Stathis Mihos is the Legal Director of Pfizer Hellas SA. Since 2001 he has worked as Legal Director in Greece for many international companies.
Prior to going in house, he worked for over 10 years in several Greek law firms, including Kallimopoulos-Loukopoulos-Alexiou Law Firm (Now KLC Law Firm), Alexiou Law Office, and Dimaratos Law Office.
Please tell us a bit about your career leading up to your current role with Pfizer.
S.M.: I first made the move from the law firm world to in-house in 2001, and never looked back. I started as the legal manager for the Greek affiliate of Lafarge (a company producing cement and other building materials) and then moved in 2006 to lead the local legal team of BP, the oil and gas company. BP’s operations were acquired by the Hellenic Petroleum Group in 2009 and I stayed on until the end of 2011. I served a brief stint as the Legal Director for the French retailer Carrefour in Greece in 2012, the year in which Carrefour sold its share in the local company to their Greek partners. I joined Pfizer in 2013 as their Legal Director for Greece, Cyprus, and Malta. I believe I was very lucky to have worked in companies that are very diverse, operating in different industries, based in different countries, and using different business models. This has allowed me to have a better understanding of the role of an in house counsel and to improve my skills adapting to the diverse needs of the internal clients.
In light of that experience, how would you define the role of a “General Counsel”?
S.M.: I think the often-overlooked part of the title is the word “General.” In fact our internal clients – or business partners, if you wish – expect us to be true to this word in two ways: i) to be able to provide legal advice on all legal matters; and ii) to be both business and legal advisors. If we want to continue with the wordplay, then one should also think of the GC as the “General” that leads the troops in all the organization’s legal battles!
Prior to joining Pfizer, you worked for an FMCG company in a similar position. Would you say the role of a Legal Director in a heavily regulated industry is more difficult, or are the increased regulations making things easier due to less ambiguity?
S.M.: I think that the more regulated an industry is, the more important the role of the in-house lawyer is. He/She has to be able to navigate through a maze of various laws, directives, rules, policies, and the like when providing legal advice and handling legal matters. The whole organization expects the in-house lawyer to be aware of all the regulations in place and expects him/her to raise a red flag when appropriate. This puts an enormous pressure on the lawyer, especially when dealing with important or sensitive issues. On top of that, the lawyer often appears to be the messenger of bad news, and no one likes such a messenger. On the positive side, I would say that an in-house lawyer in a heavily regulated industry develops expertise that is indispensable to the company and essential for doing business in a compliant manner.
Since we mentioned regulations, what are your main tools in staying apprised of regulatory updates?
S.M.: This is indeed the information age and despite the plethora of regulations of all kinds, there’s no lack of information providers. We subscribe to several online databases that provide updates on regulatory developments. In recent years many newsletters prepared by law firms are sent out when there are changes in relevant laws or important decisions by the Courts or Regulators. The trade associations of each industry also monitor such developments closely and distribute information of this sort to their members. Some Regulators disseminate information and even offer training on new matters. Finally, good old-fashioned word of mouth communication, in formal and informal networks, usually fills the gaps.
It’s interesting that you mentioned the newsletters you subscribe to. A General Counsel who spoke at the GC Summit we hosted recently (and who happens also to have worked as a regional GC for Pfizer) described newsletters from law firms along the lines of “if that is when I learn of a new regulations, I am caught by surprise and not doing my job.” Do you agree with that?
S.M.: Ooops, you caught me! Seriously now, the GC you talked to (I suspect I know who he is) is right. It is rare that a law firm would issue a newsletter as soon as a new regulation comes into force. But there is added value in (many, not all) of these communications, as a backup source of information, an opportunity to discuss a matter in greater depth, if the law firm went to the trouble of researching the matter, and also as a handy way to disseminate information among colleagues.
I know Pfizer has a unique strategy when it comes to the Pfizer Legal Alliance. Can you tell us a bit about how it works and what the benefits of the model are?
S.M.: The Pfizer Legal Alliance (PLA) is an awarded multiyear partnership arrangement between Pfizer and 15 member law firms. It promotes an information-sharing culture aimed at creating enduring relationships. Member firms have agreed to work on a flat-fee basis and each year the specific financial terms with each firm are revised to reflect new work assignments. The PLA emphasizes proactive and preventive counseling and the delivery of comprehensive solutions, and it rewards partnership and collaboration. The PLA liberates lawyers from measuring their contribution based on time worked, and instead rewards them for the worth of their advice and ability to effectively solve problems, share knowledge, and work together. The firms need to be cost effective and commit to providing Pfizer with periodic utilization reports to assess effort levels by matter. Alliance member firms have been selected based on criteria relating to Experience and Expertise, Creative Partnership, and Financial Arrangement and Discounts. They all display a solid understanding of Pfizer’s business and legal issues, and are positioned to deliver innovative and practical solutions to help achieve business goals and have a deep and strong team to handle Pfizer’s needs. The firms benefit from a steady flow of work, the opportunity to expand their scope of work and deepen their knowledge of Pfizer and the pharmaceutical industry, and develop junior-level talent. In countries where our PLA firms have no presence we use local counsel that demonstrate the same skills and values.
From a legislation standpoint, what are the main aspects keeping your legal team busy in Greece?
S.M.: For the readers that have been living on another planet the past few years, let me emphasize that Greece is facing a very deep crisis. A large part of the agreement Greece has signed with its partners is devoted to structural reforms, which means many changes in the way companies do business – especially in the pharmaceutical industry – and in the way justice is delivered. We try to keep abreast of these developments and to provide business-oriented policy suggestions when in discussions with policy setters.
In what way(s), if at all, has the socio-economic context of Greece and its relationship to the EU in the last few months affected your work?
S.M.: In addition to reforms taking place at a very fast pace, as explained before, and the mounting state and private debt that has forced us to use both our negotiation skills and the Courts, more often than in the past, International Reference Pricing (also known as external reference pricing) – a price control mechanism whereby a government considers the price of a medicine in other countries to inform or establish the price in its own country – requires our attention. IRP is inherently problematic as a means of ensuring optimal prices and in times of crisis can be devastating if not operated with the utmost care and flexibility. In simple words, the use of IRP by many countries means that what happens with the prices of medicines in Greece can have an impact far beyond our country, which can fuel a vicious circle of consequences.
What was the most challenging project for you and your in-house team and what lessons did you take away from it?
S.M.: In the context of the current crisis, making sure that we are able to collect our debts remains a top priority and requires a cross-functional team effort. The legal team’s role in this effort is important and usually the last port of call. In recent years we have used our in-house expertise and that of our outside counsel to successfully defend company interests before State Authorities and Courts and to negotiate deals that are lawful and beneficial for the company. At one time we found ourselves the claimants in many courts across the country, asking for State debts to be repaid. The learning curve was steep, in that we needed to assimilate the lessons learned very quickly, so that we could apply this knowledge to other cases. The situation is much better now, but we remain vigilant.
On the lighter side, what has been the most rewarding team-building exercise you participated in?
S.M.: We recently participated in a large drum circle (google it!) with over 350 colleagues. It was a good introduction in team dynamics and co-ordination but a lot of fun as well. And not as painful for the ears as one might have feared!
This Article was originally published in Issue 2.5. of the CEE Legal Matters Magazine. If you would like to receive a hard copy of the magazine, you can subscribe here.
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