"I would not like to call it as judicial activism"

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Abhijit Mukhopadhyay Legal Era

Abhijit Mukhopadhyay has done Graduation in Commerce (with Honors) from India and Law both from India and the UK. He is a qualified Company and Chartered Secretary both from India and the UK. He is a Fellow of The Institute of Chartered Secretaries and Administrators of the UK and The Institute of Company Secretaries of India.

He has experience as Heads of Legal and Secretarial functions in several multinationals, private and public sector companies. He has occupied very senior positions like Chief General Manager (Legal) and Company Secretary, Director (Legal and Secretarial) and Vice President, Chief Legal Officer and Company Secretary (one-step below Board level positions) in those large companies. He has also served as Non-Executive Directors in several companies.

Presently, Abhijit Mukhopadhyay is the President (Legal) and Company Secretary in the Hinduja Group (a multi-billion dollar transnational conglomerate operating in 30 countries having 45,000 people) in London and is involved in the Group's worldwide legal functions. He is also a Non-Executive Director on the Boards of several Group companies in the UK, Austria, Mauritius and British Virgin Islands.

In 2010, Abhijit was nominated as one of the top 50 legal professionals in India. In India, he was actively associated in various professional activities such as the Chairman, National Task Force on Law, Confederation of Indian Industry (the apex trade body); Member of Corporate Affairs/Company Law Committees of several other national-level industry bodies; Member of Government of India's Task Force on integration of various Laws; Member, Secretarial Standard Board of The Institute of Company Secretaries of India and Guest Faculty Lecturer in Law in several Indian Universities.

Abhijit is a prolific speaker on legal subjects and author of numerous articles on Law. In London, Abhijit is a Member of the India Business Forum of the Confederation of Indian Industry and Co-Chairman of the Advisory Board of Corporate Counsel Leadership Community in India.

Abhijit Mukhopadhyay, President (Legal), Hinduja Group, London in conversation with Legal Era.

Legal Era (LE): Share with us your journey in India and now in the United Kingdom.

Abhijit Mukhopadhyay (AM): I started my career in Gestetner (India) Limited, then a British Multinational as an Assistant Company Secretary in Calcutta after I completed my graduation in Commerce with Honors, LL.B and became a qualified Company Secretary, all at the age of 24 years! (Later on, I acquired the qualifications in Law and the Chartered Secretary from the United Kingdom.) From there, I joined HMT Limited, a public sector conglomerate in Bangalore as its Company Secretary & Chief Legal Officer followed by Company Secretary & Chief Legal Officer in INDAL, a Canadian Multinational, in Calcutta. Thereafter, I joined Dunlop India Limited, a Dubai-based Multinational, as its Vice President, Company Secretary & Chief Legal Officer in Calcutta. But I moved on to Delhi after a short while and joined Maruti Udyog Limited, the then Japanese Multinational-Indian Government Joint Sector Company, as its Chief General Manager (Legal) & Company Secretary in Delhi (all one-step below Board level positions). From there, I joined Ranbaxy Laboratories Limited in Delhi (still an Indian Company before becoming a Japanese Company) as its Global Director of Legal & Secretarial followed by a very short stint in Mumbai as the Vice President (Legal) in Hinduja Group India Limited and then moved on to London 12 years back as the President (Legal) & Company Secretary in Hinduja Group’s Global Headquarter in London responsible for looking after its worldwide legal matters. Hinduja Group is a USD 12 Billion Group with 70,000 people operating in 35 countries with business interests in major 10 business verticals in the core sectors like automobile, foundry, lubricant, banking, power, BPO, media, healthcare, and defence. So, as you can see, I am presently in my seventh job - quite a journey!

LE: You have over 25 years’ experience as Head of Legal and Secretarial functions in several multinationals, private and public sector companies. Does the law vary from sector to sector? Do the legal questions facing different industries differ and how do you take them on?

AM: It’s an interesting question. Yes, in India I have worked in engineering, heavy industry, automotive, pharmaceutical, pneumatic tyres, alumina and aluminium industrial sectors and now in London involved with a host of industries that Hinduja Group belongs to in its global operation. Laws vary from sector to sector and one has to apply the laws that apply to a particular industry. Do the legal questions differ from industry to industry? My answer is both ‘yes’ and ‘no’. Legal challenges across the sectors are in many cases the same, yet there are certain industry-specific issues that need to be looked into specially considering industry-specific legislations.

LE: Presently, you are the President (Legal) and Company Secretary in the Hinduja Group in London including acting as Company Secretary in a Group Company listed in the London Stock Exchange. Please share the highlights of this stint. You are also a Non-Executive Director in several companies in five countries. How does it work?

AM: It is very interesting. Our Group is a global conglomerate and is growing steadily. I can say that generally speaking, our global headquarter is in London. Our Group companies are spread globally and are being managed by their respective Board of Directors. However, major financial, commercial and legal issues especially where investments are involved are being dealt with in London. In the legal matters, I am involved in issues relating to M&A, joint venture, IPRs, strategic alliance, structuring of deals, international mediation / arbitration / litigations, international immigration and commercial contracts, listing of securities, dealing with international regulators and sanction-related matters, board / shareholder issues, corporate governance et al. So, my plates are full! Most interesting challenge is to deal with all these issues on a global basis / across the world. I engage law firms around the world and dealing with them on a grand scale is a rewarding experience. Unless, you are competent, experienced and knowledgeable and are capable enough to interact with international experts, you are not fit to be in our Group’s London Global headquarter where, as President (Legal), I need to closely work with the Hinduja Family directly who ultimately control their Global empire. Acting as the Company Secretary in our Group Company listed in the London Stock Exchange is a rewarding experience. I am on the Boards of several Group companies in five countries. So, you need to have a fair idea of laws on a global scale and that’s a challenge which shows your hunger for ever-continuing learning process!

LE: Does your qualification in law and company secretary (both from India and the United Kingdom) complement each other in terms of your work?

AM: My answer is a resounding ‘yes’. All the qualifications have ‘laws’ in common. In Europe, you got to know the European Union (EU) laws, my qualification on EU laws come in handy!

LE: What is your take on legal education in India?

AM: I find that the Indian legal education has undergone a complete transformation in the last one decade or so. We have now world-beater National Law School of India University. Even the foreign law firms have started recruiting Indian law graduates from these Universities. What I see is that there is a resurgence of the legal profession in India. It is no wonder that the legal professionals in India are among the highest-paid in the world.

LE: What do you think of the current scenario where the judiciary is perceived to be taking too many matters into its hands rather than let them be with the executive and legislature?

AM: I would not like to call it as ‘judicial activism’. Independent judiciary is one of the four pillars of India’s democracy. Unfortunately, there was a vacuum created by the earlier Government resulting in policy paralysis and judiciary had to step in on many occasions. Hopefully, with the new Government in power, the situation will improve.

LE: What are your thoughts about the Indian legal system and its problems?

AM: It is quite a shame that there are around 30 million cases pending at different courts in India. This is an astonishing figure! I am not going into the reasons as these are well known. Whenever I meet the foreign investors, the refrain is about the undue delay in deciding cases by the Indian judiciary and the retroactive tax legislation. Until recently, the messy situation in the arbitration matter was a cause of concern which has now been resolved, thanks to the Supreme Court, much to the relief of the foreign investors. I also feel that constitution of the fast-track courts is one way to deal with the problem of delay in the Indian judicial system. The other method will be to change the Civil Procedure Code to stop unnecessary adjournments and provide more efficient way of management of cases with a certain timeline to complete a case.

LE: In India, you are actively associated with various professional activities such as the Chairman of National Task Force on Law, Confederation of Indian Industry, Member of the Secretarial Standard Board of The Institute of Company Secretaries of India and also in the Guest Faculty of four Indian Universities. Do you have any such activity in London? Could you elaborate on this.

AM: I have still the energy for extra-curricular activities in London! Presently, I am a Member of the India Business Forum of the Confederation of Indian Industry in the United Kingdom and Chairman of its Immigration Task Force, Co-Chairman of the Advisory Board of Corporate Counsel Leadership Community, India, Advisory Board Member of Sharpe & Able, Strategic Consultant, Australia, Advisory Board Member of the International Bar Association, European Board Member of CDR Dispute Resolution Board, USA, Joint Editor of Transnational Dispute Management Magazine, USA and Faculty Member of Global General Counsel Academy, London apart from my involvement in the ICC’s Commission on Alternative Dispute Redressal, Paris. I travel across the world in speaking in the international seminars and have spoken in at least 20 seminars in 12 countries in the last three years alone! Additionally, I write in international magazines circulated around the world. So, I maintain quite a hectic life with many international travels both for business and for extra-curricular activities, but I enjoy what I do!

LE: You’ve written numerous articles on law. What made you become a writer and what is the object of your writing?

AM: Clarity of your knowledge is demonstrated by your writing. That's why I get a 'kick' when I am asked to write. I get regular requests from foreign law firms and international magazines to write which I do. These publications have global circulation.

LE: In an eventful journey like yours, what have been the opportunities and the challenges? Do you manage to strike a work-life balance or are there still grey areas you’d like to better address? What are your other interests?

AM: Maintaining work-life balance continues to be a challenge. But I have seen that much depends on your organizational ability to maintain such balance. This means that you should have the capability to do multi-tasking as also manage your affairs more efficiently through intelligent use of modern technology available at your command. Above all, co-operation from the family is the pre-requisite which fortunately I am adequately blessed with! As hobby, I like travelling, listening to music, reading and spending time with my family. To be successful in your professional life, you got to be different from others and for that, there is no option but to run extra miles and sweat profusely! In today's world, you need to identify your core competencies and you have to strive for achieving excellence in those areas. You need to plan for your career and its growth - both on short-term and long-term basis. And, above all, be a learner throughout your life and learn the art of its application in your professional field. Without all these, we, the professionals, will stand no-where in today's globalised professional environment.

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