Szilvia Bognar is the General Counsel – Law and Compliance at Bayer Hungaria. She first joined the pharmaceutical company in February 2014. Before that, she was a counsel with Nestle between August 2006 and January 2014. Bognar’s experience includes traineeships with the Krankovics Panszky Arva Law Firm, Heinzelmann and Partners Attorneys-at-law Hengeler Mueller, and the Constitutional Court of the Republic of Hungary.
Please tell us a bit about your career path leading up to your current role with Bayer.
S.B.: The insight I gained during my university years oriented my attention towards law firms, so I worked for them for two years after graduating. I focused mainly on civil law, but my valuable first experience included a good and general manner of approach (how to deal with any kind of legal matters). As I found it not appealing to become one of umpteen attorneys, I strove for excellence so that I would have greater chances of success when faced with the fierce competition of the legal services market. As an in-house counsel I got closer to the business side, which enabled me to render more tailor-made solutions – which I would emphasize as one of the great added values of working for a company. I appreciate that I had the chance to work not only on the local level, but also in the headquarters of the company, dealing with issues from a different perspective. Moving back to Hungary, I wanted to leverage my knowledge, but it appeared I had great opportunities to grow more outside Nestle, so I joined Bayer Hungaria to set up its in-house legal function.
With Nestle you worked for an FMCG company. What was the biggest thing you had to adapt to when moving to an in-house role within a more regulated industry?
S.B.: In my view it is not extra challenging if an industry is heavily regulated. However, it does increase the level of complexity in many instances. I think one must accept this fact and show sensitivity to certain issues and develop a great compliance culture. You may set up a new work stream in weeks, but attitude may take years to change.
How large is your current team, and how is it structured?
S.B.: Right now there are three qualified lawyers working in-house, but we may take external legal services for specific issues (for example we would not have the capacity to deal with litigation issues on top of the daily legal consultancy we provide).
Besides the area of Legal, I am also responsible for Compliance, Export Control, and Data Privacy.
What does Export Control mean?
S.B.: Export Control refers to my tasks on the monitoring of foreign trade, which is, normally, unrestricted. However, there are certain national and international restrictions to observe regarding the export of physical goods, software, technology, and services. Our function really is one that I’d describe more as an information-sharing one. We focus on staying apprised of such restrictions and, whenever a new one pops up, or if another is relieved, we process the ramifications and pass on the information to our operational colleagues.
Why do you separate Data Privacy from the Compliance Function?
S.B.: It must be due to historic reasons. Data Privacy used to be handled by the IT Departments of Bayer. We now keep it separate because of its evolving significance, in particular in the digital era.
Some companies prefer bringing the different functions of regulatory, compliance, and legal within the same umbrella. Others choose to separate them. What are your views as to the most effective set-up?
S.B.: One of my objectives is to foster cross-functional cooperation, and I have a great working rapport with many internal teams and stakeholders. I find this crucial to achieve efficiency, reduce complexity (if possible), and find the most appropriate solutions. My personal opinion is that it is also key to have clear roles and responsibilities for the separate enabling functions; therefore, I prefer to have them as separate functions, but I fully concur that the more they cooperate, the better added value they deliver to the business.
As a sometimes-client of law firms, what are the biggest trends you notice in the legal services market?
S.B.: I have noticed that the legal services market has changed a lot in Hungary. I believe most companies have already decided to establish an in-house legal function, not only due to budget constraints, but because of the tailor-made solutions designed for business and other competitive advantages that a legal function can add.
Many of our businesses are set-up in regional clusters, and I detect this trend for law firms as well. Furthermore, more and more they need to feature valuable expertise in specific areas so that they can maintain constant collaboration with their clients and they must also be creative as to how to make their qualities visible for potential clients.
Having a reasonable and consistent approach pays back in the long run, in my opinion.
Compliance is one of the items at the top of the agenda for most GCs we speak to. Do you find that operating in a regulated industry means that the function is more straightforward than your previous experiences, given the more extensive legislative coverage, or do you feel it adds an added strain on the function?
S.B.: As I mentioned earlier, ideally compliance should not appear purely as a function, but as the way of doing business. The respective compliance colleagues are sort of mechanics who offer a wide variety of instruments. In general the compliance function is more straightforward in regulated industries, but this does not always apply, as the field of compliance is evolving fast. The trend requires not only compliance with laws but also preventive measures to identify and mitigate risks. For this reason, there are great examples from regulated industries of companies who have a strong and well-established compliance culture.
Speaking of which, what legislative updates on the horizon are you keeping an eye on in Hungary?
S.B.: Right now, as Bayer is a life science company, I mainly follow the related fields of law (e.g., pharmaceuticals and crop-protection legislation), but there are some golden key areas like antitrust or data privacy.
On the lighter side, if you could pick any other profession tomorrow, what would you opt for?
S.B.: As I am pleased to be a lawyer, I have never thoroughly considered this, but, in all likelihood, I would have become a surgeon should things have been different.
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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