"Don’t just become a legal advisor to your organisation; become a business enabler for them". Preeti Wadhawan, Head—Ethics and Compliance at ByteDance
Ms Wadhawan speaks to Krishnendra Joshi about her exceptional journey in law. She also shares her views on the evolving corporate governance regime during the current times and much more in this exclusive interview with BW Legal World.
Ms Wadhawan, would you please tell our readers what motivated you to study law? What were the initial formative years of your exceptional professional career like?
Being a commerce graduate in our times meant pursuing either CS or CA alongside graduation. I chose CS, which covers the study of different laws. I was fascinated by how different interpretations of the same law can have significantly different consequences, and so, I enrolled in a law school. In my initial years, I was fortunate to have worked in varied industries. It gave me insights into several aspects of the legal domain, which is important for a legal professional, as you need to be on your toes in the ever-evolving legal and regulatory landscape.
It is said that success is easy to achieve but difficult to sustain. You have more than 18 years of experience working for diverse sectors. What has helped you achieve and sustain success over a long period of time?
I think the mantra that has helped me is ‘learn, learn and learn’. To grow, it is important to keep learning and enhancing your knowledge on different subjects. I have always worked on equipping myself with new skills. There is no shortcut to hard work; so, don’t shy away from any work – big or small. There is always learning associated with whatever you do. Don’t just become a legal advisor to your organisation; become a business enabler for them. Act as a strategic partner to the business; understand the business and the challenges they face. Even when giving legal advice on a business issue, keep in mind the long-term impact on business strategy and shareholder value.
Your legal career has been nothing short of an inspiration for many aspiring and young legal professionals. Who are the mentors you have looked up to and admired? How have they helped you in shaping your career?
In my professional journey, I was blessed to have many knowledgeable mentors who have helped in my professional and personal development. It would be unfair on my part to single out any one person. One thing they have all taught me is that business savviness, effective communication and time management can help you succeed.
How do you see the corporate governance and compliance regime-changing during the Covid-19 pandemic? Do you see it evolving drastically post-pandemic?
As they say, change is the only constant. It is especially true today when the world is adapting to changes in every sphere of life. Covid-19 is having a deep impact on the way business conduct themselves. The Board of Directors and senior managers are now faced with tough decisions with respect to how they continue to conduct their business and secure the future of their organisation. There is tremendous pressure on these decision-makers, and they could, at times, be faced with a choice between protecting their business interests and ensuring compliance. It is important to remember that the need for corporate governance and compliance is greater than ever before. Organisations need to bear this fact in mind as they relook at their risks and changes in the business environment as a result of the pandemic.
What is your take on the notion of Work-Life balance? What keeps you busy other than work?
Being a mother of two young girls, I am always under pressure to maintain a work-life balance. I have learned that achieving work-life balance requires you to prioritise things and make constant adjustments. You can’t have it all. There are some occasions when work takes precedence over family; I am fortunate to have the support of my family, who come to my rescue in such times.
Due to the demanding nature of my job, I don’t usually have a huge amount of spare time. So, whenever I am not working, I like to spend quality time with my family. My husband and I like to take extended weekend breaks; it is one of our favourite stress busters. We haven’t been able to much of that this year, but we hope to resume it soon.
Would you agree there continues to be an inherent social pressure on women to manage it all—home and work? What are your thoughts on issues of diversity in the legal profession?
The subject of diversity has gained momentum in the past few years, with several legislations also promoting it. Diversity is beneficial for any profession, not just legal. There’s a book, “Lean In”, written by Sheryl Sandberg, which stresses on diversity. Warren Buffet is quoted in it, saying that one of the reasons for his success was that he was only competing with half the population. Diversity is a very wide term, but to answer your question, I will focus, at the moment, on female representation in the legal profession. There are two sides to this. On one side, you can now see many women holding senior positions not only in the legal fraternity but also on the boards of the organizations, advising them on strategic issues and not just legal matters. Many organizations, on their part, are coming forward and taking initiatives to promote diversity. However, on the other side, there are researches that still point to a dismal picture, and suggest that more active steps need to be taken to bridge gender inequality.
What will be your piece of advice for aspiring and young lawyers looking to make a career as an In-house Counsel?
I will be delighted to share some thoughts from my experience working as an in-house counsel:
Be a legal business partner, not just a legal advisor.
Spend time in understanding the business well. If you understand the nuances of the business, you will be able to give sound legal and compliance advice.
Try to have multidisciplinary expertise, and have an overview of everything. It will help you bring legal, financial and customer perspectives to your advice.
Don’t restrict yourself to your area of work; spread your wings and be ready to take on bigger challenges in the organization even beyond legal.
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Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house
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