Milan Lomic is the General Counsel Adria & Balkan at L’Oreal, a company that he joined in October 2012. Prior to that he worked for Metro Cash & Carry as a Legal Advisor and Antitrust Officer. He has also worked as a Legal Advisor at Unicredit Bank Serbia and as an Assistant to the Judge at the Fifth Municipal Court in Belgrade.
Tell our readers a few words about your career leading up to your current role.
M.L.: After graduating from the University of Belgrade, Serbia, I started as an intern in one of Belgrade’s first-instance courts in early 2000. The internship lasted for two years, and then I passed the bar exam in 2002. After that I continued my career in the court as an assistant to the judge. Being young and kind of idealistic, at the time I thought I’d stay in the judicial system forever.
However, as I developed professionally, I became attracted to some other areas of law and realized it was time to move on, with the idea on focusing on commercial law and business. The first attractive opportunity presented itself in 2006, and I joined UniCredit Bank Srbija as a Legal Advisor.
It was a big change for me in every sense, and I liked it. Soon I got involved in the development, on the legal side, of financial derivatives, which were bring offered for the first time in Serbia. It was a huge challenge from a professional point of view, and I enjoyed the time I spent there.
The next step in my career was with Metro Cash & Carry, where I started early in 2009. Switching to Metro brought me an even wider perspective, as it’s a well-structured organization in a very dynamic industry where one has to excel and step out of one’s comfort zone on a daily basis. I was not in charge of the department, but I was given the responsibility of Antitrust Officer, in charge of rolling out a comprehensive competition law compliance program.
After almost four years with Metro, I felt the time had come for a new challenge, as I was more than ready to take charge of legal matters myself. My current position in L’Oreal opened up and I never had a second thought about it.
Having worked in in-house roles the better part of your career, have you ever considered working in private practice?
M.L.: Having started my career in a court, where you are, more or less, in constant contact with lawyers, the thought has certainly crossed my mind more than once. Actually, at one point, while I was still with the court, it almost became a reality. However, as often in life, it is small things that decide, and it didn’t happen at that time.
Later on, after I started as in-house lawyer, the thought became more and more distant. Simply put, I realized that I want to be as close as possible to the business. For me, proximity to the business, the number of real-time decisions to be made on a daily basis, often in a very limited time, is still only the privilege of in-house lawyers. It is even more the case when you are working for an industry leader such as L’Oreal. This makes a great deal of difference between the two roles, and it was definitely the decisive factor for me to stay in-house.
You worked for over 5 years as an Assistant to the Judge in the Fifth Municipal Court in Belgrade. How do you feel that experience helps you in your current role?
M.L.: It’s helping beyond a doubt. Together with my corporate experience it gives me what one would call a “360 degree” perspective. I am well aware of how the system functions, how it is structured, and how the processes go, especially in terms of decision making. It helps me recognize the key stakeholders and facilitates communications with them. I would say it’s a sort of experience that is precious for any legal professional.
As part of your role, you set up and developed the legal function in Slovenia, Croatia, Serbia, Bulgaria, and Bosnia. How does one go about creating a legal function in a country where one is not based?
M.L.: Not being based in a certain country doesn’t mean you cannot be present there on a regular basis. And that was the key: traveling regularly in order for people first to get to know me personally. At the same time, my mission was to introduce the function and what it brings to the people in the organization and their everyday work. As you are probably well aware, in-house lawyers will usually face the old cliché that they are just one more complication in people’s lives. In setting up this function it was crucial for me to explain and show in practice that that is just a stereotype, and that they will be benefiting greatly from the legal function, as it will put them on the safe side, without slowing the pace of business. The support that I received from the L’Oreal International Legal Team was also very important.
Of course, talking about it is one thing, but making things happen that way is another – it simply requires hard work. Almost four years down the road, I would dare to say that I have succeeded, and, more importantly, I am confident my colleagues throughout the region would gladly testify to that.
What best practices have you developed over the years in that context? If you were to take on a new country now, what would you do differently?
M.L.: Actually, despite all the challenges I’ve faced and problems I’ve had to solve over the years, I wouldn’t do things differently, since every challenge has been a valuable experience and every problem led to a solution that widened my knowledge and perspectives.
As for best practices, one advantage of having a large corporate organization with a worldwide presence behind you, as I do with L’Oreal, is that there is already a proven track record and a number of different best practices available within the organization. That gives me the opportunity to pick the ones I consider most appropriate for the markets I am responsible for. Of course, there is always a need to adjust them to local specifics, but that is usually easier than starting from scratch.
Still, there were things that I handled myself from the very beginning, and one example I could give is a model communication with clients, implemented in L’Oreal Adria-Balkan. I have recognized that sales people face some very typical situations, i.e.. requests from their clients, which, if met, could potentially raise competition-related issues. I have created a list of such typical requests/situations and model replies my colleagues should send. Now they just need to recognize when such a situation arises and use proper model answer. This puts us all on the safe side, while being much more efficient.
Comparing your work with that of GC peers within the company responsible for other markets, what elements stand out in your mind as different/specific to the local nature of your markets?
M.L.: Markets themselves are different, but what makes my work different and probably a bit more complex is the fact that L’Oreal in the region operates as a hub structure that includes all Adria-Balkans countries. In other words, my peers in other countries are usually responsible for just one country/market, while I am among the few that are responsible for as many as ten countries, if we include those where we are exporting. This may sound like too much, but I am actually truly enjoying it.
On the lighter side, since I assume you need to travel between your jurisdictions regularly, what is the one non-work related item you would never travel without?
M.L.: That would definitely be my camera. I love photography and I use every opportunity while abroad to walk around and take a few photos. It’s also a nice way to get to know the cities I travel to.
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.