Interview with Pascale Rahman, Vice President & General Counsel EMEA and India at Flex about her background and best practices.
CEELM: Can you walk us through your career leading up to your current role?
Pascale: I had the opportunity to study both the civil law and common law systems while I was a student, first at Pantheon Assas in Paris and later at Oxford, which was a really great starting spot for my later career.
I worked for a number of years with large international law firms in London, Paris, and Brussels. While practicing with these firms, I mostly did commercial work, after which I moved into antitrust. After about ten years of doing that, in 2006, I moved in-house with a large manufacturing co- supplier in the commercial automotive space as General Counsel and that’s how I started on the path that led me to Flex in 2009.
Currently, I’m General Counsel for Flex for EMEA and India, but I am the chief lawyer for our Global Operations function which extends beyond EMEA.
CEELM: Why did you decide to join Flex?
Pascale: They came and found me, to be honest! I was working for a large industrial group, operating in the automotive sector all over the world. Flex was interested in my international and operational background and wanted me to build up their European team. Naturally, I was very interested in the opportunity – it was a job that required building things from the ground up, and I love creating and building teams!
CEELM: Tell us about Flex, and its legal department. How big is your team, and how is it structured?
Pascale: Flex is a leading global manufacturing and supply chain company, servicing a number of industries, including medical, automotive, industrial, communications, and consumer devices, to name just a few. My role coming in was to build up the company’s European team here at the Vienna headquarters.
Currently, we are a team of between five and seven lawyers for Europe, in total, with our biggest footprint being in the CEE region, mostly in Hungary, Romania, Poland, and Ukraine. We provide a wide range of legal support, including on commercial contracts and on regulatory, compliance, employment, and M&A matters– a wide mix really.
My role with Flex, in Europe, involves handling things on a broader scale as well – covering the whole ambit of legal support for all operating sites in CEE and beyond, which means some 30,000 employees in the region.
Globally, my position as the primary legal support to Global Operations of the company extends to India, Mexico, Brazil, and North America. We have teams in all of these locations, but we tend to mix and match their input to a great extent, so as to not allow geographical boundaries to divide them. This global team consists of about 40 people.
Before last year, which forced us to work completely virtually, I visited all of our locations at least once a year. Presence, be it virtual or physical, is the key when it comes to running a good high performing team, and I try to stay in touch with all of the offices and communicate with them as often as possible.
CEELM: Was it always your plan to go in-house?
Pascale: By essence – being part French and part Indian – I am an international person and I wanted to work in an international context. Also, I love tackling problems head-on and offering practical solutions. The best part of practicing law is the ability to apply yourself directly to solving a problem, rather than simply analyzing it from the sidelines. Flex was the perfect setting for that.
Not only does the company have a large international footprint – we operate in over 30 countries – but it is also a very diverse and inclusive environment. The international context played perfectly to my experience in both common and civil law systems, and I felt right at home with the company. Here, I have the opportunity to look beyond the country I’m currently operating out of and focus on the global business.
Also, I like the business side of things, and I always believed that in-house positions are more exposed to it. Here at Flex, I really feel like part of the business.
CEELM: What was your biggest single success or greatest achievement with Flex in terms of particular projects or challenges? What one thing are you proudest of?
Pascale: I think it’s keeping a high level of engagement and motivation within the team, especially this year.
We’ve had a lot of hurdles in 2020 that could have obliterated that, but we kept going, day in and day out, and we never lost our sense of purpose. Flex creates life-improving products – for example we did a lot of work on producing sorely needed ventilators for people last year. This kept our focus.
Knowing the importance of our work, never once dropping the ball and losing sight of why we work – that was our greatest achievement. The team remained completely dedicated and involved and continued operating and delivering in key areas, and I could not be more proud of that.
CEELM: How would you describe your management style?
Pascale: I think my style is one of being a ‘federator’ (smile). I try to connect people, issues, and practices, across our entire network.
I don’t stare at a problem, I like to be able to be part of the solution and instill that in the team. I’d say that this management style is an inclusive one. Also, I set expectations and I believe in keeping myself and others accountable to those expectations, but doing so in a humane way.
I like to think of myself as a compassionate leader and one that believes very strongly in a sense of collaboration. I deeply believe that people ought to reach out when they need help, and give help when they see others who need it – and I try very hard to nurture this environment with my global teams.
CEELM: Do you have any personal habits or strategies you employ that may not be common but that really help you succeed in your role? Things you’ve developed yourself over the years that might not be obvious?
Pascale: Mixing and matching! I think that people, often, tend to get fixated on geographical boundaries as a source of division, but I firmly believe that this needs to be overcome.
I am a big advocate of a way of thinking that counters the more traditional approach – that global roles must be run out of one single HQ. Just because I happen to be situated in Vienna does not mean that I should have any problem focusing on more than EMEA. Precisely because of this, I like to mix and match my teams, getting the most out of them all, and getting them to share their experiences and best practices. If a team in India adopts an approach that reaps benefits, there is no reason why teams in Europe, Mexico, and Brazil, for example, can not use it as well.
By transcending boundaries, you gather a motivated, engaged, and innovative team, which breeds synergy and grows the entire team. After all, the world is global – there’s no reason why teams shouldn’t be as well.
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 person?
Pascale: I don’t think I can point to a single person. I’d say I have been fortunate to learn many things from many teachers in all areas of my life; personal, family, professional from friends, colleagues, and bosses. We are, after all, the sum of our experience. I find that surrounding yourself with great people gives you the best chance to learn from each one. Collecting the best from each one is a journey of continuous improvement.
CEELM: On a lighter side, what is your favorite book or movie about lawyers or lawyering – and why?
Pascale: The best book about lawyers, honestly, and the one that resonates the most with me, is To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. Seeing small town lawyer Atticus Finch staunchly defend the rights of a wrongly accused African American in that specific historical setting really shows the value and importance of always doing the right thing and defending the underdog. No matter the cost.