with an additional division on cantonal levels, making Bosnia and Herzegovina one of the more complex legal systems in CEE. Taking into consideration that the same subject can be regulated completely differently in each of the three entities, I would say that the biggest challenge is respecting all laws and bylaws and also identifying the governing body on a canton or entity level. But, as in the case in Croatia, a huge challenge lies in trying to find efficient legal measures to protect the business against unfair competition.
How, if at all, would you say your work as a Head of Legal in your country differs from colleagues in other countries?
A.P.I.: I would say that we all have certain common points, especially within EU countries, in which legislation is pretty much aligned. Of course there are always local specifics and this is where differences in our tasks and challenges are manifested. These are areas which give us the opportunity to observe our local situation from a different perspective, compare local with foreign legislation, and look for options in applying solutions from other countries in our jurisdiction.
Of all the items in your office, which one are you fondest of?
A.P.I.: That would be a picture of Rovinj, my hometown. It is a small and beautiful town on the Croatian coast, where I can always go and unwind and charge my batteries. The second thing is a souvenir from last year’s San Francisco Giants baseball game – that summer in San Francisco was the best holiday I had with my husband and also my first baseball game (by the way, the Giants won!). It not only reminds me of a great new experience, but it was also the day that my now goddaughter was born – also a thing to remember and celebrate.
This Article was originally published in Issue 3.3 of the CEE Legal Matters Magazine. If you would like to receive a hard copy of the magazine, you can subscribe here.