Vera Kolesnik is Nestle’s Legal Director for Russia and Eurasia. Before joining Nestle in 2007 she worked for four years at Ernst & Young and for five years at the Institute of State and Law at the Russian Academy of Science.
CEELM: What attracted you to the legal profession?
V.K.: During my studies and in the early days of my career I was very lucky to meet great lawyers. These were professors from the Institute of State and Law (Russian Academy of Sciences), judges from the International Court of Justice, and so on. I had the opportunity to observe brilliant professionals, intellectuals, who had their hearts in law, inspiring the younger generation to work hard and to become legal eagles. This gave me confidence, and I wanted to be part of this league: I wanted to be a lawyer. I started my carreer in academics as an assistant professor doing research and teaching international public law at several law schools in Moscow. Then I moved to Ernst & Young Russia and CIS to be part of its in-house legal team. In 2007, I got the great opportunity to join Nestle.
CEELM: You started your career in law in 1998. How has the Russian market changed since then?
V.K.: For sure, we have come a long way. I’d like to say that you are never bored here. We are still going through significant changes in many areas of the law, including civil, labor, antitrust, and the judicial system itself. Russian law firms have grown into real competitors to international legal brands. Plus, Russian boutique law firms have successfully found their way to big clients. Corporate lawyers, in their turn, have created a powerful professional community. As the legal market develops, the battle for talent has increased significantly.
CEELM: Do you see any specific difference between working in the consultancy business and in FMCG?
V.K.: The switch from the consulting business to the FMCG industry was really smooth. Right after joining Nestle, I became part of a team that aimed to grow the company’s high performance culture. Developing a service culture was one of the core streams. I think that it was a magnificent experience. On the one hand, it opened up Nestle to me and helped me to integrate very quickly. On the other hand, it gave me a chance to share with my new colleagues the sense of a service culture, my skills, and expertise.
If we speak about the specifics of being a corporate lawyer, they are well-reflected in our legal mission at Nestle. Being a lawyer at Nestle means being a legal guardian of Nestle’s businesses, assets, and values, managing risks and opportunities in a pragmatic and rigorous way, being excellent in delivering Nestle-specific legal and business solutions. Corporate lawyers are integral parts of business decision-making. We are here to make our business more competitive and help it grow faster and in a sustainable way.
CEELM: What are the biggest challenges in leading the legal department of a company like Nestle?
V.K.: The FMCG industry is going through a big change worldwide. The competitive environment is becoming more and more demanding. Investors have set the bar high seeking to improve efficiency. Being open to change, mastering it, and leading the team to success by cutting barriers – this is the call of the day. Here I would like to quote Charles Darwin, who said, “It is not the strongest or the most intelligent who will survive but those who can best manage change.”
CEELM: What lawyers most inspired or educated you at the beginning of your career? What did you learn from them?
V.K.: I would like to commemorate my teacher and my tutor, Professor Igor Lukashuk, who was a prominent lawyer and a remarkable person, and who drove the development of the Russian science of International Law. Mr. Lukashuk made a significant input in the work of the United Nations in different areas of International Law. From 1995-2002 he was a member of the UN International Law Commission. He served on several expert legal councils under the Chairman of the State Duma and under the President of the Russian Federation. I met professor Lukashuk at the Institute of State Law where he headed the Center of International Law Research. He guided my scientific work and always inspired me to go further in the profession. He strived to teach the younger generation all he knew. This was one of my key lessons from him: the importance of developing people. I join those who name Igor Lukashuk the best Russian international lawyer of the 20th century. I miss my teacher.
CEELM: How do you relax after a long day at work?
V.K.: The best way to relax after work for me is to have quality time with my family. My husband is also a lawyer. We have a girl of twelve years old and a boy who is nine. As a working wife and mom, I have many challenges there but I try to do my best. Among the things that we like to do together is explore small towns around Moscow on weekends. These short trips can give a lot culturally and historically. One can find real gems there.
CEELM: What one thing would people be most surprised to know about you?
V.K.: I was born in Switzerland.
CEELM: If you hadn’t become a lawyer, what other profession would you be doing? Why?
V.K.: When I ask my kids what they want to do in life, they get quite confused. So did I at their age. Now I think I could work for an international organization in the human rights or social development areas, to find ways of making people’s life better. Or, I could be a marketer to bring value to a brand, adding creativity and strategic thinking. In any case, being a Nestle lawyer – this is what makes me happy.
This Article was originally published in Issue 5.8 of the CEE Legal Matters Magazine. If you would like to receive a hard copy of the magazine, you can subscribe here.