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For 28 years, The Legal 500 has been analysing the capabilities of law firms across the world. The GC Powerlist is the latest publication from The Legal 500, turning its attention to the in-house function, and recognising those corporate counsel who are driving the legal business forward. The latest edition is the GC Powerlist: Turkey, which identifies an array of the most influential and innovative in-house counsel working in the region ...read more
The GC Powerlist is a series of publications, highlighting the most influential in-house lawyers in business today.
We have canvassed opinions from law firm partners and in-house counsel across Turkey, to identify corporate counsel that have been instrumental in changing or forming opinions within their company or industry; developing brilliant technical solutions to complex issues; creating innovative structures to ensure that the in-house function is driving the business forward; or providing a business working model that other corporate counsel should follow. Our team of experienced researchers assessed the nominations, speaking both to general counsel and nominating lawyers to finalise each jurisdictional list. GC Powerlist: Turkey features not just information on why that individual has made the list, but also comment from the law firms about how they feel individual corporate counsel have helped shape innovation in the legal industry.
If you have feedback on the GC Powerlist: Turkey, or wish to nominate other in-house individuals (either in Turkey or global), please do get in touch at email@example.com.
We hope that this listing will stimulate debate around the role of the in-house lawyer and help corporate counsel with possible improvements and efficiencies in running their departments.
|David Burgess||Julia Ross||Athina Tzemprin|
|Publishing Director||Senior Researcher||Researcher|
GC Powerlist: Turkey
(listed in alphabetical order; click on an individual to view an expanded biography)
TAV Airport Holding
Corporate secretary, legal and compliance
Legal & corporate affairs director
Efe İçecek Sanayi ve Ticaret A.Ş
Head of legal
Country legal manager
Head of legal
Mey İçki San. Ve Tic. A.S.
Chief legal officer
Head of legal
Gunce Çakır Ildun
Head of legal
Head of legal
AvivaSA Pension and Life Insurance
Mehmet Celal Savas
General counsel and board member
Chief legal counsel / vice president
ENKA Insaat ve Sanayi A.S
Tuba Çetin Alpa
Head of legal department
Head legal counsel
Procter & Gamble
Chief legal counsel
ING Bank A.S.
Chief legal officer
D-smart (Dogan TV Digital Platform Isletmeciligi A.S)
Nazli Dereli Oba
Zeynep Derman Küçükönder
Vice president & associate general counsel legal operations international
Head of legal & compliance officer
Legal and corporate affairs director
Chief legal counsel
General counsel Greater Middle East & Africa
Legal director CIS, Greater Europe, MEA
Bengü Halavut Yıldırım
Head legal counsel and corporate compliance officer
Asli Irmak Acar Kurşun
Senior legal counsel
Head of legal & compliance, country general counsel
Legal affairs director
Head of legal Turkey & MENA,
General counsel and corporate legal manager
Generali Sigorta A.Ş.
Senior legal counsel
Limak Yatırım Enerji Üretim İşletme Hizmetleri ve İnşaat A.Ş.
Senior legal counsel
Head of legal
Ursa Insulation SA
Head of legal
British American Tobacco
Meltem Özker Gündüz
Legal affairs and compliance director
Buse Pınar Kaçar
Chief legal and corporate affairs officer
Deniz Reha Özilhan
Head of legal
European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD)
Gülenay Ruşen Gelmez
Legal counsel and compliance officer
Head of legal
Vice president - general counsel
Simhan Savaşçın Başaran
Chief legal counsel
Assistant general counsel, member of the regional management board
Nihan Seda Kişi
Burcu Sener Sözer
Head of legal
Head of legal
BNP Paribas Cardif
Head of legal & country compliance officer
"RB (formerly Reckitt Benckiser) "
Legal affairs director
Country legal counsel, company secretary and assistant general manager
Head of legal
Legal affairs director
Head legal counsel
Head of legal
Head of legal and compliance
Koç Holding A.Ş.
Legal affairs director
Group legal director
Akkok Sanayi Yatirim ve Gelistirme AS
Ceyda Akbal joined TAV Airport Holding, the leading airport operator in Turkey, in 2009 as legal counsel and, after only three years, was promoted to the role of general counsel. She currently leads a team of four legal counsel and one intern. During her time in this role she has centralised legal consultancy works within all of the TAV group companies. Becoming general counsel at TAV Airport Holdings has been the biggest achievement for Akbal so far in her career: ‘it is a richness for a lawyer to work as a legal expert in a niche sector like the management of airport operations, which covers a wide range of areas including retail, security, food & beverage and IT’. As TAV is a corporation which is rapidly developing and growing internationally, Akbal has had the chance to work on major international projects along with the largest and most important finance corporations and legal consultants. ‘I think responsiveness, timing and sense of responsibility are essential and can usually be improved upon’.
During his time as corporate secretary in Mercedes Benz, Tansu Akin has turned a one person in-house department into an 11 member team that excels in all areas of its responsibilities. When he first joined the company, all legal functions were generally undertaken by external counsel and there was only one in-house lawyer. The in-house legal department has been reorganised and restructured to be the primary source of legal support for the region. Recently the legal team has acquired the external affairs function and lobbying activities, and as such are very much integrated with the legal mind-set and are relevant with FCPA compliance. Akin considers gaining an exemption from the Turkish Antitrust Authority to maintain an existing qualitative distribution structure, despite a 50% market share, his biggest career achievement. It saved his company several hundred million Turkish liras through avoiding the potential costs for restructuring the distribution system and eliminating the risk of market share loss. Akin faced the biggest challenge of his in-house career during the FCPA compliance investigation by the US Department of Justice and Securities and Exchange Commission. ‘We had to fight for several bribery accusations, but in the end, we could eliminate most of the accusations’. What he enjoys most about his role is the continuous learning process and he adds that ‘the day I stop learning new things is the time for a change’.
Tülay Aktan joined Efe İçecek Sanayi ve Ticaret A.Ş in 2012 as the legal and corporate affairs director. She invested a lot of time and effort in the improvement of communication between her department and others across the company, which improved the efficiency of the legal work and created a positive perception of the legal team within the company. For Aktan the best thing about her role is that it allows her to participate in the solution-making process and establishing contacts with authorities that can lead to practical solutions for the company’s interests.
Ozan Alakuştekin takes pride in having given a start to the whole legal structure of THY OPET, which ranks 25th on Turkey’s Fortune 500 list. Head of legal, Alakuştekin has been at THY OPET for five years, since its incorporation. Prior to his current role, he was a senior associate in the market-leading law firm Pekin & Pekin. The biggest challenge he has faced throughout his in-house career was in 2010, while working as a senior associate for Opet Petrolcülük, the second biggest oil supply and distribution company in Turkey. The Turkish Competition Authority had taken a decision that limited the retail agreements of the company for five years. ‘As the legal team, we had terminated all our agreements (1,300 at the time), renewed them and helped the sales team to re-obtain beneficiary rights on the gas stations within 1 and a half months. The most difficult part of that period was that we had to inspect every single agreement in light of the Competition Board decision. Thankfully, at the end of that period, Opet did not face a single imposition regarding the procedures completed’.
Highly experienced in corporate and commercial affairs, Oyku Api was appointed country legal manager at Metlife in 2011. Prior to that, Api was working for a law firm, dealing with international clients on corporate, commercial and competition matters, which later proved very useful for her in-house career. When she joined Metlife one of her top aims and achievements was to create a favourable perception of the legal department within the business. ‘I think the biggest change that I made is that I created an awareness in the company that legal is not here to stop the business, in fact it is here to guide the business to realise our company strategies together by complying with the required laws and regulations’. Working in a highly regulated area, Api believes there is not much an in-house lawyer can do to change the external factors that affect the business, but they can do a lot to predict and be prepared. ‘I pay attention to the world’s agenda. If something happens in China I know that there might be side effects in Turkey as well. So I am trying to monitor the developments and get prepared to overcome the challenges’. Api is currently leading the local chapter of a Metlife global diversity project and has organised training events and discussions on leadership models, bias and ways to tackle similar issues as part of a woman’s career path. She has made impressive progress with the project’s programming in Turkey and has encouraged female employees to vocalise opinions on the project, using various multimedia platforms. She was the first counsel in Turkey to receive the Matthew J. Whitehead II Individual Diversity Award for her work on this project.
Highly experienced in the banking sector, Berna Avdan has worked for some of the country’s biggest banks. She started her career in the banking sector with Osmanli Bank, where she served as an attorney at law for four years; in 2001 she moved to HSBC as a legal counsel and a further four years later she joined Garanti Bank. Her biggest contribution to the work of the legal department at Garanti Bank has been the establishment of divisions, where lawyers are assigned tasks in accordance to their area of specialisation. With more than 30 employees reporting directly to her, Avdan enjoys leading, coaching and working closely with her team to always achieve the best outcomes for the company.
A well-known and widely respected lawyer, Meltem Azbazdar has had an impressive career spanning in-house and in private practice. She started her career in the Istanbul offices of Denton Wilde Sapte. She then moved to the leading Turkish law firm Herguner Bilgen Ozeke, where she worked as commercial group head, before assuming her first in-house role as Carrefour Group Turkey’s legal director. During her time in Carrefour, she was promoted to real estate investments and business development director; she managed a team of 40 people and she led major acquisitions, including Carrefour Turkey’s IPO to the ISE. Before assuming her current role in Mey İçki in 2013, Azbazdar had worked as the founding partner of a boutique law firm. Since joining Mey İçki, she has introduced important reforms in the workings of the legal function. One of her defining tasks was the implementation of a law-firm structure within the legal department, where the team members are organised in line with their expertise. Mey İçki is the leading spirits company in Turkey that was acquired by Diageo in 2011. During the last few years Turkey has introduced very strict regulation on the advertisement and sales of alcohol. Meltem Azbazdar concedes that operating in such a highly regulated area has been a major challenge for her. ‘We are working on a slippery ground as the eye and control of the regulatory body is always on our company. We have learnt to become more commercially minded and created innovative legal solutions, whilst protecting the business’.
A business-oriented commercial lawyer, Hakan Bekiroğlu always strives to invest a lot of personal enthusiasm in his work. As chief legal officer at Tofaş, the market-leading company in the automotive sector in Turkey, Bekiroğlu has introduced many changes in the legal department since his arrival in the company. He restructured the organisation of the legal department, redefined the roles and content of the legal services provided to the company and implemented a sophisticated IT infrastructure, including things such as agreements and document retention. Leading all the legal functions of a foreign-owned company (Tofaş is a joint venture of Fiat and Koç Holding) listed on the Istanbul Stock Exchange, with wide sales in the region and a wide variety of import and export operations, can be quite challenging. ‘As the person in charge of the legal department, the biggest challenge has always been to set a structure that manages the risks of all those aspects of the company combined with right ingredients for providing the best service to the company’. He believes that the legal team should not be considered as the ‘end’ but rather as ‘an enabler of business success where operations perform extraordinary acts on the high-rope, while we as lawyers set a reliable safety net beneath them’. He sees the role of the in-house departments becoming more and more demanding in the future, ‘as the involved aspects of legal support in modern age management are of great importance’. Bekiroğlu actively participates in meetings and collaborations with governmental authorities regarding legislation that have or could potentially have an impact on the industry.
Supporting the legal operations of AstraZeneca across the Middle East, Africa and Turkey, requires a high degree of commercial alignment with the businesses goals. Ümit Çakır, as acting head of legal, finds his motivation in the end results of his counselling, seeing the direct impact that it can have on the success and security of the company. When he joined AstraZeneca the company did not have rigid in-house legal structures. With his ten-year experience in the pharmaceutical industry he designed the necessary structures and established the legal department, turning it into what it is today. During his time in this role he has had many successful Intellectual Property lawsuits and business development deals. On behalf of AstraZeneca he has had real impact on the country-wide legal landscape as well, having advocated for a law that would prohibit the sales of pharmaceutical products online. The law is now in its implementation phase. Last year AstraZeneca signed an agreement with Koç University for their cooperation on a research project concerning drug development, for which Çakır is leading the legal support and acting chairman of the Intellectual Property committee. When working with external law firms he would like to see outside counsel more aligned with the business goals: ‘I’m acting as the mediator between the client and external counsel, so it would be good if they could improve their knowledge on the local industry, the real needs and dynamics of the business’ he says.
With 15 years of in-house experience in the banking sector, Gunce Çakır İldun’s role has been pivotal for the success of the legal work at Deutsche Bank Turkey. ‘There was no legal department when I was hired in 2006. I reviewed and rearranged the relationship with the law firms and executed contracts with them where necessary’ she says. Using her previous experiences, Çakir İldun implemented various regulatory changes, such as capital markets regulation and outsourcing regulation; the reforms she introduced brought a tangible reduction in the legal costs of the company. When it comes to external law firms, she would like to see them hiring counsel with previous in-house experience, as this would help them understand the dynamics of the business. Due to her vast experiences, Çakir İldun is regularly selected to be a panel speaker at seminars on leading practices in law department management.
Heading all legal operations at AvivaSA, one of Turkey's leading private pension and life insurance companies and a joint venture with Sabanci Group, Kurtuluş Çaltekin joined the company in 2012. During the past three years he has introduced digital technologies in the legal department, including contract management and archiving programs. One of the biggest reforms he has implemented in the company is the separation and outsourcing of litigation from the legal department. The biggest achievements of his in-house career include establishing an insurance company (Finans Emeklilik), a complex M&A transaction (Cigna Finans Emeklilik) and the completion of IPO (AvivaSA).
As the general counsel of Siemens Turkey for nearly a decade, Mehmet Celal Savas has succeeded in transcending the structure of the legal department from ‘the classic legal concept to a real business partner’. Also a board member of the regional company, Savas enjoys working as a true partner with very close interaction with the business and seeing the trust of the company towards him. He believes that the key to success for outside counsel is the understanding of the business needs and that is what he would like law firms to improve upon. Prior to his role in Siemens, Celal Savas was a legal counsel at BP Petrolleri, while previously he owned a private practice until 2000 when he decided to take up the challenge of moving in-house in a foreign company.
‘With a workforce of over 20,000 people and with more than 50 subsidiaries operating globally mainly in construction, energy and real estate sectors, my role requires me to oversee and manage the handling of many complex and international matters on various topics, from different arms of the business. This is the most challenging, and at the same time fascinating, aspect of my role’. Cem Çeliker joined ENKA in 2010 as chief legal counsel. Prior to that he had worked for six years in the London offices of Shearman and Sterling LLP. A highly skilled lawyer, Çeliker still recognises the need for a good understanding of the business, ‘its cost and time pressures, competitive realities and operating culture’ as fundamental to the success of the legal department. To that end, Çeliker invests in the continuous education and development of the personnel, so as to be better prepared for all regulatory and market changes. ‘In consultation with ENKA Academy, we have introduced company-wide, periodic training programs to increase risk awareness of our personnel at every level. We invite leading experts in their respective fields to join us in making these presentations. We continually refine the seminars to reflect ongoing changes in business risk’ he says.
During her 17-year tenure as senior lawyer and head of legal department for Cargill, Tuba Çetin Alpa has played a central role in the company’s regional growth. Cargill is an American global corporation that provides food, agriculture, financial and industrial services. Çetin Alpa joined Cargill Turkey in 1998, taking up the challenge of establishing an in-house legal department from scratch. The changes she spearheaded have resulted in significant reduction of bureaucracy over legal documentation. She has invested in the legal training of the non-legal staff, which has increased the understanding of the legal function within the company. Çetin Alpa impressed the business with her ability to navigate complex deals, when she successfully led two acquisitions and two joint ventures within a very limited period of time. She concedes that the regulatory changes on the food sector have been a big challenge for their business: ‘in-depth knowledge of the technical details concerning the regulation, and understanding of the underlying causes are the key to overcome those challenges’.
Gözde Çolak joined Procter & Gamble in 2009 as an assistant legal counsel; in 2011 she was promoted to legal counsel and is currently the acting head legal counsel. With a 90% success rate in more than 400 advertising disputes that she has handled, Çolak has had a major contribution to the company's strong reputation in the Turkish market. One of the biggest achievements of her in-house career was the creation of a support model for e-commerce and digital matters. ‘As one of the most important countries in terms of its high internet, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube usage with a huge young population, this resulted in many successful projects in Turkey as well some very important pilot projects which were first executed in Turkey’. During her time at Procter & Gamble Turkey, she has brought many simplifications in the working of the legal department and she has invested a lot of effort in building a trust relationship with the internal clients. ‘From my perspective, being an indispensable part of the team is the key to success. Therefore, this was always a high priority for me and I worked very hard to increase the level of trust in order to create a strong base for providing pro-active and protective consultation’.
The highly praised Çiğdem Dayan, ING Bank’s chief legal counsel, has impressed peers and clients alike with her navigation of major deals. A highly experienced lawyer within the banking sector, Dayan commenced her in-house career at Yapı ve Kredi Bankası, where she held senior positions such as vice president and senior vice president of the legal department. In 2006 she moved to Oyak Bank as chief legal counsel. One year later the bank was purchased by ING Bank NV and Dayan assumed the role of the chief legal counsel in ING Bank. Currently she leads a strong team of 18 lawyers and nine paralegals. ‘We encouraged each other to be transparent in our team and most importantly to share knowledge with each other. We always emphasised the importance of team work and eventually we created a team which focuses on “us” rather than “I”. We made brain-storming sessions and exchanged opinions in each important case, which provided us with the working organisation to reach the best outcome’ she says. Throughout her in-house career, Dayan has faced unique legal challenges. ‘In 2003-2004 I drafted an agreement for a loan restructuring project I was leading and a copy of this agreement was requested by the World Bank because it was an interesting, unique project that had not been enforced before. The agreement was designed to benefit both parties of the deal’ she says.
Prior to the establishment of D-smart, Oktay Demir was a legal consultant at Dogan TV Holding. He was appointed chief legal officer to take up the challenge of establishing a legal department in the newly created subsidiary. ‘The conditions were not easy. There was a monopolist pay TV company which was already dominating the Turkish market, having the most premium content: Turkish Super Football League’, he says. He established the legal department on the principle of inclusion of the legal team in the management structure and he made the legal staff real partners of the executive committee. Working in an increasingly regulated environment, his contribution has been crucial for the company, especially considering the start-up phase that it was in. ‘I can mention many important situations in which we played a crucial role but I think the most important is having persuaded the Competition Authority during its sublicense decision. The market leader which has the broadcasting rights of Turkish Super League extended its contract with Turkish Football Federation without any tender. I referred to the Competition Authority that these extensions were breaching the Act. We eventually achieved a favourable decision that allowed us to tender for the lucrative content’.
For Nazli Dereli Oba, legal coordinator at Karadeniz Holding, the creation of the legal department in the company has been the greatest achievement of her in-house career. In 2012, when she started in Karadeniz Holding, there was no legal department and the first challenge she faced was finding the right lawyers. Her goal was to slowly create a central legal department that would provide high-quality legal services to the group as a whole. Initially she recruited one lawyer to follow up on Turkish law matters and another for international business transactions of the company, gradually increasing the number of in-house counsel as the business expanded. ‘Three years ago, we had one single lawyer, today, not only do we have a legal department of five lawyers, but also more than 200 lawyers that we work with around the world. As the general counsel, it is my responsibility to ensure that we find the right legal partners in each jurisdiction that we go to and to create a team of lawyers that have the best interests of this growing company’. A high profile lawyer, Dereli Oba was a panel speaker at Boden Law’s Conference on Dispute Avoidance and Investment Protection in the Energy Sector.
Described as ‘a proactive individual with strong negotiation skills’, Coca-Cola Turkey’s legal director Zeynep Derman Küçükönder has been working in-house for more than 17 years. With extensive experience in multinational companies, Derman Küçükönder started her in-house career as an assistant legal counsel at Hewlett Packard. In 2010 she moved to Superonline AS where she served as legal counsel for five years before joining Coca-Cola Turkey. She began her career at Coca-Cola as senior counsel and she has prompted significant change in the legal department ever since. Now, as legal director, she is an active member of the leadership and a key business partner that provides strategic legal counselling in alignment with the company’s policies. She recently contributed to two M&A projects that were crucial for the company’s development. When selecting external counsel, responsiveness is one of the most important variables for Derman Küçükönder and she adds: ‘For me it is essential that they are business minded, try to understand the business and create solutions, not only talking in accordance to the law. I like them to get the practice, follow up legislations, amendments and informing us when a law has changed or is about to change so we can take that into consideration when taking decisions’. She was recently selected to be a speaker in the Global Brand Protection Summit in Amsterdam, where she will be speaking about the use of defensive social media.
Tugabay Ekinli, vice president and associate general counsel legal operations international at GSK believes he has always been very lucky in his career. It was less than a decade ago when he decided to leave his job as a legal manager in a reputable company in Ankara for a temporary contract with Peugeot, Istanbul. Ever since taking that step his career has been on the fast track. He served as the head of legal in Peugeot for one and a half years, until 2007 when he moved to GSK as corporate and legal affairs director. From 2011 to 2012 he served as the general counsel and legal director at 3M and in 2012 he moved back to GSK, where three months ago he was appointed to the role of vice president & associate general counsel. ‘My appointment at GSK legal has been the biggest achievement in my in-house career’, he says. In his current role he has simplified processes within the legal department and he has established best-practice sharing platforms. He is responsible for the legal activities in the MENA region, Commonwealth of Independent States and Russia and he finds the differences within the role as one of the most exciting things about his job: ‘I think it is one of the most complex regions in the world, but also very exciting from a diversity perspective. It is really exciting to see many different countries, cultures, businesses and legal systems. I enjoy recruiting emerging talent from a range of different backgrounds’.
Billed as a ‘pragmatic and result-oriented professional’ Selin Evrem has been head of legal and compliance officer at Henkel Turkey since 2013. Prior to joining Henkel, Evrem was a corporate senior counsel at Carrefour Group for three years and a corporate legal counsel in Habboush Energy Group; previously she was an associate with Ernst & Young for three years. Last year Evrem became an executive committee member at Henkel, demonstrating the business knowledge that she has acquired throughout her varied career. ‘Moving onto the executive committee was a completely different environment than the world I got used to as a lawyer. You can call it a challenge, but it sure was a nice one’. Evrem relished the opportunity to learn more about the operation of the company, using this to build close relationships with the senior management on a local and global level. She has been involved in many global M&A and restructuring projects, some of which she would class as the biggest achievements of her career. She believes that the challenges of her position have been very constructive in allowing her to develop professionally. ‘Working in a well-organised multinational company gives you the chance to discover different legal environments and business cultures. Cultural intelligence is one of the most valuable assets of today's business world’. Evrem has participated as a panel speaker in conferences on compliance and anti-corruption practices in Turkey.
Heading all legal and corporate affairs in Microsoft Turkey, Yasemin Genc has strived to shift the perception of the legal department within the business. To this end she has taken many initiatives: organising the legal workings in full alignment with business needs, integrating legal and corporate affairs planning, enhancing strategic planning to predict and avoid future hurdles and simplifying processes. These actions have upgraded the role of legal and corporate affairs director from mere provider of basic legal support to a substantial part of the business, strategically and operationally. She takes pride in the positive change in the perception of the legal team within the business, moving from a rather reactive support function to a proactive partnership and becoming part of the leadership team. ‘I believe the value I am bringing to my company is leading my clients through the complexities and ambiguities of our environment with all of the above. In the past, the same role was designed to provide basic legal support to the business with regard to mainly contracts’ she adds.
With continuing activities of the Turkish construction company IC Holding at home and an increasing number of projects and transactions throughout the world, chief legal counsel Zihni Gönen is managing a team of 50 employees that report directly to him. He upgraded the role of the legal department by introducing new organisation and new working methodologies, creating a full-scale legal team dealing with the eight different sectors that the group companies operate in. He has acted as chief negotiator for multibillion Euro Engineering, Procurement and Construction and Finance Contracts in various jurisdictions and as chief lawyer for multimillion USD Arbitration cases. The biggest challenge of his in-house career was when he acted as the sole negotiator for one of the biggest infrastructure projects in the country. He considers business-mindedness the most important asset for outside counsel, as that enables them to better serve commercial objectives.
Ebru Gürdemir joined Tetrapak as a legal counsel heading all legal operations across Greater Middle East and Africa in 2011. She has already had an impressive in-house career in some of the biggest multinational companies across a variety of industries, such as Hewlett Packard, Colgate Palmolive and British American Tobacco. Currently she is involved in the establishment of the Legal Affairs Organisation, a project that started in 2009. Since assuming her role, she has led the project and worked closely with the business in assessing the legal and compliance needs and structuring the organisation for the region. Having managed legal departments of four multinational companies, Gürdemir has had many successful moments: ‘I remember assisting the global legal team of Colgate Palmolive in successfully arbitrating with the local joint venture partner and achieving the desired, fantastic result’. Gürdemir finds the complex legal environment of the Middle East and Africa to be one of the biggest challenges to overcome in her current role, but at the same time she enjoys the diversity of legal systems along with the cultural diversity.
Heading all legal operations of Paypal in the CIS, MEA and Greater European regions, Senay Gurel has taken up a very challenging role dealing with e-money, a fast evolving area, not yet regulated in some countries. ‘Educating regulators and partners about what e-money is and how it should be regulated is an everyday challenge, especially where the regulation changes so rapidly to adjust to market changes’ she comments. When she assumed her role in Paypal, she was the only in-house counsel. Four years later, the region she is covering with her team has expanded and she has developed new working tools, templates and best practice. ‘We have built the legal department in the region and brought it to a certain level of maturity in terms of processes and operational excellence’. Two years ago her team obtained an e-money license in Russia and they are about to file the same in Turkey. ‘These are amazing projects with hundreds of people involved’ she says. Before joining Paypal Turkey Gurel had worked as an associate with Linklaters specialising on M&A, while previously she was an associate with Gide Loyrette Nouel in Paris.
Having served for nearly seven years as the head legal counsel and corporate compliance officer for Bayer, a global enterprise with core competencies in the field of healthcare, agriculture and high-tech polymer materials, Bengü Halavut Yıldırım has achieved many changes in the workings of the legal department. She established the legal and compliance department of the local branch in 2008. Among the changes she introduced to optimise the workings of the legal department, she organised the legal communications and documentation and established a very powerful external team with clear and accountable reporting. ‘I improved the partnership between legal and the business and now we sit on the company’s Turkey council, which works like the board of managers’. Halavut Yıldırım is the first legal compliance officer in the company, overseeing compliance cases and ensuring the company complies with regulatory requirements. ‘Trying to create a compliance culture in a company where employees had never worked with an internal legal counsel and had no legal training was the biggest challenge and achievement in my in-house career’ she says.
Aslı Irmak Acar Kurşun has experienced rapid progression over the course of her career. Only four years after the start of her professional career she became the first in-house counsel in LG Electronics Turkey. Previously she was an associate in Mehmet Gun & Partners, one of the largest law firms in Turkey. With multiple roles and responsibilities as the only in-house lawyer at the time, Acar Kurşun’s challenge was not only the establishment of the legal department, but also the creation of legal awareness across the sales and marketing teams. For this challenge, training and good communication were key to her success. ‘Today there is a very successful legal team in LG Turkey, recognised by everyone in the company. Each employee now knows the importance of the law, legal processes and effects of infringements. We achieved a considerably high reduction on legal risks and created legal awareness’. For Acar Kurşun professionalism towards the company is not the only aim, ‘also what you leave to your successor is very important’ she adds. She has introduced an online database that feeds all documentation into the company system. ‘One day in the future, I may not be in the company, but my successor can reach the database and easily see the full picture with the history’ she comments.
For Pamela Iyer, senior legal counsel at PM Group, every day at the office is an achievement, as in-house counsel are required to find solutions to business issues as and when they arise. ‘It would be too easy to refer to obvious milestones such as a financial closure of a project for a successful outcome, but it’s often the work behind the scenes, as the general counsel is the unsung hero; when you look back at a week's worth of emails and your sent items box, you realise that you didn’t simply make critical business decisions, you made someone's life just a little bit easier’. It is this stewardship of the everyday business that make Iyer’s role both a challenge and an enjoyment.
Necati Karabayır joined Vaillant, an internationally operating heating, ventilation and air-conditioning technology in 2013, after leaving Siemens. An ambitious individual, it took Necati just eight years to reach the level of general counsel for Vaillant. As part of the executive committee he enjoys influencing business decisions and seeing the results of his advice on the ultimate business outcomes. During the last two years he has reorganised the legal team, ensuring that each lawyer is responsible for a different business unit, providing the team with better experiences and the business with closer support.
During his 17 years of experience within Çimentas Group, Kayhan Karabayır has taken wide-reaching initiatives to increase the proactivity and productivity of the legal department. ‘I developed the information channels in order to get informed well before the legal issues arise. I improved the skills of my colleagues in terms of knowledge of the company operations. We organised our department and work partitions based on business units not based on legal matters. By doing so, each colleague had the chance to gain deep knowledge about the business and operations of the relevant business unit that they are responsible for’. These changes have made the legal department a crucial part of the operations. He additionally set key performance indicators in the department, which required that his colleagues present at least two alternative solutions for any issue they are handling. ‘In summary, I brought the legal department into a position of being more operational rather than being only a supportive function’ he comments. The changes that Karabayır has spearheaded as legal affairs director have led to him gaining a position on the executive committee. He considers this increase of responsibility as one of the biggest achievements of his in-house career.
Hande Karakülah spent almost five years at British American Tobacco, before moving industry to join Avon, one of the world's leading direct sellers of beauty and related products, as head of legal. During her time at Avon, Hande has brought many changes in the workings of the legal department: ‘we have evaluated the legal expertise required for certain job roles, carried out workshops for continuous training, and created a strategy based on what and how the legal department should support the business. In that respect we follow the strategy to make sure we achieve the target on a monthly basis and that is reflected in the outcome and the quality of what we’re doing’. With labour litigation costs being the biggest challenge for the company, Karakülah’s biggest achievement has been the minimisation of that expenditure. ‘We have taken steps to make sure we reduce these costs - making sure we don’t lose the case or at least minimise the cost’. What she enjoys most about her role is being able to advise the business while also being part of the management structure. Hande is a member of Istanbul Bar Association, European Professional Women Network and International Transparency Association.
Özen Keskin recently returned to Generali, the global insurance giant set to be one the main players in the Turkish market, taking up the challenge of building an in-house legal department. She first joined the company in 2010 as the legal manager. Three years later she moved to Trakya Elektrik, an energy company. In 2014 she joined Bayer Turkey as the legal manager and in October 2015 she assumed her current role as general counsel at Generali. During her first term in Generali, Keskin led all the legal work for the transformation of the company into the online and direct sales system. ‘I designed the whole IT system to be used by the legal and claims department working with the IT services provider. I was also an essential part of the project to implement the online and direct sales, which was a groundbreaking move in the Turkish insurance sector’ she comments. A leading expert in the industry, Keksin’s ability to overcome the challenges brought by the continuous legislative changes has impressed the business.
Cesur Kılınç has been the general counsel of Anadolu Group since 2000. Kılınç joined the company, one of Turkey’s leading conglomerates, as legal director in 1994. Prior to that, he worked as consultant in law for ENKA, and Çoflar Müflavirlik A.fi. During his time at Anadolu he has brought significant changes. He revolutionised the legal department by implementing a more proactive and solution-driven approach and introduced English as the working language, which for an international company with branches in more than ten countries is a key reform. His vision was to create a legal department that would provide expeditious and protective legal solutions, be proactive, have a wide scope, act with common sense, work with expertise and knowledge, act professionally and be a solution partner of the stakeholders. ‘I would say that the biggest achievement of my in-house career to date is the establishment of the group’s legal department with the mentioned perspectives’. He takes credits for his crucial role in the group while it was moving towards becoming an international company, expanding geographically through numerous Joint Venture agreements. This spanned different international brands in a variety of territories, with the realisation of IPOs, merger of four publicly listed beer companies and restructuring of the group companies. ‘Taking effective solutions and business-oriented stance in all material transactions of the group in a wide range of investments in various territories, successfully closing all the deals and at the same time trying to establish the legal department having the above mentioned perspectives, was the biggest challenge I have faced’ he comments.
Limak Holding is a Turkish conglomerate with major operations in the fields of energy, infrastructure, tourism, port and airport management and aviation; it has been included in the world’s largest international construction companies list of Engineering News Record Magazine. Selin Küçükkayıkçı joined the company in 2013, taking up the challenge of assuming her first in-house role. Prior to that she worked for Çakmak Avukatlık Bürosu, one of the most respected top-tier law-firms in Turkey, also affiliated with White & Case. As the first in-house counsel to join Limak Holding, Küçükkayıkçı’s mission has been the creation of a ‘strong and sustainable department within the company’.
Alshaya’s senior legal counsel, Gözde Kuşçuoğlu, has served the company for nine years and has always performed to the highest standards. When she first joined, the successful retail franchise company did not have legal infrastructure systems, and her first challenge was to set about establishing documents archiving and agreement workflow systems, as well as creating standard templates for contracts. In one of her most memorable deals Kuşçuoğlu 'established the legal structure of the overseas expansion in one of the Turkic Republics and dealt with the adoption of the local legal regulations to the company's operations’. Also a signatory authority of the company, Kuşçuoğlu enjoys being a central part of the business.
Ursa's head of legal, Ana Lluch is responsible for 20 jurisdictions in which the company operates, including Turkey. When she first assumed her position in 2005 there was no legal culture in Ursa and the legal team was not involved in the representation of the company. ‘We faced many problems. Setting up the new legal culture in a company from scratch was not an easy thing, but we made the business understand the benefits of it’ she says. This psychological change was a process that Lluch managed, proving the worth of the legal department over a period of time. The introduction of a unified system in the legal workings of the company and developing policies and norms focusing on transparency was a crucial first step for the department. Among her biggest achievements Lluch lists an arbitration against the seller of a Turkish factory, the outcome of which far exceeded the best case scenario anticipated by the company. Lluch has faced many challenges during her in-house career, but ‘managing 30 legal entities with different jurisdictions, idiosyncrasy, practice and no claim, no penalties so far’ has been the biggest hurdle which she has overcome successfully.
A highly skilled energy lawyer with 15 years of experience in different sectors of the energy industry, Müge Önal heads all Eurasian legal activities of Lukoil, Russia’s second largest oil company. Before assuming this role in 2014, Önal was manager of legal affairs at Zorlu Energy which is part of Zorlu Group, one of the largest conglomerates in Turkey. In her current role she is responsible for the area covering Turkey, Azerbaijan and Georgia and she has nine team members reporting directly to her. As a female lawyer in a male dominated industry she passionately supports equality: ‘I make choices supporting equal opportunity; the number of male lawyers and female lawyers in my team is equal’. Since joining Lukoil Önal has contributed some important changes in the legal department. She established a system which promotes transparency and knowledge sharing, ensured the team’s professional growth and made them an important part of the decision making process. She has closed many successful dealings in her career and in 2009 her team was awarded with the Euromoney’s European Onshore Wind Deal of the Year for successfully completing the project financing of the biggest wind farm in Turkey (at the time of closing). With regards to external law firms, Önal believes that they should focus more on client satisfaction rather than focusing on invoices, ‘since a happy client would mean a long term investment’.
Following a successful twenty-year career at White & Case, in 2014 Şebnem Önder assumed her first in-house role as the legal director at British American Tobacco Turkey and Northern Cyprus. Praised by sources for the changes she has introduced in the legal department, Önder’s biggest contribution to BAT is the significant reduction of the number of legal cases, due to the change of the legal strategy which now rendered the legal team’s involvement in all transactions of the company necessary. Also part of the senior management, Önder concedes that moving in-house has been a big challenge, as she is required to make very quick and business-oriented decisions without her usual legal reservation.
Meltem Özker Gündüz is the legal affairs and compliance director, managing legal and compliance tasks for Novo Nordisk in the Near East Business Area covering Turkey, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Pakistan, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Ukraine and Afghanistan. When she first joined the company, Özker Gündüz was the only lawyer covering the diverse Near East area. She conducted organisational reviews and ensured there were teams supporting the business in the affiliate countries, as well as a dedicated legal and compliance manager in the regional office. She expanded the legal department to better correspond to the needs of the local branches and demonstrated great professionalism by utilising customer surveys for feedback that would constantly improve the legal services provided. She expertly handed the Dawn Raid from the Competition Authority in Turkey, closing it with no fines and no further investigation. The organisational excellence of the legal department has been recognised by other external bodies too: ‘we received the Ethics Award given by EDMER, the local Ethics Association in Turkey. This has been awarded three years in a row for our efforts to ensure compliance with local laws and implement ethical standards’ she says. She has represented the company at international conferences examining corruption, local legislation challenges in the Middle East and ways to improve transparency. Meltem has also co-authored an article on developments in the pharmaceutical industry, displaying her wealth of experience in the sectors.
With an illustrious career spanning in-house and private practice, Buse Pınar Kaçar has held senior roles in major multinational companies, including Carrefour and GSK. She joined Yörsan as chief legal and corporate affairs officer in 2014, shortly after the company’s acquisition by the private equity fund Abraaj Capital. Her responsibilities stretch beyond the legal department, as she oversees all corporate matters and she is also member of the executive committee. During her time in Yörsan, Pınar Kaçar has built a sophisticated legal department from scratch, which has supported a number of strategic transactions. ‘When I first joined there was no legal department and Yörsan consisted of four separately managed companies’ she says. ‘I led the restructuring project and merger of the four companies and established the legal and compliance structure. The biggest achievement was driving the company from a family-owned business to a well governed corporate company’.
When he joined BP Turkey as the head of legal, Deniz Reha Özilhan’s first and defining task was the establishment of the legal department in the company. For that purpose he reviewed and rearranged the relationship with the external legal providers and ended contracts with them when necessary: ‘I issued a guide on expertise areas of the lawyers and consultants we work with, and updated their discounted rates for every year’ he adds. This was not the first time that Özilhan had faced this kind of challenge; during his 17 years of in-house experience in a wide range of industries he has twice established a legal department from scratch. ‘My biggest achievement has been using this experience to restructure the legal department at my current company. I am also proud to have built strong relationships with business people wherever I have worked. You can’t have a successful legal team without strong relationships with the business. I work hard to ensure that I am seen as someone who contributes to the team, rather than as the guy that always says “no”’ he comments. When working with outside counsel he would like to see them thinking and acting as business partners, rather than purely legal advisers. ‘I prefer to work with mid-sized firms that often do this better’ he comments.
Markus Renfert joined the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development six years ago as a project finance lawyer, following nine years at a magic circle law firm. His qualification under German, French and English law allow him to give multi-jurisdictional advice. In his current position as senior counsel at EBRD, he is part of a team of transactional lawyers that cover a wide range of countries, with a particular emphasis on Turkey. ‘I like the idea of new opportunities, new paths of knowledge. I believe that if one can learn such a complex thing as a language, all can be learned, if there is will and focus’ he adds. His work primarily focuses on major equity deals, with some of his notable achievements including successful management of EBRD’s equity investments in the dairy producer Yörsan, the glassware producer Pasabahce and the ongoing negotiations for an equity stake in Borsa Istanbul. When asked about the challenges of his profession Markus comments: ‘the daily challenge is to manage legal risk while being part of a team that wants deals to close. Taking legal risk for a proper return can sometimes be the answer, but not always. The biggest challenge for an in-house counsel? Find commercial flexibility even under strictest legal constraints’.
Since joining AES Entek in 2012, Gülenay Ruşen Gelmez has led major changes in the structure of the company by merging all department legal matters into a central function. She has a track record of successfully handled cases, both in AES Entek and previously in Karadeniz Holding. ‘One of the biggest achievements in my career as an in-house counsel was the execution of the Engineering, Procurement and Construction contract for the AYAS project (which includes the development, construction, ownership and operation of a 625MW imported coal-fired power generation facility and ancillary facilities) after long negotiations and many sleepless nights’. Being a compliance officer in addition to her position as a legal counsel has often been very challenging, but the double role has given her the opportunity to learn quickly. The reward of experience has been the best feature of the dual position. ‘Having the chance of improving myself every day and learning new things, not only from the legal perspective but also technical things, is what I enjoy the most about my role. In order to be a good in-house counsel it is essential that you know and understand precisely what your company does’.
Tani, a technology company, operates within the Koç Group, Turkey’s largest industrial and services group. Aslı Şahinkaya was the first in-house counsel to join Tani, and ‘the major change for the company was having a lawyer who works with them every day in almost every project and understands the business needs. As a technology and data services firm, it's really hard for a standard lawyer to adapt to the projects of Tani. It has many innovative products under its product base’. Tani, with its background of 13 years and customer records over 44 million, runs the first and biggest coalition loyalty programme, Paro, which consists of companies from 23 different sectors together with consumers at 7,500 touch points. Şahinkaya is the head of legal for both this programme and other products of Tani, constituting data consents, deciding how to archive these consents, advising on how to process the data and how to form the database structure. Working in an area that is not yet regulated in Turkey, her job is an everyday challenge. ‘My biggest challenge is not having the data protection regulations in effect in Turkey, but having to act as if they existed. It is hard to convince the marketing departments on practices not based on a regulation that is in effect. Furthermore, as there is no regulation in place, I need to search and analyse the related regulations in place in Europe and other countries’. Şahinkaya often works with internal Tani consultants to give opinion on forthcoming laws regarding data privacy and permission based marketing. ‘Being involved at the ground-level of regulation and legislation is an accomplishment for any in-house lawyer’ she comments.
Throughout nearly two decades at the helm of all legal services, Gökhan Saraç has led the award-winning legal function of Unilever NametRub (North Africa, Middle East, Turkey, Iran, Israel, Caucasia, Russia, Ukraine and Belarus). Heading a large, cross-functional team, Saraç is deeply involved in strategic decision-making and prides himself on changing the company mindset over the legal function, which is now seen as an integral part of the business. Always looking to innovate, Saraç created and implemented the Golden Triangle model, which ensures the most efficient ways of cooperation between the legal, regulatory and external functions. ‘This model was recognised and awarded by Unilever Global as the best practice and global model’ he comments proudly. He led the transformation of the Turkish legal function to better reflect the company’s FMCG (fast moving consumer goods) nature, which was awarded with the “Best Business Partnering Legal Team” prize from Unilever in 2014. Throughout his in-house career, Saraç has had many successful moments, but the highlight of his career was in 2012, when ‘for the first time in its history, the Turkish Competition Authority cited an in-house internal competition compliance program as the best practice in its 2012 decision on Unilever Turkey’s ice-cream business’.
Simhan Savaşçın Başaran is the chief legal counsel of Eczacıbaşı Group, a prominent industrial group that contains 41 companies. She joined the group seven years ago and has since expanded the legal department to better respond to the needs of the group companies. ‘Now, we can support the group companies more efficiently and implement and follow-up compliance programs. We are raising the awareness within the group of the changes in the legislation in a timely manner with our circular letters’ she says. Savaşçın Başaran is mainly involved in mergers and acquisitions and she can remember many career-defining successes: for example, the acquisition of the shares of a joint venture partner in one of the group companies. ‘The deal had to be closed in a very short and limited time, so there was an extra time pressure to add to the complexity. We needed to receive competition clearance in Turkey and in one of the CIS countries. With very good coordination with our outside counsel we closed the deal on time’. She enjoys working closely with the management structure and seeing the importance of her legal advice in practice. Savaşçın Başaran has participated as a panel speaker in conferences on international arbitration, displaying market-leading legal knowledge.
With over twenty years in CSC Germany, assistant general counsel Juergen Schminke is highly skilled in the legal and business aspects of IT, demonstrating significant experience in negotiations of large revenue commercial deals under time pressure with customers, partners and others. Heading the legal department of CSC Central Region (also covering Turkey), Schminke manages a team of ten people. He successfully led the creation and development of the legal department, which is responsible for 25 countries. ‘It has been perceived as a significant contributor to our business success by all local managers’ he says. He assigned certain lawyers to specific countries and encouraged technical specialisation on different legal topics; at the same time he broadened the scope of responsibility to cover several countries. This gave comprehensive legal support to the business, while also creating a chance for team members to grow their own expertise.
Having completed her first ever year as an in-house counsel, following a successful career of seven years in law firms, Türkmen Holding’s first in-house counsel Nihan Seda Kişi has set the establishment of a central legal department as her priority. She has worked hard to develop an understanding of legal work to the business and has established a system where all transactions are first sent for legal review before implementation; a key development considering there was no in-house team before. Kisi was part of the team advising Türkmen Group during the acquisition of its sourcing division by ASDA (Walmart) which enabled the group to improve its speed moving into new markets. Being experienced as both an in-house and outside lawyer she believes that external counsel should focus less on theoretical details and put more effort into understanding the real needs of the businesses that they service, as that would allow them to provide result-oriented solutions. ‘I have worked as an outside counsel for over seven years where I gained lots of valuable experiences, however working as an in-house counsel has given me an understanding of a real sector and made me see different aspects of the activity areas of our group of companies. Since the activity areas of our group members vary from textile to yachting sector (even to aviation), I am required to follow up a wide range of laws and regulations which enables me to be aware of and confident with regards to the developments all over the country’ she comments.
Burcu Şener Sözer is the head of legal at Aygaz, Turkey’s seventh largest industrial organisation. She joined Aygaz in 2011, after 13 years in private practice at several top Turkish law firms. When she first started at Aygaz, the legal department mainly dealt with litigation issues. With the support of the management, she adopted a more comprehensive approach, encouraging the team to become more involved in all legal aspects of the company's business. Şener Sözer introduced an online intranet that provides legal assistance to all users of the company, which has enabled the legal team to keep track of all documents and report them to the management effectively. Throughout her in-house career she has been involved in a number of business development projects. ‘The greatest achievement was when I successfully closed and managed the transfer of Total Turkey's bottled LPG business to Aygaz’, she says. For Şener Sözer the most appealing features of her role are the positive working environment and the complexity of legal issues that continue to create positive challenges.
Ekin Sungur is the head of legal at BNP Paribas Cardif Turkey. She started her legal career at Moroglu Arseven Ozdemir where she worked for two years before moving over to Gide Loyrette Nouel, the French law firm. Sungur’s in-house career started at Akkok Sanayi Yatirim ve Gelistirme, where she worked for a little more than a year and in February of 2012 she joined BNP Paribas Cardif. ‘When I decided to work as in-house lawyer, my main objective was to discover the other side of the legal world. I wanted to centralise my legal experience to one client and also evaluate whether the service provided by external law firms was effective and understand what the real needs of the commercial entities were’. Sungur established the centralised legal department for Cardif Turkey based on the principles of continuity within the departments and of understanding between the legal team and the business. ‘I think being specialised in one area is distinguishing, however having a general knowledge of all aspects of the company is also very important as you face all kind of legal matters’ she adds. To that end she organised regular meetings with all departments to get a better understanding of their daily workload and legal needs surrounding them. In 2014 the legal department was elected as the most successful in the company through an internal survey, a testament to the hard work and dedication of Sungur. ‘The consultant presenting us the results stated that such a result is exceptional for a legal department, because usually, legal departments are not the favourites of the employees. I think this is the general problem of the legal business, whether you practice it as an external consultant or in-house lawyer’ she concludes.
Çağhan Tansel has led some of the most significant changes in the legal function at RB Turkey. When he assumed his position in 2012 the local branch did not have a legal department and the most difficult challenge he faced was overcoming the perception of the in-house department as a luxury. Building the right communication lines with the business and delivering tangible results was key to his success. In recognition of his achievement he was awarded with ‘The Best Partnership Oscar’ during the annual ‘Company Oscars’ in December 2013. ‘This was an outstanding recognition for the legal function and highly appreciated by my regional and global legal colleagues’. Tansel’s reforms have resulted in 50% cost reduction on legal budget and have aligned any outsourcing with business priorities. A business oriented lawyer with great problem-solving skills, Tansel believes that ‘in today’s business, cost and service quality are the two soldiers who conquer the minds of all professionals’ and these are the principles that should govern the external legal services providers in Turkey.
Legal affairs director Ayşe Tümerkan joined Abdi İbrahim, the first Turkish company on the list of the world's largest pharmaceutical companies, in 2008 to assist with legal work produced in the business development department. At that time there was no in-house legal department, so Tümerkan gradually built the integral structures of a functioning team and started providing legal assistance to other departments of the business. Three years later she established the legal department as a separate entity in the company ‘for the first time in the history of Abdi Ibrahim’, she says proudly. When working with outside counsel she expects a business-oriented perspective. Tümerkan believes it is essential for outside counsel to take into consideration the specifics of the industry and the company’s history in similar projects. ‘Of course, this requires long term and dedicated relations between the client and the law firms’ she adds.
A veteran banking in-house lawyer with almost 20 years of experience in the field, Süreyya Uğurses has worked for some of the country’s biggest banks, including Isbank, HSBC and Eurobank. She joined Citibank in 2011 as the country legal counsel, company secretary and assistant general manager. A true leader, one of her top priorities when assuming this role was investing in her team’s development. As country legal counsel, Uğurses led the work to ensure the balance between local and global legal requirements, which has had a great impact on the strategic direction of the company. Faced with continuous regulatory changes, Uğurses believes that close cooperation between the legal team and the business is the key to success.
Esra Ünal was appointed head of legal of Statkraft Turkey in 2012. Previously she had worked as a legal counsel for Tucas Petrol for four years and as a regulatory affairs manager at the Japan Tobacco International for a further three years. Before her arrival at Statkraft, the local legal department had a very different management structure, which was not aligned to the general guidelines set by the Oslo-based legal department of Statkraft. Ünal undertook reforms and established the internal policies to apply the Statkraft legal guidelines. Throughout her in-house career she has been involved in a great deal of dispute resolution and she has proven herself to be an adept negotiator. For Ünal, being a part of the business and being actively involved in all the stages is the most exciting thing about her job. ‘My aim is mainly to prevent a problem. In order to do that, you need to be involved in the business and I am. In order to foresee a problem, I do risk assessment all the time. This gives me the opportunity to have a wider perspective. So, I am not only providing legal opinion or solving issues when they arise, I am involved in all steps. I do like that’. In July 2016, Ünal joined Türkerler Holding and currently heads the legal department at the energy construction company.
For Ruba Unkan, legal affairs director at Sabancı Holding, the largest industrial and financial conglomerate by profit in Turkey, every day offers a unique challenge due to the diverse nature of the company. ‘We are supporting Sabancı Holding and its numerous subsidiaries with only a limited number of lawyers, working on many big ticket deals at the same time’. Since the beginning of the year the small team of three transactional lawyers has worked on two potential SPOs and ten mergers and acquisition/joint venture related deals. These have run alongside the business-as-usual legal work that comprises things such as IP, arbitration and contract review. The aspect of her role that gives her the most satisfaction is being part of the business and seeing her advice having a direct impact on the decisions. When selecting an external counsel, quality of advice and time efficiency are the most important factors for Unkan. ‘We work with outside counsel around the world and those who can summarise a point of law in a short but concise e-mail instead of a 10 page memo are those we return to for advice’.
Heading all legal operations of Turkish Airlines and managing more than 30 employees, Ali Uysal has led some significant changes in the legal department during his two years in the chief legal counsel position. He introduced a law office management system that facilitated the organisation of litigation; he initiated a specialisation process that divided lawyers into sub-departments in accordance to their past practice and expertise; and he set up a monitoring and reporting structure for the legal teams of the 220 local branches of Turkish Airlines. Uysal takes particular pride in his participation in two major agreements that transformed the airline. In 2011, following the ratification of the Cape Town Convention by Turkey, he worked very closely with the Turkish Civil Aviation Authority to explain the legal status in the country regarding the implementation of the agreement. In March 2015 Uysal took part in Turkish Airline’s first capital market issuance that has introduced the airline to a wider investor base and has created a benchmark for enhanced equipment trust certificates (EETC) transactions by airlines in emerging markets.
Current head of legal at Shell, Murat Vanlıoğlu, has had an enviable career to date. He started his in-house career in the banking sector, joining Ernst & Young as a senior legal manager in 2002. Following this, Vanlıoğlu was head of legal at Toyota for two years before being approached by a head-hunter in 2006 to fill his current position. Since then he has brought three primary changes to the organisation: he assigned lawyers to specific business units for provision of legal services, delegated the authority to make their own decisions and upgraded the role of the general counsel from pure advisor to a business partner. This served to promote the personal development of the team and enabled proper succession planning for the future. He also has an impressive record of successful agreements, including the drafting of an M&A agreement that enabled his client to gain an extra 50 million USD on top of their expectations, through superior legal wording alone.
Bahar Yenerer joined Atos Turkey as head of legal and compliance in 2012, after a successful career in major Turkish law firms. When she first started at Atos Turkey, the company did not have an in-house department, so significant effort was dedicated to creating the right mind-set within the business. ‘The first challenge I was faced with was to establish awareness to the business people of the fact that they now have an in-house legal counsel who will work with them closely, understand their needs and support them to achieve the company’s targets’. As a way of demonstrating this relationship Yenerer set about training and informing the business about the group legal policies and processes. She is currently appointed as a secondee in the UK, supporting Atos UK, while still providing legal advice on major strategic projects of Atos Turkey. ‘I believe this shows that my company believes in my ability and trust me to further develop myself while still continuing to providing high level legal support to the Turkish business remotely’.
‘When I started at Koc, we were a team of only three lawyers and our scope of work was limited to purely legal; we were not involved in the business decision making process. My team is now composed of 14 people, and our scope of work is tremendously wide’. Kenan Yılmaz prides himself on contributing to the creation of a 14-strong legal team that excels in all areas of practice. He joined Koç Holding in 1989; in 2000 he was promoted to vice general counsel and six years later he assumed the role of general counsel. Praised for his business acumen, Yılmaz holds an executive MBA degree, and as a member of the business committee he tries to integrate the legal function into the business. ‘As a result, over the last 10 years, the involvement of the legal team is regarded as a “must have” and we are deemed way more vital to the process, compared to the 80s or 90s’ he comments. ‘Therefore I would say that my biggest challenge and achievement was to change the perception of the legal counsel within the group. I would go so far as to say that since we are the largest group in Turkey, that has had an impact even outside the group’.
Within only two years in Akfel Holding, legal affairs director Mehmet Yılmazer has managed to establish a central legal department that is at the pinnacle of performance. In his current role, Yılmazer mainly focuses on M&A transactions and preparation of applications to the Energy Market Regulatory Authority and Turkish Competition Authority for their approvals of those acquisition projects. His record of transactions is impressive, having led many successful deals. A merger in the natural gas sector between one of the subsidiary companies and an internationally known company, is one of particular note. The approvals from the Competition Board and Energy Market Regulatory Authority, as well as the closing procedure, were extraordinarily complicated. Through Yılmazer’s guidance however, the approvals were ultimately granted. Aside from the technical expertise of complicated transactions, what he enjoys most about his role is leading a team and enhancing legal knowledge on non-legal personnel.
Çağla Zıngıl, group legal director, joined Akkok Sanayi Yatirim ve Gelistirme, a company with operations in chemical, energy, and real estate sectors in Turkey, eight years ago as the only in-house counsel. Previously she had worked as a consultant lawyer for nine years at Garanti Bank, Turkey’s second largest private bank, and two years as an of counsel at Paksoy & Co law firm. When she started in Akkok most legal services were outsourced and corporate documentation was being kept by the finance department. Gradually she expanded the legal department to adopt this documentation and the associated workload. To do this she formed and structured the corporate and legal documentation filing systems. ‘We have applied and perfected corporate governance principles and internal rules and guidelines within the group and supported the formation of the Group's Code of Conducts (Ethic Principles) together with other relevant departments. I believe we made our executives and our colleagues from other departments trust, enjoy and appreciate the legal support we provide’ she says. Heading the legal operations in particularly regulated areas of operation, such as energy generation, electricity distribution and production of chemical materials, following up on changes in regulations and their impact on the business is the most challenging part of the job for Çağla Zıngıl. Her advice to external counsel for improvement of service delivery would be ‘not to forget that business people do not wish to hear why they cannot pursue a certain transaction because of legal obstacles, but how they can overcome the obstacles to pursue the transaction’.
Ismail Esin, Managing Partner, Esin Attorney Partnership, A member firm of Baker & McKenzie:
It is hard to look back on the legal developments of 2015 without first acknowledging that it was a year of change for Turkey. The legal profession has played a key role in many of the country’s pivotal moments, and will continue to do so in the coming year. Now, we take a moment to reflect back on some of the market’s most significant changes, and how we can respond to them together.
One of the year’s significant developments is the drop in domestic M&A in Turkey. Baker & McKenzie’s Global Transactions Forecast, created in partnership with Oxford Economics, predicts that domestic M&As will continue to decrease from 67% of Turkey’s total M&A value in 2014 to 48% in 2018. Turkey’s economic fluctuations combined with the rising value of the USD, which many Turkish companies hold in reserve, have combined to create an attractive environment for Turkish companies investing abroad, and we expect to see further outbound investments in the coming year.
Among the year’s many developments, the Istanbul Arbitration Centre ranks as one of the most promising. The Centre will provide foreign and domestic companies the opportunity to arbitrate disputes through a specialized institution in Istanbul. This is especially important for companies with projects in Turkey or with Turkish companies, as close proximity to the tribunal can significantly decrease the cost of arbitral proceedings. The Centre has the potential to establish Turkey as a regional dispute resolution hub, much like London or Paris.
New rules governing the squeeze out of minority shareholders of public companies have also kept the Capital Markets team busy; we advised on one of Turkey’s first squeeze-outs after the new rules came into force, making squeeze-outs significantly friendlier to minority shareholders than the original regulation. The new regulation will undoubtedly increase the number of Turkish public companies going private in the coming years.
Data privacy has also evolved rapidly over the past year, as Turkey endeavors to match European standards. The creation of Turkey’s first national data center, the easing of restrictions on the international transfer of personal data, and tightening restrictions on the internet all impact Turkish and multinational companies alike.
We strive to not only provide you with the expected support on legal transactions, but to go above and beyond in our efforts to help you understand and respond to Turkey’s changing market conditions. This may come in the form of events, such as our Private Equity Roundtable or Turks Investing Abroad seminar; publications like Kluwer’s Arbitration in Turkey, their first publication on the topic which was edited by our Arbitration team, and our innovative Cross-Border M&A Index created in conjunction with MergerMarket; or workshops such as the IPO Bootcamp.
Additionally, we seek to give back to the community which has given us so much. Our Diversity Committee has been active this year in efforts to promote awareness about gender, ethnic, disability, and LGBTI related diversity issues. The office’s lawyers and staff have worked pro bono with the Vance Center, PEN International, C@rma, UN Global Compact, and other organizations. We are excited to continue partnering with our clients to work for our community.
Finally, our goal is to elevate the legal profession into one of Turkey’s brightest career paths. We start with the youngest generation of lawyers, our trainees, but continue to provide opportunities for training and secondments to all of our attorneys and partners throughout their careers. Our dedication to the legal profession extends to our clients; with this sponsorship of the Legal 500’s GC Powerlist, we hope to draw attention to the great work being done by in-house teams, and the contributions that you make to your companies which extend well beyond the legal function.
We look forward to working with you on these and many other initiatives in the coming year.
GC Powerlist is a trading name of The Legal 500 Series and Legalease Ltd, and operates in multiple legal jurisdictions worldwide.