Ashima Ohri

A business economist, lawyer, and writer.

More From The Author >>

"The current pandemic will have continuing effect in some form or the other," Says Sanjay Mishra, former Head Legal at Adani Enterprises Limited

With 25 years of journey in the field of practicing law and working as Head Legal/GC for many large corporates in the country like JSW, Essel, GMR, Zee Entertainment and Adani group, Sanjay Mishra recounts his most memorable milestones and shines light on how amendments to IBC have been revolutionary, bringing back the investors' confidence in the business in this interview with Ashima Ohri, Managing Editor, BW Legal World.

Many Congratulations on featuring in BW Legal World’s General Counsel 100 list for the year 2020. We’d love to know about your journey so far, your most memorable experiences, and your thoughts on receiving this Award. 

First of all, I sincerely thank BW team for giving me such an esteemed recognition at a time when I had completed my 25 years of journey in the field of practicing law and working as Head Legal/GC for many large corporates in the country. At the very inception I must say that I am one of the few lawyers who started career working with one of the reputed law firms Singhania & Co. in 1995, and got the opportunity to learn and work for many prestigious clients both domestic and international, under competent team leaders. I too put everything from my side to enrich myself and make it contributory in my career path. Thereafter I started practicing as an independent advocate in Delhi and worked for a number of corporates and individuals mostly handling their corporate commercial matters, litigation, and advisory which continued till mid-2010, and during this period I did all kinds of legal matters in almost all the forums pan India. I got my first opportunity as Head Legal in a steel company in Mumbai and since then worked as head legal in large corporates like JSW, Essel, GMR, Zee Entertainment and Adani group. 

There are many memorable experiences in my journey so far but the one which always touches my heart is described here. It is also linked to the answer why I left my independent practice of more than a decade and decided to join corporate. I was in Mumbai in March 2010 and waiting at Nariman Point enjoying the sea breeze and looking at the high-rise offices, was dreaming if I could also get a chance to have good office in a corporate at Nariman Point ever in my career. Since I had a client meeting in the same area, I was waiting for it and just looking at the sky dreaming about ever getting such a chance. And after five months in August 2010, I along with my two friends was on a trip to Hyderabad and onward journey for some work and to visit Tirupati Balaji and Lord Shiva at Srisailam. After coming out of the airport we sat in our vehicle for a road journey when it started drizzling. At that time, I received a call by someone from Mumbai enquiring about my availability in Delhi to have a meeting with MD of a large corporate on the same day, which I declined as I was travelling but he insisted if I could take a return flight and reach on the same day to meet him. I thought for few seconds that I had gone to take blessings of the lord at the temple hence that should be my priority and not a job prospect. We completed our visits and returned to Delhi and it so happened, he again spoke to me after a week and requested to reach Mumbai the next day itself for an interview. Out of many others, I also met MD and had a long interaction. I felt less experienced after meeting everyone as all others were pretty senior and experienced. I returned the same day and the next day afternoon I received a call from the company that I was selected as Vice President Legal to head their legal function from its Nariman Point corporate office where the dream came true. From there I started my new journey with corporate legal. This is really the most memorable moment and a turning point in my life and then I got many recognitions and awards in different organisations and have been fortunate to get huge opportunities.

What do you attribute your success to? What would you say has helped you emerge as a top General Counsel in your industry?

I believe the reason for my success has been my constant desire to work hard and do better every single day of my life. Most importantly, you need to believe in yourself and know that life has so much to offer that you deserve. And when you consider all this, you are most likely to succeed in so many aspects of your life.

I take my work seriously and I believe the persistence to work towards achieving the goals despite obstacles, is what makes you good at your job. And I understand, all these factors possibly help me emerge at a position where I can reach.

What advice would you have for others who want to set off in a similar direction? 

 All I would like to say is, in order to achieve your goals, one needs to work hard with passion and believe in himself/herself and focus on commitment towards the goals. You need to enjoy your work despite challenges and make your journey meaningful. You need to let go of a lot of things and make your goals your priority, get rid of distractions, and always remember you are alone in this journey and the only person you can rely on is you. Make sure your goal is your passion and do not think of results, just do your best. 

Would you please share with our readers the array of work you handle at your organization. What is your in-house team size, and would you please allow us a little peek into your routine at work?

Though I had learnings in most of the areas of law however the main forte of my skill has been litigation, arbitration, and commercial disputes and fortunately, I got successful in handling such litigations in different forums pan India and still believe that the same is my strength. I have successfully handled and settled a number of disputes pertaining to shareholders, critical litigations at the Apex Court, and various other forums. I had a chance to work with a fair team size of ten to twenty members; however, I am fortunate to get the assignment of restructuring the entire legal team of such a large conglomerate like Essel Group and we did it successfully to create a more vibrant in-house legal team. This has been my best phase till now in my career where an organisation has reposed faith in me having my third stint with the group and I too have left no stone unturned in achieving the goals for my department.

Being head legal you have to lead the team from the front with all the assigned responsibilities, including handling pending and potential litigations, expediting recoveries, settling disputes, enriching knowledge and advising the management and business team.

In what ways has your business sector/industry been impacted by the pandemic and the subsequent second wave? How long would it take for the industry to revive?

Since my last stint was with Adani Group and we all have seen continuing pandemic, it had been a challenging time as the operation was part of essential services but the entire team worked in a very efficient manner and company continued to serve the client timely. As far as general economic conditions where the industry is part of it, I firmly believe that the current pandemic will have continuing effect in some form or the other as situation suggests nonetheless, I hope our Govt. will manage it better. As society, we need to be educated to behave responsibly in these difficult times.

What have been your key learnings as the legal gatekeepers of your company from the year past and what are your predictions for the future?

I always believe that the legal department has the prime responsibility to work for the protection of the interest of the organisation within the legal framework. I tried my best in all the organisations and inculcated in the team the thought to protect the business interest of the organisation apart from day-to-day affairs. As per my view organisations must nurture the in-house legal team and take them as part of their business and not utilise it as a mere function.

Any significant legislation or decision of the top court that has been a welcome change or has been rather mistimed in your opinion.

We all are aware that out of so many changes in the legislations in the recent past, IBC has been truly felt as revolutionary in a great sense because it has brought about the confidence in the business particularly investors. The environment has improved due to corrective steps and modifications in the legislations. Government of the day has made appreciable efforts in summarising the large numbers of different labour laws and tried to remove unwanted delay and complications and I hope it would also result in a positive outcome. 

An experience, matter, or person that left a lasting impression on you.

There are so many instances that have been memorable and will remain there throughout. As I mentioned I was entrusted with a tough responsibility by the top management of Essel/Zee group to revamp and consolidate the then a very large legal team engaged in different business verticals of the group and that assignment I could successfully complete with great support of management. I really got a chance to bring the desired changes functionally and effect infusion of fresh talent. I will always be grateful to the Essel Group for reposing faith in assigning me. Even in the last year of my tenure, the company assigned me a very critical and high-stake matter, which we fought with the best of our strategy and I led the team successfully.

Company Law Departments of the future: LegalTech tools that are transforming the traditional methods of in-house legal work in India.

In the recent past we have seen that role and functioning of legal departments in any organisation particularly large corporates have transformed and still they are in transition mainly due to evolving processes, changes in the system, use of available technology and tools of research work and these together have been successfully bringing constant up-gradation in the overall system. Organisations have also realised this and they too are supporting the legal function making it more vibrant and skilful in handling the issues. In my experience emerging tools have provided better solutions to the business and users in legislative provisions and contract administration.

What keeps you busy when you’re not working? A favourite book or movie/series that you'd like to recommend to our readers.

Fortunately, or so I had been so occupied in my role in the last 15 years that I hardly got time to read books other than law books or case materials but definitely I try to watch cricket and national news regularly. By chance,  I had planned to take a break a few months ago for some time, which I am enjoying currently and will be back soon to work with more energy and passion.

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

Tags assigned to this article:

Around The World