In-House Interview: Fırat Aslan, Senior Compliance Expert, Merck Group

In-House Interview: Fırat Aslan, Senior Compliance Expert, Merck Group

Since graduating in 2004 from Marmara University Faculty of Law and in 2007 from University of Amsterdam, you have worked as legal counsel for different reputable organizations in different countries. Tell us about your career path and goals.

My father, who encouraged me to study law, made a big impression on my career path – it was his wish that l pursue a legal career (or a medical one) and l never regretted my decision. My early practice concentrated on human rights law and international investment arbitration where l was a part of several big legal teams from different legal systems and was privileged to work, at the very early stage in my career, with esteemed lawyers who helped me to further my legal skills and shared their valuable experience providing me different perspectives. Then, I made a major change in my career leading me to compliance and started to work in the life science industry covering legal, data privacy, corporate and healthcare compliance topics. Now, I’m mainly focused on healthcare compliance which has become a passion over the past years and committed to further honing my skills in this area.


Could you tell us about the advantages of working in several countries and sectors during your career, as well as your significant experiences and challenges?

I have worked in five different countries, for different companies and on different levels. I can easily say that one of the advantages is the opportunity to experience different personal and professional cultures and traditions first-hand. This experience gives you the ability to develop a more global and open mindset and cultivate a diverse perspective. The same goes for changing industries that gives you flexibility, adaptability, the ability to learn quickly and maybe most importantly, knowledge and experience youcan bring to the table moving from one industry to the other. Things are done differently in different industries and the more you can transform your relevant skills to the new industry the better you contribute to the organization. I can think of only one challenge - starting everything from scratch can sometimes be hard to endure but equally motivates you to move forward.


What inspired you to become a compliance professional? What does the term "compliance culture" imply to you?

I should again refer to my father who wanted me to become either a medical doctor or a lawyer. So, initially being a compliance officer in healthcare seemed to be the best option for me. In time, my profession became my passion for several reasons for example being a compliance officer is not only about knowing the laws and industry codes but also understanding the business and its needs and then providing them effective guidance. The essence of a right compliance culture is “doing the right thing at all times” and it simply starts with the individuals and should ideally become a uniform behaviour across a company. Here, the compliance professionals serve a vital role as the company’s conscience.

What is the scope of your role as Senior Compliance Expert, Group Compliance at Merck Group? Can you discuss the role's challenges and benefits?

I am responsible to implement the strategy, develop and deploy Global healthcare-related compliance policies and related training programs to ensure my colleagues operate in compliance with laws and industry codes and create an environment where they can better focus on what matters the most – to help, create, improve and prolong the lives of patients.

I have recently started my current role and as you can imagine, the biggest challenge was to get to know the company, the relevant stakeholders, and their needs. I enjoy on the other hand being connected with my colleagues around the world, discussing and understanding their challenges and contributing to their solutions where l can. As we all know, there is no one-size-fits-all solution to matters especially if they are coming from different parts of the world involving legal and cultural aspects. This of course makes compliance more attractive to me – it never gets boring.

What are the international trends in healthcare industry you expect to impact the Turkish legal & compliance market the most? 

The pandemic changed and continues to change the landscape of the healthcare industry impacting also the regulatory landscape which was already complex. It's also clear that the pandemic has accelerated the digitization of the healthcare industry in areas including telemedicine, personalized medicine, artificial intelligence (AI), and cloud computing to develop and deliver new treatments and services. These relatively new areas - with more people benefitting them- increased the risks in several aspects such as sensitive patient health information from being released without the patient’s consent or knowledge, submitting incorrect invoices to insurance companies to receive inflated reimbursements, misrepresenting a virtual service, billing for services not rendered, and kickbacks. I assume such risks are or will be also relevant for Turkey and focusing on these risky areas can give legal and compliance professionals a head start and allow them to pivot to confront unforeseen threats.

You worked as a Legal Counsel & Compliance Officer in different companies in Turkey and outside of Turkey. What did you learn by working in Legal and Compliance roles together?

As you know, it is common, for a legal department to manage both compliance and legal functions as well as data privacy. However, depending on the company’s resources and the maturity level of compliance, you may typically see both teams operating independently but alongside one another. There are surely areas of overlap between the work of a legal and compliance professional however the two disciplines have different objectives and employ different methods. In my experience, legal teams are more focused on managing legal risks and providing legal services that support business growth (such as reviewing contracts, managing disputes and litigation and providing legal advice)whereas compliance teams are responsible for the development of business practices that are consistent with the purpose of the laws/industry codes and identify andmitigate risks so that the company’s reputation is well protected, and the business growth is ensured. It is crucial that these two functions don’t work in silos but collaborate closely.

As a lawyer, I was trained to identify risky areas and warn clients about them, and l thought that’s where my contribution normally ended, over the years and especially after being involved in compliance matters, I realized that identifying risk is just one part of the story as risk is inherent in all business activities.I figured that it is equally -if not more- important to analyze and quantify risk so that the best business decision can be made. That changed the way I interact with clients. As I learned how to evaluate risk, I became a more valuable contributor to strategic conversations.

What do you believe the legal and compliance professional's role and value should be in an organization for a successful and sustainable business

Legal and compliance professionals have a unique role and also the opportunity to make a business more successful and sustainable. This goes beyond simply helping organizations meet the technical requirements of prevailing laws and industry codes. Our contribution to a foundation of good corporate governance and elevating business performance is more important than ever as it is commonly accepted that ethical companies outperform others financially. However, for us to make a meaningful impact and be accepted as a business partner, we need to develop a broad understanding of the business we serve - its challenges, opportunities, products and customers and incorporate our knowledge and experience into a legal and compliance framework that meets various demands of the law, the business, and the public. As a legal and compliance professional, to add meaningful value to an organization, in addition to good technical knowledge, you would need to have good communication with your stakeholders to earn their trust byshowingyour knowledge of the regulatory landscape, listening to them and developingsolutions that support meeting their commercial goals.

What advice would you provide to students who aspire to be successful lawyers?

It’s difficult to give advice in a digital era where anyone has easy access to any sort of information. I’d nonetheless encourage them to be curious and courageous to volunteer for difficult tasks and consider it as an opportunity to develop personally and professionally.

And, your New Year wishes?

I wish everyone a happy new year and that their dreams come true.

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