Ramona Ene is the Legal Manager responsible for Romania and Bulgaria at Cargill, which provides food, agriculture, financial, and industrial products and services in 67 countries. Prior to joining the company in 2005, Ene was a Partner with Anastasescu & Asociatii from 2003 to 2005, a Partner with the Ramona Ene Law Office from 2000 to 2003, and an Associate Lawyer with the Mihail Georgescu Law Office from 1998 to 2000.
Please tell us a bit about your career leading up to your current role with Cargill.
R.E.: My late maternal grandfather was the first who foresaw a future in a legal career for me, when the rest of my family was pushing hard for me to enter the healthcare system. He was a Sergeant in World War II and spent a couple of years in captivity. I like to believe I inherited from him the resilience to pursue my own goals despite everybody else’s opinion. Immediately after graduation I became a member of the Prahova Bar and started a practice in my hometown, Valenii de Munte. During my apprenticeship years I was blessed to be guided by Mihail Georgescu – for decades one of the most distinguished Judges at the Ploiesti Appellate Court, at that time retired – and he instilled in me his passion for civil law and the court atmosphere. A few years later, following my heart, I moved to Bucharest, where I initially practiced as a litigator for Anastasescu & Asociatii and fairly quickly became a Partner. Moving to Cargill as an in-house lawyer was a difficult professional decision; I remember it took me a couple of sleepless nights to make the call, but in the end it proved to be the right choice.
Cargill was your first in-house experience and you stuck with it. What has kept you in both the industry and company for 10 years?
R.E.: It’s a very simple explanation: Cargill has a special charm, and I fell in love with it. It starts with the fact that I enjoy serving an industry which serves Romanian farmers and brings its own contribution to the bread I eat in the morning. I am proud that our Code of Ethics is a living document that we all strive to observe in everything we do, not just another poster hanging on corporate walls. I am excited to be part of a sophisticated and educated European legal team of approximately 60 lawyers, who are constantly exchanging best practices, ideas, and knowledge, and who are continuously engaged in exciting assignments. In Cargill I have always felt valued as a person and lawyer by the numerous internal clients I worked with over the years and in various roles I undertook. All of these have brought me plenty of opportunities for personal and professional growth. Last but not the least, it gave me great pleasure to initiate Cargill’s first Cares Council in Romania and serve as its President for some good years, helping the communities where we operate to thrive together with our company. Cargill Cares Councils are employee-led groups that implement strategic community involvement activities in their local communities. Cargill has more than 350 of these councils around the world and we share the common goal of ensuring that Cargill is investing its financial and human resources to help meet our business objectives while serving local communities.
Globally, the company prides itself in “feeding the world in a responsible way,” by “reducing environmental impact.” How is that drive reflected in your local legal work?
R.E.: We have one member of our legal team in Romania, Iulia Danila, who is part of a European in-house environmental legal team. They work together to provide legal advice to Cargill businesses in Europe on a variety of environmental issues. Cargill’s customers, consumers, governments, and activist groups are demanding greater transparency around where and how the raw materials that Cargill trades and processes are produced. Increasingly, these key stakeholders want reassurance that every player at every step in the supply chain is acting in a responsible and sustainable manner. Cargill is focused on assessing and managing the environmental and social impacts of its operations and supply chains to mitigate commercial, regulatory, and reputation risk. Our legal work spans Europe and is often not limited to a single country like Romania.
You are responsible for overseeing legal matters of the company for both Romania and Bulgaria. While you are a qualified lawyer in Romania, presumably, your Bulgarian legal training is very limited. How do you overcome this barrier and still stay on top of legal affairs in that country?
R.E.: The Bulgarian market has a wide range of law firms offering excellent legal service, and for our daily operations we consult them. That being said, there are multiple ways to overcome a lack of local qualification – and even flip that into an advantage. We should not forget that Bulgaria and Romania are both EU state members and consequently in the last years have harmonized many of their laws according to European legislation, thus many legal concepts are applicable mutatis mutandis. Both countries have quite similar economic developments and the maturity of their legal proceedings and enforcement of law is quite similar. After some time working on certain areas of law specific to our industry, I ended up becoming familiar with certain local regulations which impact our activities there. Similarly, on employment matters, where questions are quite frequent for in-house lawyers, I found that sometimes Bulgarian rules are more permissive than the Romanian Employment Code. I think our Bulgarian business took advantage of my Romanian insights on input business when we first launched their crop inputs sales.
On August 17, 2015, Cargill announced that it signed in a EUR 1.35 billion deal to enter the aquaculture nutrition business. How does a global deal like that, from a 67-country company, affect your legal work at the local level?
R.E.: As a competition law specialist I was invited to be part of the larger legal team that helped this deal go through, with my role being to manage and obtain regulatory approvals. At the beginning of August the parties were discussing closing the deal by the end of this year, but as you have probably seen a few days ago the closing was announced. Such a result would have not been possible without very aggressive deadlines for preparing the economic concentration notifications in several countries where the transaction required filing. Cargill is a large organization and its business lines are managed independently, thus collating, reviewing, and presenting consolidated economic, commercial, and legal data per each country’s legal demands tested my project coordination abilities quite heavily. The holiday season as well as time zone differences didn’t help either. Honestly, I would not have accomplished it without the great help received from my fellow colleagues, who were responsive to my requests.
One feature I like the most in our organization is that opportunities are offered to everyone, regardless where are located. We all can bring our contribution to the best of our capabilities. In the last decade I was privileged to work for clients located in several countries in CEE on important cross-border projects, so I can testify that professionalism and diversity are appreciated in Cargill regardless of where people come from.
Did you handle the local regulatory merger clearances in-house or did you externalize the work to a law firm? Why?
R.E.: We operate based on a model where in-house and external legal work is properly balanced to provide the best value to Cargill. Competition law and merger control is a rather highly specialized field where knowledge and proven expertise makes a big difference, especially because each jurisdiction has different requirements and each regulator may have a different perspective on market definitions.
While on the topic, in general, if you have to outsource legal work, what are the main criteria you use in selecting the law firms you will work with?
R.E.: Like any other organization, we try to obtain the best quality-value ratio from our relationship with law firms. Generally, the experience a law firm can put behind a project is critical, their capabilities and resources are important, and of course cost is always a factor to consider. As I mentioned before, I tend to view merger control as a rather highly specialized field where knowledge and experience matters most.
Once a project is concluded with external counsel, do you have a formal KPI system in place to assess your collaboration with them? Even if on an informal basis only, what are the main things that will influence your decision to work with them in the future?
R.E.: I believe we have quite an efficient way to track satisfaction, especially for major projects. Each project brings its own unique criteria, thus we ask for feedback from external collaborators on how we can further improve our internal work processes. Personally, in addition to expertise and professionalism brought to the table by the external counsel, I always remember the extra mile someone will walk with me to produce the best legal product in given circumstances. Working under budget or fee caps, which is our preferred approach, may not be the biggest incentive for a law firm to spend all its resources for the best conceivable legal product, but I am often impressed by the tremendous good will and effort our external collaborators make to deliver on this goal.
On the lighter side, if you were not a lawyer, what other career would you have pursued?
R.E.: Once, when I had severe and persistent laryngitis, I contemplated the idea that nothing in life is to be taken for granted and I wondered what might happen if eventually I would not be able to speak again … I honestly don’t imagine myself doing something else, with the notable exception of being the mother of my three lovely boys.
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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