Paolo Palmigiano tells us how travel is a big part of his role at Sumitomo Electric
I joined Sumitomo Electric Industries only one year ago as general counsel and chief compliance officer for EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa). However, it is a strange definition of EMEA as I also cover China and Mexico; I always joke by saying I deal with most of the world except Japan. Sumitomo is a large manufacturer of electric wires, power cables and optical fibre cables. It is based in Osaka and has 380 companies and over 220,000 employees in more than 40 countries around the world, primarily in Asia, America and Europe.
Before joining Sumitomo I headed the competition and regulatory team at British Telecoms for 10 years and before then I was at Lloyds Bank for four years. As a competition lawyer I thought that it would be difficult to become a GC as competition lawyers are usually – and in my view erroneously - considered to be too specialised for a wider role. So, I was quite enthusiastic when Sumitomo approached me. Not only is the role quite wide in scope (as it includes all legal support and compliance for several subsidiaries) but it also covers a big geographic area. One day I could be dealing with litigation in Germany and the day after with an employment issue in France. But I have not left competition law entirely behind me as there is still a considerable amount of competition law advice that is needed including the setting up of an effective compliance programme. As with many other large industrial groups, Sumitomo has had its fair share of unfortunate encounters with competition authorities and the company is very keen to avoid any problems reoccurring in the future.
I am based in the City of London but my role involves a lot of travelling. Since I joined, I have been on a flight almost once or twice a week- so much so the staff at Heathrow Terminal 5 have started recognising me! This kind of schedule clearly has an impact on my personal life, but I consider meeting as many people as possible my priority, for the time being at least. There has never been a Sumitomo lawyer outside Japan and many businesses outside Japan need legal support. I am keen that people get to know me so that they know where to go to when they have a legal issue. At the moment I am on my own but as work increases I am planning to build a legal team so that we can provide the required support to Sumitomo subsidiaries.
Apart from travelling, the biggest challenge of my job is dealing with many different nationalities and in particular with the Japanese. The company has very few non-Japanese in senior positions. Each subsidiary, for example, has a Japanese CEO. There are customs and ways of dealing which are very different - you need to learn new people skills and new ways of working. But there is also another challenge: Sumitomo has a peculiar corporate structure in the sense that, like many Japanese companies, rather than having one company per country, it has several subsidiaries in each jurisdiction divided by business unit. So, in one country there might be five or six Sumitomo subsidiaries - each with their own board and their own ways of working. It feels like working for a lot of different companies all at the same time.
There is never a typical day but I am based in London so my day starts at 7am, as I tend to leave home at around 8am. Because of the time zone difference, I frequently have conference calls with Japan quite early - usually at 7am. When it happens, I tend to do this from home and then go to the office. As an Italian, my obvious mean of transport is a scooter; it’s so convenient as I avoid the packed London underground and I get to the office in 20 minutes. The only problem is that, of course, the weather here is not the same as Italy so rain and cold are sometimes an issue that I have to deal with.
Most of my time at the office is spent responding to emails, dealing with telephone calls and preparing legal advices or presentations. But also thinking about processes that I need to put in place in order to manage risk – such as contract review process outside Japan – takes a large amount of my time. In London, a Japanese lawyer supports me and we have a conference call with the legal team in Japan every two weeks so that everybody is up to speed with what is happening and the key issues we face.
If I have no external meeting, I will have lunch at my desk. I try not to leave too late so I’m usually away between 6pm and 7pm. Whenever I am in London I spend the evening with friends or going out for dinner.
There are several activities outside work (but closely related) that I enjoy. For example, I am a frequent speaker at conferences (and I once was invited to speak in Mauritius and Beijing) but I also chair an association of in-house competition lawyers which boasts more than 200 members in 14 countries. We meet four times a year either in London or in Brussels. Conferences and the association add more travelling to an already hectic schedule!