The role of a General Counsel is not limited to understanding the law

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Mukesh Bhavnani

Mukesh Bhavnani is responsible for facilitating all strategic and high impact legal policy and structuring across Bharti businesses, litigation related to key matters, M&A and overseeing the group Secretarial function. Mukesh has over 30 years of varied experience across multiple industries including insurance, infrastructure, media, and consumer goods.

In his last assignment as the Group President - Legal at Essar Group, Mukesh played a key role in several key matters including the listing of the Group’s Energy business on London Stock Exchange.

He also successfully led Essar Group’s legal team in various international acquisitions in Canada, Africa, US. Prior to this, Mukesh was the General Legal Counsel with Sony Entertainment. He also headed the legal and compliance function at Max Newyork Life Insurance. His other assignments include Coca-Cola India, Jumbo group in Dubai, Godrej Soaps. Mukesh is a graduate in Law and Commerce from Bombay University and a qualified Company Secretary.

Legal Era in a one-to-one chat with Mukesh Bhavnani, Group General Counsel and Company Secretary, Bharti Enterprises

Legal Era (LE) : You have over 30 years’ experience in multiple industries like insurance, infrastructure, media, consumer goods and so on. Does the interpretation of law vary from sector to sector? Do the legal questions facing different industries differ and how do you take that on?

Mukesh Bhavnani : I am truly privileged to have been associated with both the manufacturing and services sectors in India and overseas in industries ranging from pharmaceuticals to FMCG, life insurance, entertainment, steel, energy, construction, shipping to telecom, retail etc. As a result, I have gained a fair understanding of the disparate laws and regulations applicable to multiple businesses. While the first principles of law such as the constitutional law, contracts, property and general corporate laws remain the same, sector specific laws and regulations have to be understood and interpreted in the context of the realities of a particular sector. I have experienced vast difference in the legal and regulatory questions facing different industries. These differences are accentuated by the fact that often the factual matrix and related legal question falls into the proverbial grey area, for which there is no definite or clear legal interpretation. Therefore, the role of a General Counsel is not limited to understanding the law, but is really working closely with all stakeholders with the objective of striking a fine balance between various competing (and at times conflicting) objectives, be they commercial, legal, tax, others. At the end of the day, the real measure of success is the ability to come up with a legally compliant and commercially suitable solution for the business. In my view, the most important attribute is the ability to analyse facts, business needs and apply the law for a solution-oriented approach, challenging on most occasions, accepted assumptions.

LE : As Group President – Legal at the Essar Group, you played a key role in listing of the Group’s energy business on the London Stock Exchange as well as many of its overseas acquisitions. Please share the highlights of this stint.

MB : Essar is a diversified conglomerate in steel, energy, infrastructure, shipping & ports, BPO, and operates in several parts of the globe. Being the legal head of such a diverse business Group was indeed a very satisfying experience. The highlights of my work experience at Essar included, as you mention, listing on the London Stock Exchange, big ticket acquisitions in North America and Africa, major financing and structuring deals, major litigation and arbitrations and not the least contracting.

My current role at Bharti is equally enjoyable. As the Group General Counsel and Company Secretary, I deal with multiple sectors – telecom, retail, realty, insurance etc. in India and for telecom in 19 other countries including in Africa.

Africa is a huge learning opportunity – particularly in the French-speaking countries – called Francophone – which follow the French law and one has had very little experience of these before I joined Bharti. The other part of our Africa businesses is the English-speaking countries – which I have had a quicker and better understanding since one has been familiar with the first principles of English law.

I enjoy the transactional work involving M&A, key litigations and arbitrations, besides the compliance and secretarial pieces that go with the Bharti job.

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