Interview with Jaroslav Krupec, Country Legal Director at Veolia Slovakia about his background and best practices.
CEELM: Can you walk us through your career leading you up to your current role?
Jaroslav: The path to my current position was relatively straightforward, with only two employers. During my penultimate year at the University in Bratislava I found a position as a paralegal at Peterka & Partners. After finishing my studies I continued working for the law firm. This firm provided general legal services and developed young associates by having them work under the supervision of more experienced colleagues. This enabled me in a relatively short period to work on a diverse range of legal matters and gain experience in and good habits for providing legal services. Two or three years after passing the bar exam I started to feel the need for a change. It was not a crisis or anything serious – I was very happy working as an attorney for this firm. So they agreed to let me work fewer hours and during this new free time I tried to pursue side activities and projects.
During this period, I came across an advertisement for a position at Veolia. It was for a lawyer with less experience than I had – but I applied nevertheless. The energy sector – as a heavily regulated field – was very intriguing to me. I also wanted to try an interview, as the only job interview I had experienced was the one for the paralegal position at the law firm. The interview was very pleasant and I had a good feeling about the people conducting it, but as the position was for a more junior lawyer I did not pursue it further. After a couple months the interviewer, who at the time headed the legal department of the Veolia Slovakia Energy business line, contacted me and asked whether I was interested in replacing her, as she was planning to retire. After a couple of meetings, I agreed, and in January 2019 I started working for Veolia.
CEELM: What does Veolia do, and how large is the company, both in Slovakia and around the world?
Jaroslav: Veolia is a global leader in optimized resource management, and it designs and provides water, waste, and energy management solutions. In 2019 the Veolia group had 178,000 employees, supplied 98 million people with drinking water and 67 million people with wastewater service, produced 45 million megawatt hours of energy, and converted 50 million metric tons of waste into new materials and energy. The consolidated revenue in 2019 was over EUR 27 billion.
Veolia in Slovakia is a leading provider of water management and energy services. Our Water business line provides drinking water, sewer service, and water infrastructure management to 162,000 customers and to nearly a million residents of Slovakia‘s cities and towns. The Energy business line is among the largest generators and suppliers of heat in Slovakia. For more than 25 years, the Energy business line has provided household heat to more than 89,000 households in 25 cities. Since 2018, it has also been a major generator of electricity. It also provides services for industrial clients and offers solutions for energy efficiency for buildings and their complete management. Veolia Slovakia in 2019 employed 2,445 people and its consolidated revenue was over EUR 276 million.
CEELM: Why did you decide to join Veolia?
Jaroslav: As I mentioned earlier, the decision to go to a job interview in Veolia was largely by chance. However, as Veolia is active in a highly-regulated field of business, I was eager to work as a lawyer here and gain experience in a specific heavily regulated domain. In addition, I presumed that working as an in-house lawyer would enable me to see the commercial and technical aspects of the field. Fortunately, I was right. I have met very skilled and experienced people in Veolia and the best part is that they are never tired from answering my never-ending questions.
CEELM: Tell us about Veolia’s legal department. How big is your team, and how is it structured?
Jaroslav: The provision of legal services within the Veolia Slovakia group is divided between the Energy and Water business lines. I work closely with the Energy business line legal department, which is seated in Bratislava. This department consists of six lawyers and one paralegal. The Water business line legal department consists of ten lawyers and is dispersed in more than one location in Slovakia.
During my first year at the company, a reorganization of Veolia Slovakia started. The reorganization was aimed at both the Energy and Water business lines and all respective support functions for each business line (including the legal departments). The process slowed down because of the COVID-19 pandemic, so it was not completed last year and still continues.
CEELM: Was it always your plan to go in-house? If so, why? If not, how did it happen?
Jaroslav: No, for the first couple of years after university I thought that I would work for a law firm for the rest of my career. A couple of years after the bar exam, when I started considering a change, I was thinking about the advantages of being an in- house lawyer. How you can prevent the legal problems and also see the long-term outcomes of your legal advice, unlike in a law firm, where lawyers deal with already-created problems and don’t usually have information about how the legal advice and proposed solutions they provided influenced the further activities of the client. I also liked the idea of seeing the bigger picture of the company’s business and being in better contact with the “customers” of your legal services.
CEELM: What was your biggest single success or greatest achievement with Veolia in terms of particular projects or challenges? What one thing are you proudest of?
Jaroslav: The first thing that comes to my mind is the relationship that I manged to build with my colleagues in a relatively short period. My first day in Veolia was 15 days after they had signed an SPA and only two months before closing an acquisition of five new companies, including a large CCGT Power plant. This environment helped me to get to know a lot of colleagues in a really short time. But I think that you want to hear a different answer – not such a clichéd answer.
During my relatively brief work for Veolia I have seen many major and minor achievements and victories. Sometimes the finalization of small projects brought greater satisfaction than the successful closing of a bigger project. I think it depends on the level of despair and struggle that one experiences during the project. With this in mind, I was really proud of a divestment of a small agricultural company that had been for sale by Veolia for several years. The Veolia team consisted only of myself and our Commercial Director, and we also did all the legwork (as usually during an M&A project there are several people working on it). This fact also helped raise my level of satisfaction.
CEELM: How would you describe your management style?
Jaroslav: I don’t know if a have a specific management style. I try to be consistent and clearly readable in my actions and take into account the specifics of each colleague. As my colleagues in the legal department are very skilled and experienced, I give them freedom to act and provide legal services independently. I intervene only when necessary – for example when setting a goal or task or when things go awry, when I sense an interdepartmental conflict, or when I work directly with them on a project, and so on. I believe that a freedom system will always outcompete an authoritarian system across time.
There are some disadvantages or drawbacks to this, though. When your team works independently, you often lack information about the day-to-day operations of your department, and they lack information from you. There are, of course, ways how to overcome this. I always try to be honest to myself and my colleagues and maintain a balanced ratio between managerial and legal work so that I don’t lose touch with the operations of the legal department.
CEELM: Do you have any personal habits or strategies you employ that may not be common but that really help you succeed in your role?
Jaroslav: I don’t think that I can give your readers any ground-breaking or revelatory guidance. I try to do things the simple way and not to overthink problems or tasks. Nevertheless, the general rules and practices that help me are: (i) know your colleagues, (ii) be transparent and clearly communicate information, (iii) always remember that in-house lawyers are a support function (i.e., we are here for others and not the other way around); (iv) organize your team so that it is focused on the same path as the company (of course, I don’t mean that this should be done by eliminating diversity of opinion or anything like that); and (v) don’t lie.
The last may seem old-fashioned, but it helps stabilize everything. A false statement or intentional innuendo can start a fire that gets out of control and causes unforeseen damages to relationships and the smooth operation of any department.
CEELM: What one person would you identify as being most important in mentoring you in your career – and what in particular did you learn from that person?
Jaroslav: I have to mention two of my bosses from each phases of my career. Each one of them showed me things from a different perspectives specific for their business position.
At the law firm it was my boss at the time, Jan Makara, the director of the local office, who found time to patiently show me how a lawyer provides legal services in an international law firm, organizes his work, and communicates the results to clients.
The second one is my current boss, Peter Dobry, the CEO of the Energy business line, who, with clearly defined vision, has made an impact in my everyday activities. His confidence in me, as well as the fact that he showed it and communicated it to me, helped me to acclimate to the new managerial position of an in-house lawyer heading an in-house legal department, which was very new to me when I started working for Veolia.
CEELM: On the lighter side, what is your favorite book or movie about lawyers or lawyering?
Jaroslav: I have never specifically sought after the lawyering thematic in books or movies. I have always found corny the usual dramatization of the legal environment with “zealous” objections during the hearings and “eureka” moments when the protagonist solves the case at the very last moment. But maybe I have just never seen a good movie or read a good book from the legal world. I have never read anything from John Grisham, for example. However, several good movies come to mind that were related to the legal profession. They are the usual suspects – no pun intended –and I am sure that everybody knows them – Michael Clayton, The Devil’s Advocate, 12 Angry Men, Presumed Innocent, and …And Justice for All, to name a few.