Ramya Mohan began her career at law firms like Dave & Girish & Co, Thakker & Thakker, and Economic Laws Practice, before moving in-house with Mondelez in 2011. After a decade at that company, she joined Finnish food packaging company Huhtamaki as Vice President and Asia-Pacific General Counsel. Mohan talks about how lawyers have an edge over others when it comes to influencing policy decisions and driving a culture of compliance in an organisation; her three-pillared strategy for building a legal team; and why making a choice becomes easier if your intention is clear.


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ALB: Tell us about your legal career so far and what led you to take up this role.

Mohan: I spent the first 13 years of my career with reputed law firms in India, advising clients on domestic and cross-border mergers and acquisitions, private equity, capital market transactions, India entry strategy and other aspects of corporate laws. I then took up an in-house role with a large, reputed FMCG company and spent the next 10 years in various domestic, regional and global roles.

The move from a law firm to an in-house role was fascinating, exciting and unnerving at the same time! It required me to learn a completely new set of skills and unlearn a few that I had so passionately mastered, and it was all worth it. In my in-house role, I worked closely with colleagues on the business side on various restructuring initiatives, setting up green field and brown field sites, network optimisation activities, driving compliance programs, implementing global initiatives in the region, supporting implementation of a global contracting strategy, leading and/or being part of cross-functional teams working on challenging assignments while creating a culture of compliance.

I moved to Huhtamaki in September 2021. Huhtamaki is a leading global provider of sustainable packaging solutions for consumers around the world and is redesigning the future of packaging by embedding sustainability in everything we do, which is precisely what attracted me to join. Huhtamaki is at an inflection point where its game-changing innovation is likely to change the packaging industry, and I am glad to be a part of that journey. In my role as Asia Pacific Vice President and General Counsel, I support our businesses in the emerging markets of India, Southeast Asia, China, Australia and New Zealand. I am an advisory member of the Flexible Packaging business segment. We have organised our business into three segments: Fiber Foodservice Europe-Asia-Oceania, North America and Flexible Packaging.

ALB: Apart from legal work, how do you participate in your company's business?

Mohan:  As a leader, it is important that I understand the business, strategy, opportunities, risks, risk appetite, competition, external environment, internal challenges, people, capabilities, strengths and weaknesses to be able to perform my role effectively. I believe that as a lawyer, we have an edge over others when it comes to influencing policy decisions and driving a culture of compliance in an organisation.

ALB: How would you describe your strategy for the legal team?

Mohan: Our legal strategy is directed towards supporting the business strategy. Our definition of purpose, strategy and action plans for the legal team needs to support the commercial strategies.

The next pillar of legal strategy is to create a future-fit organisation. Having the right people for the right job and having a team size that is optimal for the size of the organisation to support the future strategy of the company is key to our success. It is important to keep an eye on emerging trends and upgrade our skills. Additionally, managing the balance between external and internal resources and determining what is core and non-core is critical to serve our business effectively.

The third pillar of the strategy is to continuously drive incremental value through the legal organisation. Having a short-term and long-term strategy to move up the value pyramid is critical. Identifying focus areas where legal could have maximum impact and constantly focusing on doing what matters should be a top priority. The corollary for this is to establish systems, processes and tools for routine matters, train and empower stakeholders and align on ways of working to minimise legal touch points on routine matters towards releasing bandwidth for strategic work.  

ALB: How would you describe your hiring and talent retention strategy? What kinds of lawyers would make the best fit for your team? 

Mohan: In-house teams in most organisations are very lean and it is therefore critical to have the right people in the job. The hiring strategy will be driven by the strategy for the legal department which again will depend on the strategy of the organisation. The kind of lawyers that would make the best fit for my team would be people who have a high level of curiosity and eagerness to learn, to understand the business and culture of the organisation, who ask a lot of questions to understand' why' we do' what.' The person should be customer-focused and solution-oriented.

I believe that half of the battle is won if we earn the trust of our stakeholders, and, therefore, I look for people with strong character, uncompromising on values and ability to' standalone' where the situation demands. The person should be a team player, being able to lead or be a part of cross functional teams to strategise and implement projects. The person should be adaptable, willing to learn and unlearn and futuristic.

ALB: When it comes to cooperating with external lawyers, what qualities or capabilities do you believe are the most critical to not only the work itself but also a sustainable long-term cooperating relationship?

Mohan: In-depth knowledge of the subject is a given. What I appreciate in an external lawyer is approachability and availability, professionalism, ability to offer clear legal advice on a subject in letter and spirit and then to understand the context and practical realities, offer guidance in evaluating pros and cons of measures to mitigate risk in a way that gives an organisation the comfort to take conscious and responsible decisions.

ALB: What is the best piece of advice you have ever received?

Mohan: My experiences have helped me appreciate to approach every situation with an unprejudiced and open mind. I believe that every choice has a consequence. If your intention is clear, making a choice becomes easier. I write down my intention when I start something new and try and make responsible choices.



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