In-House Interview: Seçkin Savaşer, Senior Legal Counsel Support Functions, GIC*L, Data Privacy EMEA, The Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company
Since you graduated in 2008 from Istanbul Kultur University’s Faculty of Law, you have held positions as a private practice lawyer and eventually as an in-house attorney. Tell us about your career path and goals. What inspired you to become an in-house lawyer?
I have started my journey back in 2006 as a summer intern at Kılıç Law Firm. It was set out to be a 30-day summer internship program which turned out to become 65 months of experience in the early days of my career.
As it was for most of interns my days started out spending a lot of time before the copy machine, printing out all the documents, creating copies of the files then of course proof reeding, spell check and a lot of administrative work.
The thing I liked the most was going to the courthouses to deliver the documents. That was giving me opportunities to meet with other colleagues, judges and prosecutors having a chance to learn from them small tips such as writing petitions or what was the thing they are looking for in certain cases.
Back in that time they were always welcoming and happy to see young faces trying to learn how the system works and how to get things done. I was always challenging my self to get the things done quickly to be able to get back to the office and spend more time with the lawyers.
Another thing I liked to do as an intern is to watch how the lawyers are reviewing agreements or drafting legal documentation. I was kindly asking to sit next to them quietly watching the language they were using and understanding their mindset while dealing with legal problems.
I am sure if you would ask them today, they would say that I was not even close to being quite where I was making them suffer with all my questions and with my curiosity. But sitting here with you today after almost seventeen years I believe these were the moments that triggered my appetite to keep my intern mindset still today trying to learn new things and gain new experiences every day within the field of law.
With that approach I have graduated from the law school and kept working at Kılıç Law Firm during my official legal internship period between 2008 and 2009 and I worked as a lawyer at said law firm until September 2011.
During my time at Kılıç Law Firm, I was able to focus on various fields of law, lots of litigation and consultancy experience especially in tax and administrative law.
Here I should say that I was lucky enough that I have been trusted by my colleagues at a very young age to handle very complex legal cases and handle many reputable clients which triggered my growth as a person and as a lawyer.
I believe we were a good match at that time where I was enjoying and willing to do all the administrative low value work, but I was always being guided by my colleagues in the right direction and I have been provided countless opportunities to work on countless legal matters as well as being able to take the responsibility of the work that I was doing.
I left Kılıç Law Firm for the military services and completed my military services by June 2012.
After the obligatory military services, it was time for me to make an important decision which would affect the rest of my career and how things would develop for me and my future family. I believe it was one of the most important decisions I had to take knowing that my such decision would shape-my life.
At that time there were some options that I might chose but I wanted to experience an inhouse role specially to gain a multinational perspective and I have accepted the offer from Çelebi Aviation Holding.
I have started working at Çelebi Group by July 2012 where I had to chance to work on many projects and many issues from corporate governance to government affairs, from international FRQ processes to internal investigations, from M&A projects to project finance agreements, from government relations to customer relations while keeping-up with litigation cases.
During my time at Çelebi group I was mainly responsible for the Turkish subsidiaries of the group dealing with the needs of all the departments and companies from various sectors. I was lucky enough to work with excellent lawyers who supported me to grow and understand the needs and expectations of the organization.
I believe there was two important things that I can point out from my experience as inhouse lawyer at Celebi Group. i) I have managed to learn what is expected from a lawyer ii) I have managed to understand the importance of the lawyer for clients in decision making processes.
I believe these to points are essential for a lawyer to understand and grow into in order to provide decent consultancy to the clients and to choose to become weather an inhouse lawyer or stay in private practice.
An inhouse lawyer should understand the mission and vision of the company as well as understand the business and how it has been managed and its business targets before providing any legal opinion whatsoever. Without such understanding the opinions provided or the directions recommended to the company would not be efficient and in some cases would have negative effect to the organization.
My time at Celebi Group provided me the opportunity to understand such expectations from an inhouse lawyer and that got stuck with me.
I really value the role of an inhouse lawyer in management role or a C level professional with law background in organizations which definitely adds high value to the organizations in terms of risk management and decision-making processes.
After 4 years at the Çelebi Group, an opportunity presented itself to join Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company as Legal & Compliance Manager of Turkey to be responsible and manage Goodyear Turkey’s legal department.
By June 2016 I have taken that challenge in order to improve my multinational experience and grow as inhouse lawyer taking the responsibility of managing all legal processes of a publicly listed multinational company.
And after almost 5 years and many, many challenges I have been appointed to a regional role as Senior Legal Counsel responsible of Support functions such as HR, Finance, IT, Communications as well as responsible for R&D business unit and Data Privacy in EMEA region.
For my new role at Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company I have moved to Luxembourg with my family, and we have been living here since March 2021.
You never know what kind of opportunities that life will bring but as a legal professional being involved with the business, running after the same objectives, understanding the business and its challenges, involving in decision making processes and inspiring the future of a company as well as managing the risks of an organization I believe these facts inspired me to become an inhouse lawyer.
It seems like, at least for next a few years I will continue as inhouse lawyer but who knows what kind of opportunities life would bring to our door, but I know that I will keep looking for new challenges and opportunities because that is the only way to grow.
What inspired you to become a lawyer?
This could seem as a cliché but as far as I remember there have been 2 things that I would dream of doing as a child. i) a professional football player ii) a lawyer.
Now, looking at the past I believe there are 2 person who may have such influence on me my father and my uncle.
My father was a professional football player back in 70’s played in the super league but had to retire after an injury and became an engineer. My uncle was and still is a lawyer.
I was lucky enough to grow-up in a large family having my grandmother, my aunt, my uncle and my cousins next door as neighbors and such fact made us inspire from each other so much.
I believe I have been inspired by my uncle Recep Gündüz Büke. Especially from his stories and from his sense of humor I guess I wanted to become like him.
In addition to above I have always had a neck to resolve claims between my friends and managed to be the bridge between my friends and teachers at school management somehow, I have always been the peacekeeper or the one who clarifies the conflicts between parties. I believe these are things inspired me a lot.
What is the scope of your role at The Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company as Senior Legal Counsel Support Functions, GIC*L, Data Privacy EMEA?
Today I have a regional role at Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company.
In my new role I am representing the Legal Department of Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company within the leadership teams of Human Resources, Finance, IT and Communications functions, providing them legal consultancy and support in their projects and decision-making processes.
I am also representing legal team within the leadership team of GIC*L.
GIC*L stands for Goodyear Innovation Center Luxembourg where Goodyear invests yearly more then 400m Euro globally for innovation of tires in accordance with the requests of the automotive industry while keeping up with regulatory developments.
My role is basically to follow-up tire and rubber based global regulations, supporting the business unit in terms of understanding the new changes and implanting them especially in terms of homologation, tire labeling, tire testing as well as supporting the teams in terms of tire adjustment processes, warranty programs, customer satisfaction programs.
In addition to above I am acting as go to person in terms of Data Privacy Compliance in EMEA region supporting local Goodyear entities in terms of their Privacy Compliance Program managing the Data Privacy risks in EMEA region
Last but not least I am also acting as local Goodyear Lawyer in Luxembourg supporting Luxembourg entities as well as Luxembourg leadership team on day-to-day activities.
What personal and professional skills do you believe are most important for your role at The Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company? Can you discuss the role's challenges and benefits?
As I have tried to express above; the role is complicated and has wide range of responsibilities. In that sense it requires a lot of communication with a lot of different stakeholders.
I personally believe that communication skills are one of the most important skills to have working as a lawyer no matter if you are an inhouse lawyer or working in private practice.
I believe knowing the law, gaining experience and knowledge, being educated are standard skills that each and every lawyer should have without a question.
The things that would make a difference is to build good communication skills and look at the matters with a business mindset.
A lawyer’s job is not to pass the information about the laws and regulations. Today with the technological developments, especially with the new Artificial Intelligence era the information is for free and easy to reach. If you have a laptop or a tablet with internet connection it is each to find decent information about everything on google.
The difference is how you are handling things, how do you approach your clients, how do you make their lives easier, how do you help them making the decisions or managing the projects. Do you share the responsibility with them or not? are you part of the team or you are just an outsider giving nothing useful to the team.
These are the points that the management team would pay interest to, they would want to see their lawyer with them while taking the decision, putting his/her hand under the rock as we say it with a Turkish expression.
As mentioned above it starts with understanding the business and understanding your role as a lawyer within the organization.
For the challenges I can say that it requires some time to get used to the environment in EU.
Although the regulation set-up in Turkey is more or less similar to EU regulations the application of such regulations may shift.
As per benefits I am really happy to be in a global environment seeing pros and cons within a different country and mindset being able to compare the differences between Turkey and EU is a great growth opportunity for me. It provides a wider view and understanding of laws and regulations.
I am really proud of the education that I have got in Turkey as well as the legal experience that I had so far in Turkey as an emerging markets country.
With my latest experience it provides me the opportunity to come-up with efficient and quick solution alternatives and gives me an opportunity to challenge how things should be done.
Unfortunately, in EU it is difficult to come-up with alternative solutions, people does not welcome to do things out of the ordinary, but the emerging markets mindset may give you practical ideas to find a solution to a matter.
I believe the benefit that I am having a person is to see the different approaches and learn to take best of the EU and Emerging Markets mindset.
For nearly 6 years, you've been a member of the Ethics and Reputation Association. After 4 years on the Board, you have been a member of the Audit Committee since April 2021. Why did you choose to work as a compliance professional after graduating from law school? What exactly does compliance imply to you?
I think I have met with Ethics and Reputation Association (TEID) back in 2015 just before I joined Goodyear. I believe it was a breakfast event where FCPA regulations have been discussed.
Up until that point I was acting as a Turkish Lawyer trying to understand, why within the global agreements we are seeing such commitments regarding Anti-Bribery, Anti-Money Laundering and other compliance matters.
As a lawyer, to protect my clients I was a little bit skeptical to such kind of commitments during agreement negotiations.
The breakfast that I just mentioned was the triggering event for me to pay interest on Compliance Programs and activities
On top of the global regulations and huge penalties that has been imposed to many multinational organizations I believe Compliance culture is important for the organizations in terms of keeping their presence and surviving in this difficult business environment.
As the companies grow it is getting very difficult to manage the culture and ensure the safe environment within the organization. The compliance programs are bringing the opportunity to impose same principals all stakeholders of an organization which provides a safe and healthy environment for the organization to keep growing and expanding.
With a Turkish Market perspective, I believe the importance of Compliance will increase significantly in next 5 to 10 years that the companies will understand the value of doing business with the other companies that shares similar mindset and values. Such thing would provide a sort of comfort zone to the companies knowing that their stakeholder is having the same values would give them the opportunities to solve their conflicts easier.
As we all know the court proceedings are getting longer and the justice came out of court proceedings is not always covering the expectations of the parties; having a decent compliance program, getting to know your stakeholders, customer, suppliers and sharing the same values with them would also increase the efficiency of the dispute resolution alternatives and would create more peaceful environment.
The multinational organizations are investing a lot of money and time in this field and making their compliance programs as a business priority.
From my perspective compliance programs are comfort zones for the companies which would provide a decent level of trust within or out of the organization with all its stakeholders; a kind of shield around the organization making the managers lives easier giving them grounds for decision making processes.
What do you think are the differences between a lawyer and a compliance professional?
I believe being a lawyer and a compliance professional requires different mindsets and priorities.
For example, in a fraud case the lawyer would and should focus on the suspects, prioritizing to find people who has been involved, find the evidence, notify the required government entities regarding the criminal acts and try to compensate the loses of the company via legal proceedings however the compliance professional’s priorities would shift from that.
A compliance officer’s priority would also cover focusing on the suspects and finding the responsible of the incident but; a compliance officer would prioritize to identify the control weaknesses, internal policy violations and what has actually happened to fraudulent amount ? where it has been spend ? was the amount used to for a bribe or supporting terrorist activities or was it sent to sanctioned countries or organizations or individuals rather then compensating the losses of the organization.
A compliance officer’s focus would be ensuring if the company’s policies has been violated or not and if the company’s policies failed or not.
A lawyer’s focus would be identifying criminal activities and violations of the law.
A lawyer would prioritize identifying who is innocent who is guilty, but a compliance officer would only be interested in the violations of company policies and its compliance program.
As a compliance professional, you have worked both in Turkey and abroad. Can you talk about your important experiences and the differences in culture and mindset you have identified?
As I have mentioned above; in terms of mindsets and approaches as a Turkish Lawyer, I have approached the matters with a mindset where I prioritized to compensate losses of my client or defining who is guilty or not in an incident.
With compliance culture and mindset, the picture should be bigger. We should prioritize the company’s compliance program and its principals, understand the weaknesses and fixing such weaknesses on a timely manner and ensuring same principals are being applied to all stakeholders fairly and equally.
What are the international trends in your industry you expect to impact the Turkish legal & compliance market the most?
I believe we need to focus on governing Artificial Intelligence there are significant developments in EU and there is growing interest to regulate this area
In addition to above no one can deny the growth of Privacy Regulations especially after GDPR. I believe there have been significant development on this area in Turkey as well, but current set-up does not respond to the requirements of multinational organizations. We should not forget the purpose of Privacy Regulations it is to keep the rights of individuals safe not to limit international commercial activities
What do you believe are the most important skills for lawyers to grasp business needs better and develop in order to succeed in-house?
As mentioned above understanding business and building business mindset is very essential for the inhouse lawyers you cannot provide legal consultancy or guidance without understanding the business needs and priorities.
You should go to shop floor see the machines, blue collar workers, understand the manufacturing process, touch the products, see the equipment, feel and understand the needs.
And also build good communications skills, be approachable and be easy communicator, open new ideas and listen to others.
The rest is your must have knowledge and experience which would grow in time with new challenges.
What advice would you provide to students who aspire to be successful lawyers?
I believe any lawyer should believe in lifetime education. There is no limit to what we can learn and how far we can grow.
I also believe to keep the intern mindset. To this day especially in our occupation no lawyer can say he or she knows it all. There is no doubt the one who would do the most research, who would read the doctrine and precedents would have more chance to win and be successful.
Of course, experience is very important, but nothing can beat a will to work and study, the appetite to question and understand. So, I would say to new graduates and students to stay foolish, stay hungry and never loose the intern mindset keep it somewhere to inspire you.
And, your New Year wishes?
I wish in 2023 we would have the opportunity to build stronger judicial system in Turkey where superiority of law principal is applied without a doubt as well as other international principals of law. We all need to trust the superiority of law principal.