In Conversation With Sameet Gambhir, Vice President (Corp. Law) & Company Secretary, DCM Shriram Ltd

In this exclusive interview with our Editorial Lead, BW Legal World, Sameet talks briefly about his formative years. His mantras for building great legal teams, expert insights on some burgeoning issues and much more.

Formative Years 

Sameet, you had a thriving career as a Company Secretary in the industry. Was pursuing a law degree a natural consequence in terms of career progression? 

Company Secretary with a law degree is a great combination. While CS is a champion of compliance and governance, and the Company law and SEBI regulations are an important part of day to day life of the Company Secretary, a Law degree further helped me in my career progression for sure. I have been the company Secretary cum Legal head in many of my previous assignments. Law is not merely a degree, it is a way of life. While as Company Secretary, you are one of the KMP of the organisation but having a law degree additionally takes you to a different horizon and makes your job even more challenging hence more interesting and satisfactory. Therefore, a progression in your career as in-house counsel for sure.

Qualification as a C.S. or an LLM Degree from a reputed foreign university, what will be your suggestion to students facing decision paralysis? 

CS no doubt has great career opportunities in Industry as well as in practice both. However, LLM from a reputed foreign University has its own charm. Depending upon the interest and the circumstances of the student, an adequate call may be taken. However a combination of both is something which I would suggest frankly, if one can go for that.

Work as an In-House Counsel

What does a day at work look like? What are your roles and responsibilities?

The day-to-day routine in this profession is really exciting. No doubt you have a new challenge in front of you every day, but that’s what your kick is. The stakeholders are active today and understand their rights well. A high level of Governance and compliance is expected, and nothing less than that is workable. My current role as Company Secretary and head of corporate laws include Board Meetings, Committee meetings, corporate restructuring, day-to-day corporate law issues and compliance and many more. 

I am also one of the KMP of the company hence the responsibility and liability both increase. The best part of this role is that you are part of BoD and Committee meetings and help Board and Senior Management to take decisions on compliance, Governance and other legal issues. Interaction with Independent Directors, learnings from them and helping them has always been a great experience and is a continuing journey. SEBI regulations, Company law compliance and managing overseas subsidiaries are also part of my day-to-day work, which keeps me busy.

Your team at DCM Shriram has won accolades as the best compliance team under your leadership. What is the team size, and what are the mantras for building an amazing in-house legal team with a robust compliance framework?

Yes, we have won the best compliance team for two consecutive years in 2019 and 2020. It’s really a matter of pride for our entire team. These awards are dedicated to my team members who have always been a great support and have been doing their best. I always believe in teamwork and taking the team along. I think it’s important to understand the people rather than judge them. Once you understand each other, there is a great amount of trust developed, which leads to super working. Knowing your team is important, and being part of them is even more crucial. 

Everyone has one or the other strength and talent, it’s the duty of a leader to see that talent and use the potential. This not only creates a positive environment and bonding in the team but also motivates people even further. I have a team size of six, and I feel lucky to have such a wonderful team. 

Expert Insights

What role do you foresee in-house departments playing when it comes to integrating ESG parameters in businesses?

ESG is not an option, it’s a necessity today. I think we are already delayed in this. Today climate change, environment, diversity, inclusion, and governance are burring issues. Every corporate and even individual carries a duty towards this. When our PM says NetZero by 2070, it automatically becomes our duty to make that happen even before that. I think a duty or responsibility comes to all corporate, either big or small, and even individuals. Also, it’s a global issue, and each country has to participate and walk together on this road to make an even better world for the next generation. As far as the role of in-house departments, I think they can do a lot. In every action of the company, the businesses and the in-house people need to ensure these aspects, and a priority should be given to ESG. In our organisation, these are important agendas of all business/functions reviews, which include not only the steps taken but the further suggestions in the ESG area. Whether it is the transparency with employees and stakeholders in terms of the company’s policies, bringing a good governance measure, inclusion and diversity or being responsible during any manufacturing process in the organisation or community services, everywhere the inputs and contribution by in-house counsel are very important and to make these as part of organisation’s framework and objectives. 

How is the governance and compliance function going to change in the next five years with the emergence of AI?

I think AI and things like Metaverse and Blockchain are already present and are a reality today. One really can’t say what the future will be if we see the speed at which these things are emerging. Five years down the line, I think there will be other things which we haven’t even heard of today. At the kind of speed at which we live today, predicting 1-2 years ahead is also not possible. By the time we think its future it has already become present and reality. Governance and compliance function is also seeing rapid changes. We have all the new tools and AI-enabled technologies helping the function. Whether it’s contracting through AI or litigations or prediction of the outcome of any disputes/litigation is all real now. Things are so transparent today that when we talk about governance,  even a small step in the wrong direction can put you in great danger or reputational issues. The world is changing so fast that no one knows what the reality will be tomorrow. Not sure even the human mind's creativity will be there, or that too will be taken by AI. I am told today we have robots which have emotions and creative thinking like the human mind as well. Sometimes one gets scared also that in which world we will be going. Hopefully, all this technology should be for good and not for hurting humans.

As per a survey by Deloitte, 41% of non-banking and 14% of banking companies have no definition of a legal risk. With increased reported cases of fines on corporates, how do in-house legal departments contextualise legal risks in comparison with other risks?

Today legal and compliance are the most high-risk areas in my view. One has to be extra careful, and special care is required to mitigate the legal / compliance risks. There was a time when these issues were at the low footboard, but that is not the case today. Mitigation of legal and compliance risks has become the priority area for corporate Boards. I think one step in this direction by the SEBI is a welcome step to have the Risk Management Committee in certain listed companies mandatorily. The scope defined by SEBI and the mandatory appointment of an independent Director on such a committee has brought more seriousness, and the mitigation of these risks at the Board level is the demand of the day. Also regular review and monitoring is even more important, since in this fast-changing world, every day we have new risk emerging, and the current risks sometimes are getting obsolete so soon

Work-Life Balance 

How has remote working changed the concept of work-life balance?

The pandemic has changed the entire way of life and work. This was never anticipated by anyone. Initially, it was really different and a mixed feeling. Working from home was fun and relief, but the hours of work were long. There was no connect or disconnect connect of timings of work. Even at 10 PM at night you were working, which was really funny. Initially the feeling was good, but by the passage of time, it was becoming difficult to sustain like that. Thereafter everyone was missing office and wanted to go office.  So overall, the work-life balance, if you ask me, was not so good during a pandemic. But one great thing we learnt is that remote working is possible, and hybrid working is even more successful and liked by people.  Therefore in remote working, the work-life balance may have issues (though now there is much more discipline in remote working swell), but hybrid working is proving to be wonderful so far as the work-life balance is concerned. People are not only saving time and effort in travelling but also able to spend time with family without work being affected adversely. 

Advice and Book Recommendations

What advice would you like to give to young lawyers wanting to tread a similar path?

My advice to young lawyers or professionals is very simple and to the point:

  • Be yourself, and don’t try to be like someone else or copy anyone. You are the original what you are, and no one can replace you; hence believe in yourself and be the original. You may have role models which you may follow and learn from them but be yourself that’s important. 
  • Find a mentor who should be a real friend, guide and philosopher for you and is available to help/guide you at any time. Not necessary a very big or famous man; it could be your friend, sibling, family member, professional friend / senior or anyone in whom you believe and who has no vested interest in guiding you.
  • The third most important thing for a young lawyer is to keep yourself updated continuously and keep reading. It should be your daily habit to spend 30 minutes updating yourself. 
  • And last but not least, embrace technology; that’s the future. Ready for all kinds of challenges as no one knows what lies in future, particularly because of the speed at which we are living today.

Would you please recommend any book that has left a lasting impression on your mind?

There are many books which have taught me a lot, and I recommend to everyone that one should keep the habit of reading good books. However, if you ask me about one book, I would say the book named “Tough times never last, but tough people do”. This book I read almost  30 years ago, but even today, it has a lasting impression on my mind. The lessons learnt and the stories in the book still guide me, and I keep reading that book again also whenever I get the opportunity. A must-read...

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