Florina Homeghiu spent the first decade of her career in private practice before, in 2017 moving in-house with the Coca-Cola Hellenic Bottling Company – Romania, initially as Senior Legal Counsel, then, in 2018, as Country Legal Manager and Compliance Officer. In May of 2020 she joined the Policolor-Orgachim group.
CEELM: Let’s start with a few words about your career to date.
Florina: It’s all quite straight forward. Right after I graduated from the University of Bucharest, I passed the bar exam and started working at a law firm (throughout my career, I worked with both Romanian firms and the local offices of international firms). When I decided to move in-house, I was driven by the desire to be closer to the business side of things – to see how all the other functions come together to put products on the market and see all the other things which are not available to an external lawyer. At the same time, I continued my academic studies. I obtained a Business Law LL.M. at the University of Bucharest and a Ph.D. in Administrative Science from the National School of Political and Administrative Studies Bucharest, and I recently completed the Executive Program at the IMD Business School in Lausanne. I recently decided to move to the chemical industry, to take on a regional role.
CEELM: What drew you to the Policolor-Orgachim group?
Florina: First of all, I was drawn to by the challenge of coordinating two countries – I didn’t have a regional role until now. By coordinating the legal matters of our Bulgarian business I will learn entirely new areas of law: from regulatory affairs to how the company works locally and their best practices. Another challenging thing is that the legal team at Policolor-Orgachim is not only comprised of lawyers, but also engineers who know the products in and out and who have a solid grasp on specifics related to the chemical industry, such as: labeling, authorizations, composition, and so on. I am pleased to work for companies which have created history (Policolor was established in 1965 and Orgachim in 1901), generated innovation in paints, varnishes, and resins, while being friendly with the environment. Policolor’s products are present in more than 3,000 traditional retail stores, at large DIY networks in Romania, and in over 1,000 car service stations in the country. The company currently has a network of stores in both Bulgaria and Romania and operates two large production units: the new Policolor factory in Bucharest and Orgachim’s established operation of the Bulgarian city of Ruse and is a regional leader in the field of paint and varnish technology in South-East Europe.
CEELM: Why does the in-house legal team include non-lawyers?
Florina: The scope of what we need to oversee is quite vast. Our team needs to look out for compliance in terms of trademarks, chemical composition requirements, specific authorizations, and so on. Pure legal knowledge is not really enough as you need to truly master the technical side of things as well. The rationale was that someone coming from a technical background needed to work alongside the legal team to offer those insights. I don’t think it’s realistic to expect any lawyer to know every detail related to production – from compositions to health and safety considerations, and so on.
CEELM: And are these engineers working with the legal function full time?
Florina: They have mixed responsibilities, not purely within the legal function. They work with the R&D, commercial, and operations departments as well, but in terms of organizational structure/reporting lines, yes, they work in the legal department, under my coordination.
CEELM: What did you find most difficult to leave behind at your old job?
Florina: I think the most difficult part was to leave my old team behind. I recruited almost all of them myself, to begin with. I also built a good relationship with many group legal colleagues, the general manager of Coca-Cola Hellenic Bottling Romania, many members of the local management team, and the other functions – from finance to procurement, marketing, and sales. It was also a very familiar place. After a few years, I knew the company and its operations well, not just locally, but also internationally.
CEELM: What were the first few elements on your agenda when joining Policolor-Orgachim, and what do you still need to do to fully “settle in”?
Florina: The very first step was to develop an induction plan to meet my legal and compliance teams and many people from both countries, as soon as possible. The goal was to sit down with them all and understand the business and what the hot topics are, and to establish a collaboration and learn the projects. What is on the agenda – both ongoing and upcoming? What are the deadlines of ongoing projects to know what needs to be addressed immediately, and what I can plan a step-by-step approach for? I’ve already taken part in board meetings and I think I’ve made good headway in collecting as much information as I can to help organize my pipeline and identify what needs to be put into order.
CEELM: And what are the first elements to be addressed on your agenda now that you’ve started gaining a clearer idea?
Florina: I already entered in the commercial and production side of the business, plus some regulatory projects. My intention is to update some of our internal procedures, to have a thorough contract review (including template creation, where applicable), develop internal trainings, etc. These are really the main areas I am looking at the moment.
CEELM: What about in terms of getting to know the team?
Florina: I’m having face-to-face meetings with members of my teams where possible. I am catching up with my Romanian team on Zoom and over the phone almost daily to get to know, first and foremost, their backgrounds, what areas they are covering, and if they have any ongoing challenges. With Bulgaria, I have had “connecting” calls and Zoom sessions so far, since travel is obviously restricted. I also want to understand as much as possible about the other business functions, from marketing to production. For example, I was keen to get details from the marketing and sales teams on both ongoing campaigns and the general status of the market.
CEELM: In terms of your specific role, how does it compare to handling legal matters for a food & beverage company?
Florina: The final product is totally different. As a chemical producer, there are a lot of requirements from the Ministry of Health and various environmental authorities, for example, in terms of what products you can put on the market and how, labels, etc.
Contracts for supplies and the like are quite similar, as well as everything relate to corporate and commercial matters in general (from trade registrations to commercial contracts and keeping board minutes). Commonalities are also in the marketing campaigns – from a mechanical standpoint, they are quite similar to what I used to work with in the past. HR and labor law, particularly topical in this period, are similar. Lastly, the structure of the management team is the same as at my previous company.
At the end of the day, my legal background helps me adjust to whatever industry I’m in – the same way that a private practice lawyer advises clients across different industries. All that really varies is which specific area of law you apply most often.
CEELM: How large is the in-house legal team you are currently working with and how is it structured?
Florina: In Romania there are seven people, counting both lawyers and engineers. In Bulgaria, we have nine. The difference in size is because the team in Bulgaria is more specialized to cover different health and safety and regulatory matters. The Romanian team members are also specialized, but in a different way, which is slightly broader.
CEELM: As you are relatively fresh in the role with the Policolor-Orgachim group, what is your approach to external counsel? Have you/will you run an audit of past external advisors’ work? Are you planning on turning to some of the partners you worked with in the past, or will this be a case-by-case decision when the need arises?
Florina: There are some legal services contracts with external advisors that are still in force. Currently, I am not planning on changing anything. I want to see how things are going and assess if the existing advisors can support us in any new expertise areas that may come up. I may be looking to create a panel at some point down the line. For now, I feel it would not be wise to take a project from someone and move it to a new lawyer mid-process. There is already knowledge in place, so at this stage I will work with what is already in place.
CEELM: And when you carry out your assessments, what are the main things you will be looking at?
Florina: Naturally, the quality of responses, the work performed, the costs, and the nature of collaboration during the projects. I’ll also want to know what areas of expertise they can provide – not only what they currently cover. My preference is to work with one firm or a few firms that can cover as much as you need – from labor law to environmental. That way, you get to work with your advisors for a wide variety of projects and they get to know you and understand your business. It is a “win-win” situation and generates a closer and very good long-term collaboration.
CEELM: On the flip side – when you receive proposals or capabilities statements, what is the one aspect you are least interested in?
Florina: For me, it’s the size of the team. The way I see it, even if a firm has a large team in place, those team members are not likely to be all “mature” in that specific area of expertise. Plus, the reality is that, most of the time, you are only working with one or two lawyers from a specific department in that law firm, so the size of the overall team matters less. Rankings would be another that comes to mind. They can give a range, sure, but I find that, sometimes, they cannot reflect the character or professional background of a lawyer.
CEELM: On the lighter side, of all your past team-building exercises, which was the most enjoyable for you – and why?
Florina: Probably one of my all-time favorite was a company legal training/international conference in Brussels (when I was part of CMS Cameron McKenna’s team). I loved it because of the content and the fact that we also had a chance to go to Bruges for a one-day trip only with the Romanian legal team; it was the first time I saw both of those cities. Another was the 2018 group legal conference of Coca-Cola Hellenic in Croatia, with all the legal managers from all countries and group legal representatives. External speakers were invited and we had very nice discussions. I cannot forget the leadership conference that took place last year in Moscow – useful sessions, including one day dedicated purely to the legal team from all group countries, with dinners and outings in a big and very nice city. Yes, I enjoy traveling a lot!
This Article was originally published in Issue 7.6 of the CEE Legal Matters Magazine. If you would like to receive a hard copy of the magazine, you can subscribe here.