Debolina Partap, Associate Vice President & Head Legal, Wockhardt Group, India.
How long have you been working for your current company?
I have been in this company since August 2006.
Briefly explain your career history and what led you to your current position.
My career begun as a practising Advocate in Bombay High Court in the year 1991 and thereafter, I joined India’s largest development bank and financial institution, Industrial Development Bank of India (IDBI) then in 1993 as an Officer Legal. In IDBI, a public sector banking enterprise, in a span of 13 years I rose to the position of Zonal Legal Head of IDBI (Southern Zone) and was in charge and responsible for legal operations of all branches and franchise offices at that point of time in the Southern Zone.
A change from a public sector banking environment to a private sector industry environment was indeed very challenging and the offer to join Wockhardt in 2006 as a Deputy General Manager (Legal) for me was indeed the biggest professional challenge. However, steadfast perseverance, a constant solution and compliance oriented approach, an unflinching goal-oriented outlook and a work conducive environment helped me rise in the Wockhardt group to the position of general counsel of Wockhardt Group, India as Associate Vice President & Head Legal.
What is your proudest professional achievement and why?
Successfully steering Wockhardt Limited to safety and resolving 10 bankruptcy proceedings filed against the company, thereby bringing Wockhardt Limited out of insolvency. Having successfully handled these matters, I have felt extremely satisfied as a professional.
What are the greatest challenges that you face in your current role and what do you do to overcome them?
The greatest challenge as a legal head is to constantly and effectively balance between business interest and legal interest. One of the ways of circumventing such conditions is to be an effective solution provider helping the business to understand legal and compliance importance and further trying to be business partners in completing projects in an efficient way and also enhancing business needs. Effective legal leadership helps in such situations.
How difficult is it for you personally to attain work-life balance and how do you endeavour to do this?
This is a mega challenge for Mumbaikar professionals (workforce living in Mumbai, India). The average time spent outside home is approximately 16-18 hours a day. But even quality time of 2-3 hours with family does make a lot of difference. Also, totally cut-off vacations with family and friends help in overcoming Mumbai’s worklife stress.
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?
My mother has been my mentor throughout my life and even today. I always look upon her for everything and derive all my inspiration in work and home from her. She has always been there for me whenever I needed her, including emotional support.
How effective do you think corporate diversity initiatives are? What methods do you think are most effective and why?
As corporate lawyers it is essential that we bring about fundamental change in the attitude of the corporate environment and profusely support the concept of equal pay for equal work and not create any gender, caste, creed, racial or nationality biases. While government policies and initiatives are always therefore regulatory purposes, the basic seed of equality should be borne out at grassroot levels.
Challenges and opportunities to manage any or all of the following dimensions requires constant vigilance and competent leadership and management: globalization, shifting demographics; emerging majorities; economic and legal challenges; gender gaps; supplier diversity; and race, privilege, and class issues.
A corporate social responsibility policy in all corporates must be there. At Wockhardt, we have an effective policy in this respect and we also have an individual social responsibility policy.
Were there any points in your career when you felt you were at a disadvantage or at an advantage because you were female?
I have never felt I have been put in any disadvantageous position.
What do you think have been the most significant changes for women in the legal industry over the past five years?
The most significant story in legal history for the past five years has been the fact that a significant number of women general counsels and top women legal executives have emerged in India. To name a few corporates that come in this category: Cadbury India, Bayer India, Pfizer, Piramal Healthcare, Wockhardt India, State Bank of India, ICICI Bank, IDBI, Citibank, and many more.