Daniel Szabo is the Country Legal Counsel for Hungary at Hewlett Packard Enterprise, where he has been for almost two and a half years. Prior to that he worked for Magyar Telekom as Legal Counsel, Foreign Subs and M&A for almost 5 years. Earlier still he worked in private practice as a Junior Lawyer with both Allen & Overy and Nagy es Trocsanyi.
What was your career path leading up to your current role with HPE?
D.S.: I knew I wanted to be a private sector lawyer, and I was fortunate to have had the opportunity to explore a number of career paths. I started off with a brief tenure at Nagy es Trocsanyi, a renowned local law firm famous for its dispute resolution practice. I felt that I wanted to be closer to business than I was as a trial lawyer, and I transitioned to Allen & Overy’s Budapest office, where I was did mainly M&A and transactional work. This turned out to be my ticket to join the team of lawyers at Deutsche Telekom’s Hungarian subsidiary, Magyar Telekom. I spent close to five years overseeing M&A transactions and the key legal matters of MT’s foreign subsidiaries. It was at this time that I realized an in-house position fits my personality and interests best. I was therefore very glad to step up to the next level as country counsel for Hungary with Hewlett Packard. I am responsible for HPE’s local legal affairs and am a member of the country leadership team.
You’ve spent your entire in-house career in technology-driven companies. How do you feel that influences your role as a Head of Legal?
D.S.: The pace at which the industry is evolving is head-spinning. One must be very open-minded, otherwise one cannot adapt at the rate and frequency that the market dictates. This is true for an IT lawyer as well. Just as cutting edge IT becomes a top priority for other industries, technology is transforming the way lawyers work. Document and case management systems and time tracking and approval tools and similar innovations can dramatically increase efficiency and transparency. This in turn may mean fewer lawyers or different legal roles. I learned to embrace change and understand that it is likely to have a significant effect on my career. The future of law is more exciting and more in a state of flux than ever.
How does a GC in a Technology, Media and Telecommunications company learn to find the right balance between mitigating risks and not acting as a brake on innovation?
D.S.: Given the hectic and ever-changing nature of the TMT industry we must be very focused. Saying no unnecessarily is just as costly as taking unjustified risk. A deal stopped for lack of focus is just as wasteful as unnecessarily postponing innovation for the same reason – for example by insisting on cumbersome wet ink signatures when they are not really needed. So while striking the right balance may be particularly challenging in this fast-paced environment, we must be just as committed to lawful and ethical decision-making as GCs of any other sustainable and complex business are.
On the Hungarian market, what type of legal work keeps you and your team busiest?
D.S.: Some of the most exciting and advanced legal work we do in Hungary is selling complex integrated IT solutions to solve our customer’s problems. To put it simply, [providing] business outcomes rather than just servers or services or software. Such complex contracts require legal expertise in the areas of intellectual property, licensing of proprietary and open source software, commercial contracting, revenue recognition, and so on. The Hungarian team consists of a deal-support attorney and myself, and we work with external counsel on a regular basis. I think that around 80% of our work is deal support and the rest goes to supporting our functions, including HR, finance, real estate, procurement, ethics and compliance, and other areas. I also dedicate some of my time to country management tasks on the country leadership team. The team is also doing pro bono work for NGOs in need of legal advice in cooperation with Pal Szabo of Weil Gotshal & Manges Budapest.
How was HP’s recent split of its legal function managed and what were the main learning points for you following the experience?
D.S.: Hewlett Packard Enterprise and HP Inc. adopted different strategies in relation to their Hungarian legal operations. The former, which has a larger footprint in the country, chose to keep the team as is, though with adequately adjusted resources. The latter, being locally a smaller business operation with mostly indirect contracts, opted for a different operating model. An experienced regional legal counsel based outside the country is overseeing its legal affairs, with the help of local external counsel. It was interesting that up to the split we owed a fiduciary duty to the shareholders of the united company and we had to set both splitting companies up for success. There was no room for switching to the perspective of your future company before the split.
Looking back at your almost 2.5 years with HP/HPE – what was your most challenging project and why?
D.S.: The company adopted different approaches to legal support in Hungary over the years, and I joined after a period in which the company had no local country counsel. Setting up the legal operation, getting acquainted with a dazzlingly complex business, and establishing myself with senior sales people and the country leadership team was the toughest challenge. I just managed in time for helping with the company split. While I am confident that I am doing well, you don’t grow into such a role in a couple of months. It takes a long time and constant effort.
What would you identify as the biggest skill gap in terms for senior in-house counsel in Hungary?
D.S.: I cannot point to a specific skill gap but I have a general comment to make. My impression is that we tend to have a local rather than an international mindset. By this I mean that we are measuring our skills, performance, and career aspirations against benchmarks on the Hungarian market whereas in multinational companies the playing field is a lot wider.
On the lighter side, what one spot in the world is at the top of the list of places to see in your lifetime?
D.S.: I traveled parts of the Trans-Siberian Railway with my mother and sister when I was a child. My dream is to do the whole trip from Moscow to the Pacific Ocean one day, and perhaps go on to Japan.
This Article was originally published in Issue 3.2. 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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