Peter Malovec is the Group Head of Legal at HB Reavis in Bratislava. He joined HB Reavis in 2010 after spending seven years in private practice with the BBH law firm. We reached out to him to learn more about his background, style, and strategies.
CEELM: Can you walk us through your career leading you up to your current role?
Peter: Of course. I’m glad to say that it won’t be an exhibition of tons of brands. I was lucky enough to find two companies that I’ve spent my working years with so far.
I joined a group of lawyers, who later formed the first one, BBH, in 2003. After spending seven years there, I moved to HB Reavis. See the tiny letter game there? It’s just a little twist from BBH to get the “HB” in HB Reavis where I’ve been almost ten years. Quite funny, isn’t it?
I’ve been through a lot with my teams over the decade at HB Reavis, an international workspace provider. And the “lot” here can even be taken literally. Since 2011, we have managed transactions with an overall worth of EUR 1 billion. Can you imagine? Fortunately, all those deals turned out well, so maybe that’s why I made it to the current role of Group Head of Legal, right? Just joking. But it’s been quite a ride, really!
CEELM: What are the most significant changes you’ve seen in Slovakia’s legal market over your 16/17-year career?
Peter: The trend is clear here. As the market goes global, the most crucial thing is to understand the extent of the local law in the context of foreign aspects of law and international contracts. The moment foreign investors and international companies came in, every lawyer in the country got a much more sophisticated agenda to deal with.
The “general” lawyers that could handle it all are still there, but we need specialists more and more to discuss the thousands of angles of particular cases with. Plus, now more than ever, we need to soak up all the trends, news, and best practices that are constantly emerging.
CEELM: Are there changes you would like to see in Slovakian law that would make things easier for HB Reavis?
Peter: I would say that practically anything that helps to make things simpler - by which I basically mean recodification - is always welcome.
Just imagine: the Slovak Civil Code was issued in 1964 and it remains effective, with amendments, today. 1964 is, by the way, also the year my childhood tennis hero Miloslav Mecir was born. And you know what? He won the Olympics in 1988 in Seoul. A full 24 years after the Code was published, but still so long ago.
So, it is no wonder the Civil Code doesn’t meet today’s needs. Maybe the new Czech Civil Code that has been in effect since 2014 can be an inspiration. Overall, real estate law is quite rigid. One cannot miss noticing that the whole industry has shifted from concrete and stone to soft issues such as well-being and the impact of workspace on employees’ health. The segment varies in content very much and it’s so vivid with plenty of interdisciplinary facets, but the development of the legal system is unfortunately still playing catch-up.
CEELM: Tell us about HB Reavis and the company’s legal department. How big is your team and how is it structured?
Peter: As I mentioned, HB Reavis is an international workspace provider, meaning we no longer identify ourselves as a classical developer. In recent years, we’ve gone far beyond that. We focus on people-centric design, bearing people in mind at all stages of workplace development. We do our best to design offices that not only enhance people’s productivity, but also their well-being.
The structure of the legal team is divided into HQ and local levels. This means the HQ “group” team is here to, among other things, manage the M&A and banking finance deals, “mark the boundaries,” and be the point of advice for the regional legal teams in Slovakia, Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Germany, and the UK. Overall, I manage a team of about 40 lawyers. Apart from the countries mentioned above, we have colleagues in Luxembourg and the Netherlands.
Even though our legal execution is naturally restricted by our territory, I love having discussions with my teams all over Europe. We’re not like some kind of a “warrior commando” waiting to be called into battle only when the company gets into trouble. We’re part of the process, accompanying our colleagues from various departments to support them at any given stage of real estate cycle activities.
I was also part of creating our HQ team, helped deal with acquisitions and divestments by always being ready to help local teams by sharing experience, worked on the standardisation of outputs, and continue to ensure the overall complexity of our approach to legal issues.
CEELM: What is your typical day at work like?
Peter: I wish there were at least two typical days a week by law! That would be so relaxing. (laughs). Nay, I guess that most of the respondents, not only those from the legal field, answer this question the same as I will: there is no such thing as a typical working day for me.
Every second week I spend two days with the local teams. If I ever decided to leave the legal world, I could easily start a travel agency. Oh gosh, I travel so much! Even though lawyers are generally seen as very conservative, I’m doing my best to transform this image by being present at meetings with my team, trying out new things, and enjoying the managerial perspective my role offers. I need to be a good leader too, not just a lawyer with a black and gold pen sitting in a big office with a pair of glasses at the point of my nose. The legal department needs to be as lively as the others. I try to pump as much energy into it as I can every single working day.
I also somehow stick to simple rules I’ve set up for myself to help me be truly effective. I always review my agenda for the upcoming day the night before. During the working day, I ideally have all my meetings done by lunchtime. After that, I have enough space for the agenda and tasks themselves. Almost everyone at HQ already knows that I don’t start the day without having a cappuccino in our office café after driving my son to school. Those rides and father-son discussions recharge me so much!
CEELM: Was it always your plan to go (and stay) in-house?
Peter: I would love to say that I developed a precise plan when I started my professional career, stuck to it, kept on working really hard for all those years and voilà: here I am today, exactly where I intended. However, we all know that things just don’t work like the motivational posters say they do, right? (laughs). Of course it was not this straightforward. Even though there was everything – the plan, dedication, hard work – I’m an in-house lawyer now as you see, even though my original career plans had me aiming to become a partner in a big law firm.
Why? I believe that your career path is mostly defined by the people you meet along the way rather than by ticked boxes of “I want to work for” and “never ever.” Of course, you have those no-goes, but from time to time an opportunity belonging to some kind of “grey zone” comes along and then the personal sympathies come in.
And that’s exactly what happened. The moment I met Marcel Sedlak, the current CEO of HB Reavis Germany, the fit just felt so natural that I couldn’t help but join the team. I also realized that as a corporate lawyer, I could work on very big and interesting projects, gaining immense volumes of experience in a very short period of time.
CEELM: What was your biggest single success or greatest achievement with HB Reavis in terms of particular projects or challenges? What one thing are you proudest of?
Peter: Just please don’t take this as if I’m boasting, but I surely can’t name just one. All the stories that pop up in my mind are “the greatest” in some way. Some I see as super huge team achievements and some are just huge by their nature.
I don’t want to repeat myself, but as for my professional achievement list, I still see the volume of managed transactions at HB Reavis at the top. That EUR 1 billion is very simple to put into words, but if you imagine cutting it into those hundreds of projects and thousands of working hours, then it comes to reveal its huge size. I truly see it altogether as the biggest professional challenge I’ve faced so far - to put it in a corporate way. Honestly, sometimes it felt just like a long dark tunnel with the light at the end being seemingly turned off. But we finally reached the switch in every single case.
As for the biggest team success (and of course, even the one mentioned above was a team thing), I would say it was the moment when our legal team was selected as one of the top in house legal teams in the CEE in one of the rankings in 2018, saying we are shaping the legal industry.
And those great by nature: I see every HB Reavis project as a success already, even those that are under construction. If you think about how large the schemes are that we’re developing, how many square meters, what special features they’ll have, and what makes them unique …. For example, Europe’s tallest tower, at Varso Place, it’s just unbelievable. Just outside the office window in Bratislava, I watch the construction of New Nivy every day, the biggest site in Europe. I wish us the best of luck in completing all those wonderful projects!
CEELM: What’s your relationship with the Board of Directors at HB Reavis? Do you provide business advice or is your role strictly legal?
Peter: Here the idea of commando warriors waiting to be called upon arises again. And I’d just like to restate that it’s not like that. I’m an official member of senior management, therefore my advice directly impacts the business decisions of the company. I’m part of all discussions, supporting our teams in various business cases, especially with acquisitions and divestments. So it’s definitely far more than being strictly a legal entity.
CEELM: What one person would you identify as being most important in mentoring you in your career — and what in particular did you learn from that position?
Peter: Oh, I need to do it again. I know you’re asking for one, but I definitely need to mention at least four, which distorts your nicely put question. I’m sorry! (laughs). However, every one of them showed me things from a particular perspective, and if there was just one of them, I’d have never become the kind of lawyer I am now.
But I promise to put it briefly in return. At BBH it was Olga Belanova (Managing Partner), at HB Reavis it was Marian Herman (CEO) and Marcel Sedlak, who I already talked about as being the former General Counsel that helped me on the way up to my current role. Plus, Zdenko Kucera, our former Group Head of Legal, taught me a lot about the human approach in the legal agenda.
CEELM: Slovakia is going through serious political upheaval these days. Do you see these changes as steps forward or reflective of dysfunction?
Peter: This is obviously a tricky one. As a lawyer, I try to remain apolitical to the greatest extent possible. However, it would be super-superficial not to say that having considered all that has happened in the country recently, I support the changes that are going on.
But the success of such efforts is always measured in a retrospective way. And as you see, I don’t carry a crystal ball around to see how this is all going to turn out, even though I’m not saying I wouldn’t be tempted to do so - assuming I find a briefcase the ball fits in. (laughs). Let me just wrap it up by saying that after the whole situation we had last year, the fact that things have started to move is more than welcome.
CEELM: On the lighter side, what is your favourite book or movie about lawyers or lawyering?
Peter: Oh, you nailed it with this one! My classmate borrowed my favorite book 20 years ago. It’s been so long that I’ve forgotten the author’s name. But it’s called A Civil Action. So, if you’re reading this, Juraj, you’re more than welcome to bring it back. Thanks!