Last week, we brought you part one of our session from Rio, “Client Centricity in Practice,” moderated by Melissa Kanô and Alexandre Pessoa of KLA Advogados, who were joined by Waldemar Thiago Junior, Vice President, Managing Director of Brazil for General Mills.
There were so many fantastic takeaways that I wanted to give you all the chance to sit with the first part before I brought you the second section. So here we go!
How much importance do in-house teams give to social media when it comes to their outside counsel?
Waldemar pointed out that he believes that it’s important – not to him because he comes from the generation that will call people to talk about things – but for the next generation, because they are all on social media. He does use social media to search for talent, particularly LinkedIn, and said that LinkedIn is probably the best place to invest in. He suggested that firms work with agencies that have social media expertise. That being said, based on some feedback from the audience, everyone agreed that this has to be done in such a way that is ethical and where permitted since not every jurisdiction allows the use of social media. In those countries, then, word-of-mouth is the only option.
However, when it is possible to use social media, then it should be employed because as Waldemar pointed out, the next CEOs and directors will use it much better.
How much do they take into account a firm’s diversity, equity, and inclusion policy when working with them?
General Mills, Brazil has been ranked number six as a “Great Place to Work” with respect to race and ethnic care, so it’s something that as a company, they value a lot and they are honored to hold such a high rank. They work to create a lot of awareness, discussion, and education within the company to guarantee that their employees take it seriously. As an example, although Waldemar didn’t require it, he has started to see his sourcing team include those questions on the questionnaires for new suppliers.
But they are just at the beginning of this, though he believes it will be happening more broadly, especially for big companies. Waldemar mentioned a friend who works in the private equity sector, where it is happening regularly and those companies are also requiring statistics. One of the Chilean delegates mentioned that in his country, national companies are required to hit certain percentages because of national and foreign policy. He asked whether that was similar for Brazil.
Waldemar answered that for General Mills, one of the pillars of their global strategy is to be a force for good, which means taking care of the planet, the people, and the communities. With that, comes the expectation that the company will have a positive influence on the things they believe need to change in society – not so much lobbying, but more leading by example.
One of these things is regenerative agriculture, to protect the environment – the idea is not only to protect but also to bring carbon back to the soil that was removed because of bad agricultural practices, pollution, etc. They do this by having scientists who specialize in regenerative agriculture, develop tools and technology for the main crops that General Mills sources from around the globe. They then share that knowledge widely instead of keeping it to themselves – they could use it as a competitive advantage, but they don’t, because they believe it’s important for society.
They do the same with diversity and inclusion. In Brazil, General Mills is part of the movement for racial equity. One of the key pillars of that movement, which has more than 47 of the biggest companies in Brazil from all sectors, is to change society, to guarantee that they provide education, to provide real chances. They measure growth year after year how many positions they create for Black people, and how many leadership positions.
As a note, in Brazil. 56% of the population is Black. But at Sao Paulo University, which is considered the best university in Brazil, only 1.2% of the professors are Black – one example. Waldemar noted that the level of inequality in Brazil is terrible. But of course, that’s not only the case in Brazil, citing the racial makeup of the delegates in the room. However, change is coming and not only will it be good for business, but it will be good for society.
What is the process for choosing outside counsel and how involved are the General Mills Headquarters?
At General Mills Brazil, it’s led by the legal teams at General Mills headquarters. Waldemar noted that the legal team in Brazil has a dotted line to him, but a straight line of report to headquarters. So they make the decision and because he has a good relationship with them, they may ask him, but it’s informal – the decision-making is theirs.
For local companies, public companies, the CEO has a right to approve the legal firm that the company will hire because these are all experienced people who run into so many issues in their lives.
Waldemar said he is coming to know a lot more about the different specializations of law firms, and sometimes he can offer an opinion on them, but local businesses have their CEOs and CFOs involved (often because of tax issues), and they will make the decision.
What is your impression of labor claims in Brazil?
One of the moderators included Alexandre Pessoa, from KLA, who is a labor lawyer, so he asked Waldemar to speak specifically about the labor claims in Brazil. He shared that in 2017, there were 4.2 million labor claims filed against employers in the country. They have a very specific and litigious environment, so he wanted to get the perspective of the employer.
Waldemar agreed that it’s a nightmare, especially when you are dealing with so much transformation, such as plant closures, distribution center closures/moves, etc. As an example, he said they have just announced that they’re moving their second-largest plant from one state in the south of Brazil to a state in the east, which is more strategically located. That involves terminating more than 700 people, which amounts to 700 risks. They have learned best practices from the past, so they are more confident now – first, they are treating people well, and second, they are legally very strong on the way they decided to do it.
The problem is that many companies don’t treat their employees well, and so as a result, employers suffer from the environment that they live in.
Alexandre agreed and said that his experience has been the same on the lawyer’s side, defending companies in a country with a protective bias for employees. He added that it’s not even about paying employees extra, but sometimes a polite conversation may prevent litigation. Even for a highly skilled professional in a senior position at a company, the simple signature of a release agreement will not prevent a labor claim.
Thanks so much to Waldemar, Melissa, Alexandre and all of our delegates for a fantastic interactive session in Brazil!