India Business Law Journal reveals the achievements of the country’s leading in-house counsel and corporate legal teams who have been selected as this year’s winners. Katherine Abraham reports
As the In-House Counsel Awards 2023 moves into its second year, it is a privilege to honour the faces behind India’s corporate world success. The in-house counsel highlighted in our feature have been instrumental in advising core management teams; working on risk assessment and mitigation with their robust teams, and have the extraordinary ability to make their success seem like the outcome of elementary efforts. Yet catering to management and government apart from various other stakeholders is a tightrope walk.
India Business Law Journal prides itself in bringing the work of corporate heroes to the fore. We interacted with our nominees to discover their talents and qualities that only those working closely with them would be able to share. As gatekeepers, the legal department must guide companies and ensure there are no missteps when management has its eye firmly set on success and thus have an important role to play. Each of the GCs in this year’s winners list has not just proved to be an asset but has created assets out of their entire legal team.
We express our thanks and appreciation to those who made nominations, and also extend our congratulations to the winners for the year.
POONAM MADAN, is a corporate law stalwart with a career spanning 35 years, of which she was a general counsel for 27 years. Madan heads a team of seven in-house lawyers.
Her career achievements include closures in 50 customer cases worth INR1 billion (USD12.1 million), receiving a favourable order in a case involving a suit amount of INR2 billion, and she was also successful in arbitrations involving INR14 billion. In the past year, Madan has ensured multi-vertical interactions with finance, tax, accounts, and customer relationship management (CRM) departments for prompt resolutions, which has accelerated interdepartmental transactions.
Pravin Bahadur from Pravin Bahadur and Associates in New Delhi, affirms that apart from litigation, she has the final word for all documentation and corporate work in the company. Senior courts advocate Rajeev Virmani in New Delhi, who has defended DLF before the Delhi High Court, adds: “Poonam is an excellent strategist. As a leader, she allows freedom to her team members. Her conveyancing skills are unmatched.”
Ritu Bhalla, a partner at Atlas Law Partners in New Delhi, says that the clarity of Madan’s verbal and written contributions make outputs speedier and of superior quality.
The 10-member strong legal team at VISTARA under the able leadership of SHASHANK JAIN has proven its mettle in the past year, negotiating and closing big ticket deals in engine sale and leaseback, aircraft leasing, and financing.
The team functions like a small law firm within the company and works hand-in-hand with corporate planning, engineering, commercial, marketing, information technology, airport operations, customer services, human resources, administration, flight operations, and senior management of the company.
The team led litigation matters all over India and across the globe (including in Canada, the UK, Germany, Uganda and Japan) constituting consumer disputes, recovery matters, recovery actions under the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code (IBC), and other employment disputes.
While many other airline companies are still in recovery mode, Vistara now boasts of Frequent Flyer Partnership Agreements with Lufthansa, Japan Airlines and Air Canada. In addition to this, the team worked aggressively and obtained trademark registrations and copyright in 50+ international jurisdictions, took measures to protect brands in Metaverse and on virtual reality platforms.
Speaking about Jain, the brains behind the team’s success, Rashmi Grover, a partner at Nagashima Ohno & Tsunematsu in Singapore, says: “Shashank is diligent and competent, managing an array of legal issues in-house.”
Anand Shah, a senior partner at AZB Partners in Mumbai, who has worked with the team, says: “Their ability to negotiate the best deal for their company clearly stands out – they do not succumb to market practice, but think out of the box to create new benchmarks in the industry.”
Former colleague Mohit Shukla, who worked at the airline for more than two years and is now a legal manager at watch manufacturer Titan, says that the team is “solution oriented, helpful, business-savvy and always comes up with new ideas”.
Individual award: Engineering & manufacturing
Atul Juvle, general counsel, compliance officer & company secretary, Schindler India
Team award: Engineering & manufacturing
ATUL JUVLE, has been instrumental in developing a code of conduct for compliance/training/investigations, litigation management, liaison and external interface, apart from undertaking research that has also aided him in his interactions with industry associations on behalf of Schindler India.
Vivekanand G, a partner at IndusLaw in Chennai, is all praise for Juvle. “Atul is one of the finest GCs who still values and adheres to strict legal compliance and balancing of the practicalities.”
Krrishan Singhania, managing partner of K Singhania and Co in Mumbai, adds that apart from being a lifelong learner, “[Juvle] is an astute and well-informed lawyer who is always up to date with the latest information about recent developments in the field of law.”
Individual award: Engineering and manufacturing
Trivikram Guda, regional general counsel, ABB India
With more than 15 years in the legal field, TRIVIKRAM GUDA is vested with the responsibility to develop a strategic vision for the legal and integrity function; manage and mitigate risk; establish proper controls; support business initiatives; and protect the company from legal, integrity and regulatory risks. He has a lean team of two counsel.
He is credited as the support system of legal as he revived the morale of a team that had become bereft of a leader after the previous GC sadly succumbed to covid-19. He has the highest level of employee engagement, and is fondly known for rarely keeping his team back late into the evening.
Gopika Pant, managing partner at Indian Law Partners in New Delhi, says Guda is an excellent general counsel – soft-spoken, efficient and highly knowledgeable on his company and legal subjects.
Individual award: Energy & natural resources
Ajay Kapoor, chief of legal, regulatory and policy advocacy
AJAY KAPOOR has rich experience of more than 33 years with companies like ITC, Tata Group, Birla Group and HCL Group. He now leads a strong global team of 40, spread across verticals at TATA.
Kapoor confesses that he faces innumerable challenges, from high transmission and distribution losses to non-cost reflective tariff determination swayed by political interference, which in turn creates payment issues for the power consumed.
His main effort has been to liquidate the value locked in regulatory litigation and also support the organisation in realising its receivables, long stuck in litigation. Anurag Bansal, a co-winner in this category, says that Kapoor is a “super legal resource with a keen eye for detail and a strategic approach to litigation”. Anurag Bansal, the head of legal at Tata Power Delhi Distribution, says he is a true leader who handles the legal function for all 100 subsidiaries of Tata Power, and Tata Power itself.
Individual award: Energy & natural resources
Anurag Bansal, the head of legal at Tata Power Delhi Distribution
Having worked for more than 15 years as a legal head, ANURAG BANSAL’s core responsibilities include safeguarding the financial and regulatory interests of the company, advising senior management to combat legal issues and working on matters relating to environment laws at the National Green Tribunal.
Bansal’s current team of seven handle a diverse nature of work under the corporate legal umbrella. He has to his credit the achievement of securing the release of INR1 billion of a renewable energy certificates-related refund from the Central Electricity Regulatory Commission.
Another achievement relates to securing a compliance order for a gas-based generation plant in proceedings in financial year 2022-23 that locked up INR8.8 billion. Speaking about Bansal’s achievements as a GC, Nitin Kala, a partner at Reg law Chambers in New Delhi, says: “Anurag has decades of experience in the field of electricity and is the most respected in-house counsel in the sector.”
Individual award: IT Services
Vineet Vij, group general counsel, Tech Mahindra
Team award: IT Services
VINEET VIJ heads the legal function for Tech Mahindra, a USD6 billion company providing IT, information technology-enabled services (ITeS), consulting and business process outsourcing (BPO) services worldwide. Vij handles all legal and regulatory affairs of Tech Mahindra and its group companies.
Having served for more than three decades in the legal sphere, his focus has been on channelling the synergies that the legal team brings in cross-border transactions, and preparing the organisation to combat legal challenges while reducing the risk of doing business in unprecedented times.
He also ensures protection of the company’s brand image and commercial interests against potential regulatory proceedings and investigations. Deepak Nambiar, a partner at Kelley Drye and Warden in New Jersey, US says: “Vineet is direct, but always courteous, and a very thorough and competent professional who always has Tech Mahindra’s best interests in mind. [He] is also very pragmatic and business-oriented, thus earning the respect of his team members and management.”
Kit Burden, a partner at DLA Piper in London, affirms this. “Vineet is a super professional operator and organiser of a diverse and multi-jurisdictional legal team. He combines both expert knowledge with a high degree of political acumen and very impressive people skills.”
Referring to his success during the pandemic and afterwards, Ulrich Bäumer, a partner at Osborne Clarke in Cologne, Germany, says: “Tech Mahindra grew substantially in the last few years and Vineet changed the structure to match the [company’s] demands – he used a lot of foresight for that.”
Individual award: Internet & E-commerce
Manoj Bhargava, group general counsel, IndiaMart InterMesh
Team award: Internet & E-commerce
MANOJ BHARGAVA has been associated with IndiaMart InterMesh in the capacity of group GC and company secretary for the past five years, and is a skilled legal professional with more than 20 years of experience and a strong foundation in the legal and secretarial profession.
His key achievements include spearheading the maiden IPO of Indiamart InterMesh, followed by a qualified institutional placement and buyback of securities. Later on in 2022 he led the investment of INR9.3 billion in 12 companies by IndiaMART.
Speaking of his qualities as a GC, Ajay Bhargava, a partner at Khaitan & Co in New Delhi, says: “Manoj is a strong leader who attracts the right talent and is not afraid to make decisions. He maintains a visionary mindset.”
Individual award: Healthcare and pharmaceuticals
Vivek Mittal, global general counsel, Dr Reddy’s Laboratories
With a strong team of 75 attorneys and professionals globally, VIVEK MITTAL manages the legal, ethics and compliance affairs and data privacy functions of Dr Reddy’s Laboratories. His work spans the areas of legal, governance, healthcare/pharmaceutical compliance, strategic transactions, commercial, supply chain, clinical research, privacy, cybersecurity, intellectual property, investigations and litigation.
The functions of the team members are divided as per the requirements of the business units. Anna Kuzmina, the regional GC at Dr Reddy’s in Moscow, says Mittal has a “perfect eye for detail as well as strategic mindset”.
Elena Vinogradova, compliance manager at Dr Reddy’s in Moscow, adds: “Mittal is always ready to help as a leader and is open-minded as a person.”
Individual award: Aviation, shipping & logistics
Priya Mehra, general counsel, Akasa Air
PRIYA MEHRA has ably managed to start the legal department at Akasa Air from scratch, and currently manages the legal, secretarial and corporate affairs department as a member of the executive committee. She has a lean team of eight members and her vision is to have an in-house legal team function like a top-tier international law firm, where the company is treated like a client and her team delivers international quality advice and documents.
Prior to Akasa Air, Mehra was GC at IndiGo. She was on the executive committee and involved in all major transactions undertaken by the company. At Akasa, she has been instrumental in liaising with Boeing and other strategic partners to build relationships as a new entrant into the market, keeping in mind regulatory compliance across jurisdictions.
She has worked hard on building confidence with lessors in order to have the best commercial deals, and also works on initial contracts across business verticals. Divisha Mehta, the manager of legal and contracting at SNV Aviation in Mumbai, says: “Priya is an excellent leader who is very thorough with not just legal aspects of aviation, but also a fantastic person to work with. She is well known in legal circles due to her extensive experience in all areas of law.”
Akanksha Mahapatra, head of corporate affairs at SNV Aviation affirms: “Priya has time and again displayed extraordinary leadership skills” and is perceived as a leader who is personally invested in the professional growth of her team members.
Individual award: Aviation, shipping & logistics
Nitin Banerjee, group general counsel & group M&A head, JM Baxi Group
NITIN BANERJEE is an international corporate commercial lawyer qualified both in India and the UK. He has more than 20 years of experience in advising energy, oil & gas, infrastructure projects, mining, telecommunications and technology companies.
Naresh Thacker, a partner at Economic Laws Practice in Mumbai, says: “Nitin is a wholesome lawyer and brilliant strategist – business-savvy combined with a high legal IQ is how one would describe Nitin.”
Faisal Sherwani, a partner at Luthra and Luthra in New Delhi, adds: “Nitin’s insight on legal and regulatory issues is central to the expansion of the entity he currently serves, and those he has served in the past. He has considerable skills, which any corporate that is growth-oriented requires.”
Sherwani adds that he is equally comfortable and experienced in matters relating to infrastructure, M&A, commercial and regulatory issues, as well as litigation and arbitration management.
Team award: Agriculture
OLAM AGRI INDIA
Sanjeev Mishra, head of legal and company secretary at Olam Agri India, leads a three-member in-house counsel team that is responsible for drafting and vetting of agreements, statutory compliance and litigation management, and is operational in both India and Bangladesh.
Mishra handles a centralised team that takes care of legal work for different branches of the company. When Olam Group was re-organised, as the head of the project from the legal side, Mishra was credited with carving the company into three operating groups, without any legal challenges, within a short span of six months. His team obtained the requisite licence and registrations under applicable laws, and helped with the incorporation of a new company in Bangladesh as well. Mishra’s team has also been credited with instituting and implementing a warehouse policy for storage of commodities along with the approval of layout and construction on non-agricultural land, among other legal procedures. Building a healthy inter-departmental bond has enabled the organisation to be compliant with applicable laws and has further streamlined the system.
Team award: Intellectual property
Lakshminarayan Ramachandran, director & head – innovation & IP management at Samsung, has been instrumental in providing extensive and systematic patent training for close to 2,400 employees in just a year in order to raise innovation engagement for patent creation, despite attrition and the quick adoption of work from home. Annually, young Indian engineers fresh out of college are encouraged to build their own patents at the Samsung R&D centre in Bengaluru. This has added business value and created a noteworthy cultural transformation to create patents that are highly useful for business growth.
Ramachandran’s IP team prepared and filed the highest number of patents from inventions created in India, with more than 70% of high-quality patents filed overseas. They raised the bar for invention generation and patent filings from India, thereby qualifying them to win the National IP Award for 2021 and 2022, WIPO IP Enterprise Award for 2021 and 2022, and Questel IP Excellence Award 2022.
Ravi Bhola, a partner at K&S Partners in Bengaluru, says that Ramachandran “understands the business and has a strong legal background” to engage the team and deliver results.
Team award: Media, entertainment & sports
Isha Rathnam, vice-president – legal affairs, heads a lean team of four in-house lawyers at Lionsgate. The team handles domestic and overseas clients and work in tandem with all stakeholders for effective and efficient turnaround of projects on a daily basis, including licensing projects, production agreements, global partnerships and more. The team is vested with the responsibility of handling India, South Asia, Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines.
The Lionsgate legal team has recognised opportunities, tackled legal as well as commercial issues, and successfully overcome challenges to extend its threshold of business parameters.
The team, under Rathnam’s able leadership, has looked at distribution and integration partnerships in Indonesia. It has also partnered with a leading MNC network that will help the company expand its subscriber base and tackle cross-border compliance via a thorough due diligence on compliance and regulatory standards with respect to business as well as content broadcasting. Lionsgate successfully entered into partnership with upcoming DishTV platform, WATCHO, to stream its content through multiple platforms. The team has also successfully worked on studio projects, and handled above the line (ATL) and below the line (BTL) agreements while constantly working on a challenging timeline. They assisted in the release of multiple movies on the big screen such as The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent.
Despite being a small team of four, their robust ideas and ability to handle cross-cultural compliance issues is endorsed by a law firm partner who chooses to stay anonymous. “The Lionsgate legal team comprises determined and zealous members that examine negotiation and drafting of all contracts pertaining to each production title that the company undertakes. The legal team is continually involved in the business as well as legal decision-making process to ensure the best possible deal terms are agreed upon for all the parties.”
While each of the above-mentioned senior in-house counsel has built a strong portfolio and relationship within the legal fraternity over time, one cannot forget to acknowledge the responsibilities placed on the shoulders of our rising stars in the corporate world.
Tejas Dhotre, manager of legal at Schindler India in Pune, is a rising star who handles the entire litigation for India’s northern region covering the states of Delhi, Uttarakhand, Punjab, Himachal Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir. He manages arbitrations, criminal matters, consumer cases and execution petitions. He is also vested with handling code of conduct investigations, imparting training to employees and issuing compliance clearances.
Anamika Tiwari, manager of legal at Lal Path Labs in Gurugram, is a company secretary and legal head with 14 years of experience having worked pan-India. She leads a lean team of four, while working on communication management, goal setting, delegation, team performance and conflict management.
Tiwari and her team work on de-escalating concerns and resolving queries from clients in adherence to the relevant compliance. They also co-ordinate with external counsel and are involved in litigation management. Her key achievements include an inter-personal professional engagement with clients, while working consistently to develop contract management tools to rule out deficiencies.
Salil Date is the assistant general manager for Volkswagen’s automotive department in Mumbai, and has worked in the field for more than 15 years. With a team of five dynamic colleagues, passionately guided by GC Vijay Kamath, Salil and his team are responsible for the legal requirements of five brands of Volkswagen Group that operate in India. He works on reviews, litigation and non-litigation work while individually taking on the aspects of the department that can be handled independently.
India Business Law Journal’s In-house Counsel Awards are based on nominations, references and qualitative information received from in-house counsel and other legal professionals in India and around the world. A nomination form was available on our website and promoted on social media throughout November and December, and thousands of in-house counsel, lawyers at Indian and international law firms, and other India-focused professionals were invited to vote. In the second part of the judging process, nominated in-house lawyers were invited to make submissions in support of their candidacy for the awards. These submissions, combined with thorough research and reference checking by India Business Law Journal’s editorial team, played an important role in the judging process. All in-house counsel in India were automatically eligible for inclusion in the awards process, and there were no entry fees or any other requirements for entry.