Monique van der Kaden, Legal Manager, Samsung Electronics Benelux B.V.
How long have you been working for your current company?
I have been working for Samsung since 1st July 2008.
Briefly explain your career history and what led you to your current position.
I started my working life as an attorney-at-law at a law firm in Rotterdam. I worked as an attorney for about 5 years. During those years, I started out doing general law cases and then further specialised in corporate/company law dealing with all the legal issues that a company can run into.
After working as an attorney, I worked as an in-house council at the Dutch Flower Auction (FloraHolland). This is the biggest flower auction in the world and what you could describe as a quintessentially Dutch company.
After two years of working at the flower auction, I was approached by Samsung. They informed me that the Benelux entity needed a lawyer with my background to set up the legal department. This was such an exciting opportunity that I could not pass it up.
What is your proudest professional achievement and why?
Introducing and setting up a competition law practice at the law firm I worked for. This was quite a challenge, as at first they did not see the importance of having one. I continued to write articles and announce important developments and finally cases came to the law firm. After this, a competition law practice was set up.
Litigating at Court of First Instance - it had always been a dream to litigate an actual case for the European courts. I did the written part of the litigation, which I remain very proud of to this day.
Being asked to set up a legal department at Samsung Electronics Benelux B.V. - this meant that the company put trust and confidence in me to do this job for them.
What are the greatest challenges that you face in your current role and what do you do to overcome them?
Samsung is a Korean company, so it was important to get a clear comprehension of Korean culture - culture differences can sometimes be a hurdle. I took some courses that made me understand what the differences are and how to better communicate with Korean management. What also helps is to confirm everything by email as much as possible, so they also can read it afterwards.
Our headquarters sometimes wants a clear analysis of local law. Explaining Dutch and/or Belgian law is sometimes a challenge, as the systems are very different. What I do in this situation is explain, where possible, the reasons why the law was drafted in a particular way. If background information is provided it helps make things easier to understand.
Samsung Electronics Benelux B.V. is a Sales/Marketing company. All money spent on anything else - in particular Legal - is considered a cost instead of an investment or cost saving expense. This remains a difficult challenge. To counteract this attitude, I basically focus on the good results Legal is getting and what Legal is doing for the company. This is to underline the importance of what we do and to show that having a good legal department is indeed an investment.
How difficult is it for you personally to attain work-life balance and how do you endeavour to do this?
It can be quite difficult - the job of being a lawyer is not a 9 to 5 one, particularly when serious issues arise. The lawyer is the person who is counted on to give good advice and who checks all the steps.
I try as much as possible to keep a control on my working hours, while also prioritising what I can do before starting my work - checking out what has priority and what can be done at a later time.
Did you have a mentor or role model in your career or while you were studying law? Who were they and how did they help you?
At University I had one teacher (for civil law) who taught me how to really read and analyse as a lawyer - this has been one of those key assets that I still use in my daily work.
I also participated in an International Moot Court Competition, in which I received a lot of video training to prepare for the pleading part of the competition. This was such an intense learning experience on how to set up arguments and actually plead them. The methods which I learned during that competition are still valuable to me today.
How effective do you think corporate diversity initiatives are? What methods do you think are most effective and why?
Personally, I find this a very hard question in the sense that it might not be something which is easily stimulated - this could lead to an artificial solution. The most effective method is still making women aware that they can have the same opportunities as men - this should start at school/university. Creating this awareness and strong mindedness in women will give them a clear sense of what they want and can achieve, which will ultimately help advance their careers in a positive way.
Another way is to hear the voices of women who are at this moment in “high-up” positions. Young women or women who want to advance in their career can use this as a tool, or look to these women as evidence that some things are possible.
Were there any points in your career when you felt you were at a disadvantage or at an advantage because you were female?
There have indeed been moments when I felt that being a woman left me at a disadvantage. This is particular the case when you are working with men from an older generation who are still not used to women in “higher” positions or giving them advice on complicated matters. Sexist jokes have been part of that experience and unfortunately still are. My belief is that this comes from insecurity.
I have to say that I have not found this to be true in Korean culture. A lawyer is regarded as quite a high status, so, from that perspective, I was never made to feel like I was at a disadvantage because I am a woman.
What do you think have been the most significant changes for women in the legal industry over the past five years?
From a Dutch point of view, I believe the overall understanding that women are balancing private and professional life has helped to improve the role of women in the legal industry.
Education-wise, women are stimulated more and given more opportunities.