“In the current scenario, one must understand that environmental issues are highly critical and should be thoroughly evaluated to avoid huge financial liability for violation of environmental laws”- Dr. Khalid Khan, General counsel for Tenneco, India

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

Can you walk us through your journey in the legal profession, from your early days to your current position as General Counsel for Tenneco Inc.’s Indian operations?

When I started my professional journey back in 1993, demand for in-house counsels was not so promising. You could make your place by really working hard and constantly meeting the expectations of your employer. It is very important for any new in-house counsel to get an opportunity to work under the guidance of a good senior professional. I consider myself lucky to have got that opportunity.

As you know, learning is a continuous process. I too believe in that, and my quest for knowledge keeps me going.

When you grow, you have to keep in mind that a good and motivated team plays an important role in your success. I always believe in building teams by having transparency, mutual respect & trust, delegation of authority, counselling & coaching and being there for them. I believe in simplification of legal processes.

As a highly accomplished legal professional, what have been the most challenging yet rewarding aspects of aligning legal functions with business requirements throughout your career?

It is a very good question. I always believe that a General Counsel is different from an outside counsel. A GC is expected to understand the business and try to give a solution which not only is in line with the legal framework but always gives a solution to the business. I know this is not easy. One may say that from a legal perspective, either something is permissible or it is not permissible. Based on my experience, I feel that a GC is supposed to provide different workable solutions to the business teams and help them in evaluating and deciding on the best solution.

Being part of the Board of Directors, I am involved in important business decisions. This gives me an edge to review every transaction from a business perspective and  provide a legal solution in line with the business requirements.

You’ve navigated through various industries such as Tyre, Financial Services, Chemical, and auto-component sectors. How has your diverse experience shaped your approach to legal strategies and corporate governance?

Different industries that I have worked with have different challenges, requiring different approaches and strategies. For a GC, it is important to understand who your audience is. You need to have the ability to listen to your internal as well as external customers, understand their issues and provide the best legal options/ solutions.

Given your extensive involvement in M&A, joint ventures, and divestitures, could you share some insights into the key strategies and considerations you employ when negotiating complex transactions?

For M&A transactions, the first level of discussion revolves around the feasibility of the new business; what would be its value addition to your existing business and whether it would make a business sense to go for an M&A transaction.

Once a business decision is taken, the second most important task is to do a thorough due diligence of the entire business involving financial, legal and environmental due diligence. In the current scenario, one must understand that environmental issues are highly critical and should be thoroughly evaluated to avoid huge financial liability for violation of environmental laws.

For the success of any joint venture, it is important to ensure a lot of transparency in terms of sharing of important information with the JV partner and involve them in all the important decisions. It is very important to build a relationship, based on mutual trust and respect. This would ensure smooth running of the JV as well as future growth.

How do you balance the need for legal compliance with the demands of business growth, especially in highly regulated sectors such as yours?

As I said earlier, if you understand the business, you can surely provide a legal solution which aligns with the business.

With your expertise in corporate governance and securities, what advice would you offer to companies aiming to enhance their governance standards and navigate regulatory landscapes effectively?

I believe corporate governance is not just complying with the applicable legal provisions. Corporate governance should become part of a company’s culture. It should become the way of life. It has to be followed in the true spirit and, not just as a compliance obligation.

You’ve been instrumental in implementing legal frameworks and adopting legal tech to support business growth. Can you share some examples of how technology has transformed legal operations during your tenure?

Automation of processes is the need of the hour. With a lot of focus on having learner legal teams, it is important to keep working on automation. Compliance management tools, litigation management tools and contract management tools are few examples. These tools have not only saved a lot of time but also helped in ensuring accuracy of processes.  

Lastly, drawing from your vast experience, what advice would you give to fresh graduates aspiring to pursue a career in law, especially those aiming for leadership roles in the corporate sector?

My advice would be as follows:

1. First and foremost, it is important to be a good human being. This quality would help you throughout your professional journey.

2. Always believing in learning new things.

3. Try to fully understand  and appreciate the perspectives of others. This would help you to provide a better legal solution.

4. Build a good team. Trust and respect your team members. Always focus on the professional growth of your team members.

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