CEELM: Can you walk us through your career leading you up to your current role?
Anastasiya: I started my career after graduating from Moscow State University in 1998. My first employer was PepsiCo. After spending four years there, I spent five years as Regional Legal Counsel CIS & Baltics for a Swedish cosmetics company, Oriflame, and then four and a half years as Head of Legal at Efes, an international brewing company. From 2010 to 2014, I was the Head of the Legal Department at the Organizing Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games in Sochi 2014. I joined Unilever at the beginning of 2015. My current role is General Counsel with responsibility for Russia, Ukraine and Belarus.
CEELM: What are the most significant changes you’ve seen in Russia’s legal market over your career?
Anastasiya: From the perspective of the legal services market, the market has undergone several phases of transformation: in the early 2000s, the lion’s share of the legal services market, in monetary terms, was held by foreign law firms. Since the mid-2000s, Russian law firms have been actively developing, and in terms of the quality of their services they have almost equaled the foreign ones. After the crises of 2008 and 2014, the volume of investments in the Russian economy declined, which narrowed the legal services market. I know several foreign M&A boutiques that had to leave the market. Pressure on corporate budgets reduced the number of client requests to consultants, and clients became much more attentive to fees. Fee caps are often used. This has become another factor of pressure on the legal business. Currently, the sphere of alternative service providers and legal operations is being actively developed.
Corporate legal departments have also undergone a major transformation. In the late 90’s and early 2000’s, corporations experienced a serious talent shortage, including legal talent. The lack of qualified corporate lawyers in the market has led corporations to rely more on law firms, attracting corporate lawyers for administrative work. Corporate counsels performed many non-core functions, which, over time, led to an increase in the size of the legal departments.
Over time, corporate legal departments began to gain professional experience and business understanding, which led to the growth of internal expertise. The need to maintain control over costs also contributed to the growth of internal expertise in corporate legal departments. The role of legal department heads has also grown, and nowadays it is not uncommon for in-house counsels to be members of management teams. The level of business expectations towards corporate legal departments keeps growing. Nowadays, a serious trend is the increase of efficiency and automation of routine legal processes.
CEELM: Tell us about the legal department of Unilever. How big is your team, and how is it structured?
Anastasiya: There are 15 employees in the legal department. We also actively use secondees and alternative service providers to perform tasks in low risk areas.
The legal department consists of: 1) business partners, 2) the Operations Center, 3) the Business Integrity Officer (compliance); and 4) the Brand Protection Manager.
The business partners work in their respective areas of expertise, be it sales, marketing, production and logistics, or finance and HR. They are involved in solving complex non-standard tasks and projects and working on the development and execution of strategies in their areas. A lot of work is done in the area of business education.
The Operations Center is responsible for the support of standard processes (there are about ten such processes) and works via a one-stop shop system. The services of the Operational Center are strongly digitized.
We are committed to enhancing our business partnership with parallel consolidation and automation of standard operations.
CEELM: What is your typical day at work like?
Anastasiya: I have a lot of meetings, both internal (with my team) and with the business. Mailing and working with important documents also takes up about 30-40 percent of my time. I regularly speak at various forums and go on business trips. I am a member of the Local Management Board, which also takes up part of my time.
CEELM: Was it always your plan to go (and stay) in-house?
Anastasiya: There was a period when I was seriously considering an offer from a major consulting company. That was before I got the offer to work on the Organizing Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games. Currently, the dynamics of the FMCG business and the role of legal departments have changed significantly. I am really interested in my work. In addition, Unilever has a number of programs, such as Sustainability, which are very close to my heart. This is why I am planning to stay in-house long term.
CEELM: What was your biggest single success in terms of particular projects or challenges? What one thing are you proudest of?
Anastasiya: The most difficult project I have ever had in my life was participating in the organization of the Olympic and Paralympic Games in Sochi 2014. The Organizing Committee was responsible for the organization of all events related to ticket sales, preparation of the Olympic venues for the Games, the Olympic Torch relay, the catering, accommodation, volunteer and marketing programs, and many others. It was a very complex and multi-component project with stakeholders - the International Olympic and Paralympic Committees & the Government of the Russian Federation. In the course of the project, a huge number of non-standard issues arose that I had never encountered before. It was not always possible to engage external consultants since they also lacked expertise, and due to budgetary restrictions. This project required a lot of hard work and I am glad that the organization of the Games was at a high level. That was also my contribution. I anticipate a new stage of my professional life ahead of me, which I think will be no less difficult than participating in the organization and staging of the Olympic and Paralympic Games.
CEELM: How would you describe your management style?
Anastasiya: I believe that a visionary view is an integral part of career growth. I hope I possess it. It is important to have a broad horizon and an understanding of the external environment to develop the function.
I think it is right to empower qualified employees to perform their jobs, in such cases we try to set briefs as clearly as possible and to agree on the timing of implementation with the milestones, if required.
I am also paranoid about responsibility and accountability. I try not to set too tight deadlines, understanding that then the risk with quality increases greatly. However, I clearly control deadlines.
Organization of processes is also my passion. I feel calm when workflow is simple and transparent.
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?
Anastasiya: I only had one official mentor in my life – Sarah Woodhouse, who at present is the General Counsel Europe & Foods Refreshments Unilever. I am in her debt, since she has helped me adapt to Unilever. But there were a lot of people in my life who had a strong influence on my maturation, including my parents, my current manager Gokhan Sarac, the head of the Sochi 2014 Organizing Committee Dmitry Chernyshenko and his deputy Tatyana Dobrokhvalova, Tugrul Agirbas, whom I worked with in the brewing business, and Dmitry Chudakov, my manager at PepsiCo. All these people, and many others, have had a strong influence on me. It is my nature to learn from others.
CEELM: On the lighter side, what is your favorite book or movie about lawyers or lawyering?
Anastasiya: The Firm with Tom Cruise, The Devil’s Advocate with my favorite actor, Al Pacino, or The Lincoln Lawyer. Among books, John Grisham, in my point of view, is the best author writing about the profession, as The Runaway Jury and The Innocent Man are real masterpieces. His books have been filmed a lot of times. The Lincoln Lawyer by Connelly.
This Article was originally published in Issue 6.12 of the CEE Legal Matters Magazine. If you would like to receive a hard copy of the magazine, you can subscribe here.