“As you evolve as an in-house legal counsel and chart your way towards the GC roles, it is important to pick up the best from your previous experience and apply it at your current workplace to amplify the learnings”- Abhijit Yadav, Legal Director, IndiaColgate-Palmolive (India) Ltd ·

This Interview has been published by Pragya Chandni and The SuperLawyer Team

Can you share with us the pivotal moments or experiences that led you to pursue a career in law, particularly in the FMCG and Pharma industries?

  • I grew up in a small town in Ratnagiri district in the Konkan area known as ‘Chiplun’. Despite my father being a practicing advocate I never wanted to be a lawyer in the first place; in fact I had taken a vow that I will be anything but a lawyer. One of the reasons for my aversion to pursue law was his unavailability for us due to his active law practice and socio political activities. He is revered and respected for the kind of work he has done for the poor litigants and for uplifting the life of people at our ancestral village. However  during my childhood days I did not have full understanding and always ran away from the thought of following his footsteps. 
  • During school days I always used to be part of the class which used to be known as ‘good’ or having kids which are generally above ordinary. However there was nothing spectacularly great about myself. This continued till class 12 wherein I followed the herd mentality and did what was considered as ‘good’ and ‘intelligent’ but not necessarily ‘my calling’.
  • The pivotal moment came after my 12th Standard exams (which I pursued from science stream with both biology and mathematics as preferred subjects to do what was popularly known as keeping doors open for both medical and engineering courses). After my 12th exams I happened to read an extremely good article which emphasized building on your core strengths rather than weaknesses. The article mentioned about Sachin Tendalukar; how not everyone can be like him but at the same time how we can be ‘Sachin Tendulkar’ of our own field. Suddenly things became clear to me and forced myself to do honest introspection. I accepted the reality that I was not cut out for science stream and in fact had leanings towards language based subjects which I either did not realize or accept as a reality since it was not a very popular choice in the circle I used to feel I was part of. 
  • I decided to pursue law and applied for a five year LLB course at the only law school I had visited till that time during one of my previous summer vacations in Mumbai…the legendary Govt Law College, Mumbai in the year 2002.
  • Life changed 360 degrees after getting into law school. I loved my subjects and they loved me back..this had never happened during my science stream subjects. This further opened up my thought process and I naturally ended up putting more effort not only in my studies but also in extra curricular activities such as Moot courts. I was part of the Moot Court committee as well and participated actively in organizing National & International Moot Court Competitions. 
  • Transition from Chiplun to Mumbai was not easy in the initial days but I was fortunate to have formed some really good friendships which helped me settle down in Mumbai comfortably. After more than 2 decades those friendships have only grown over a period of time like an old wine.
  • Another pivotal event happened in the year 2007 during the campus interview rounds in our college. That year luckily we had companies like HUL and Marico participate in the placement rounds. To try my luck I participated in the placement rounds and was shortlisted for interviews by both these companies. I was selected by Marico and I happened to be the only one from that year’s batch to have been picked up by Marico. That was a very surreal moment in my life and I still remember the reactions from my family and friends who were really happy for me. That’s how my career in the FMCG industry started. 
  • Just like the way I was fortunate to get into pursuing law; I believe I was blessed to have started my in-house legal career with Marico. I learnt some of the best lessons needed to be learnt by a fresher regarding the profession and business both. After spending almost 4 years with Marico; I moved on to join L’Oreal as I was keen to have work exposure in a global MNC at that time.
  • With almost 10 years in the FMCG industry having dealt with Food and Cosmetics in detail, I was keen to explore and broaden my horizons. At the same time I did not want to explore a completely different sector from the perspective of  building my long term credentials in the Industry and hence when Sanofi approached I took up the opportunity as Pharma always appealed to me due to the complexities that a legal professional gets to handle. 

With over 16 years of experience, you’ve navigated through various legal landscapes within the Indian Sub-continent. How do you approach the unique challenges presented by each industry you’ve worked in?

  • The legal landscape in each of the industries I have been associated with has been varied and full of its own unique challenges but doing the right thing at the right time with the right amount of effort has worked for me throughout my career so far. Not just the legal landscape but the working cultures have been different in each of the companies I had the opportunity of working… Indian, European and now US. 
  • All of us have a unique way of doing things but when we are working in a culturally and ethnically diverse organization, quick adaptability is important along with emphasis on putting organization interest at the forefront always. 

Throughout your career, you’ve held significant roles in notable companies such as Colgate-Palmolive, Sanofi, L’Oreal, and Marico. How have these diverse experiences shaped your perspective on legal counsel within the corporate environment?

  • I consider myself fortunate to have started my career with Marico and not just that but with a legal team that was led by Mr Amit Rai (Director Legal- Bennett Coleman & Co- Times of India Group). Amit set the tone for my journey as an in-house legal counsel who works closely with business to understand its pulse and in fact works like a business lawyer. 
  • As you evolve as an in-house legal counsel and chart your way towards the GC roles, it is important to pick up the best from your previous experience and apply it at your current workplace to amplify the learnings. 
  • Luckily in all my stints so far I always got the opportunity to work on the most difficult transactions and situations which have helped me sharpen the saw with each set of experience I have had.   

Given your extensive involvement in contract drafting, negotiations, and litigation management, could you share some strategies or best practices you’ve developed to ensure effective legal support for business operations?

  • Attention to detail is non negotiable for a lawyer. As an in-house counsel and especially in the FMCG space there are always too many things happening one at the same time. This is a very potent ground for missing the key details and hence mastering the artwork of prioritization and stakeholder expectation management is essential.
  • Building your own network of reliable lawyers and firms is extremely critical in high stake matters and situations.
  • There are a lot of things that we do not learn in law schools, drafting and negotiation skills are one of them which are extremely critical for good in-house legal counsel. There is a reason why our profession is termed as ‘practice’ for independent professionals and personally I do not consider myself any different when it comes to possessing these skill sets. We have to keep practicing and learning to ‘sharpen our saw’.    

As someone who believes in working with an entrepreneurial mindset, how do you balance legal compliance with fostering innovation and growth within your respective organizations?

  • Focus on ‘doing the right thing’ for the organization and ‘zero tolerance for non-compliance’ helps you set the boundaries. Once you know your boundaries, understanding the opportunities to stretch your boundaries becomes much easier. 

You’ve been instrumental in various initiatives such as setting up joint venturentities, launching new products, and resolving long-standing legal disputes. Can you walk us through a particularly challenging project or situation you’ve faced and how you approached it?

  • As an in-house legal counsel in the FMCG and Pharma industry you are always dealing with some or the other crisis. However I would like to share one of the experiences which really helped me shape my thought process very early during my career.
  • During my Marico days I was responsible for Food Adulteration Act (Now known as Food Safety Act)  Cases in the West And South region of India. There were multiple litigations and we needed concentrated efforts to close them. As a young lawyer I traveled to remote corners of Andhra Pradesh and Orissa (at times traveling through Naxal infested areas without even knowing about it). I learnt that at some of these places local lawyers were actually struggling or avoiding final hearings due to the sensitive nature of the PFA matters. We helped these lawyers with updated case laws and argument notes. As a result we were able to close at least 5 litigations in a year’s time. 
  • This experience taught me very early in my career about the value add we can bring as an in-house legal counsel in the litigation matters and since then I have always adopted this approach to work with my local lawyers across the country. 

Throughout your career, you’ve received several recognitions and awards for your contributions, including the Chairman’s You Can Make a Difference Award and being recognized as a Game Changer. How do you stay motivated and continue to excel in your role despite the inevitable obstacles and setbacks?

  • I love what I do and hence the quantity of work load does not really bog me down. This is very interesting because at one point of time I seriously hated the thought of being a lawyer. My take away from this is that whatever happens in life happens for good and this attitude helps me keep a positive framework of mind and work better especially during challenging situations. I work with the principle of ‘deliver to delight’ which I learnt in Marico. My focus is to give my best in any given situation and my organizations have been kind enough to recognize my efforts. Last year I received 40 Under 40 by Legal Era and the award was picked up by my wife as I was traveling for work. My family is my biggest cheerleader and the one which keeps me grounded as well. My father is most difficult to please and has set very high standards for professional excellence.     

Lastly, with your wealth of experience, what advice would you offer to law graduates aspiring to follow in your footsteps, particularly those interested in pursuing careers in corporate law within the FMCG and Pharma industries?

  • First and foremost; enjoy the 5 or 3 years of your law course..they are never going to come back again in your life.
  • Spend time on understanding your subjects; if the foundation is good the building can get taller and taller.
  • It’s better to spend time in the library than doing an internship for the sake of it.
  • People know where you stand on the subject matter expertise in the first 2-3 mins of your conversation. Spend time on building your expertise and your communication skills. That’s your bread and butter for life as a lawyer.
  • Lastly, I would like to share that we are all unique in our own ways. We should strive to find that unique quality and build on our strength rather than weakness.  

Get in touch with Abhijit Yadav-

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