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Khaitan scoops KPMG partner as strategy chief to help firm stay ‘ahead of the curve’

Chemburkar: Big Six, Big Four, not so different
Chemburkar: Big Six, Big Four, not so different

Former KPMG partner Gautam Chemburkar joined Khaitan & Co as its first ever executive director strategy on 3 April.

Chemburkar has 18 years of experience of business management for investment bank JM Financial and Big Four accountancy firm KPMG.

There he had worked with clients from different sectors on fund raising, project finance, acquisition, divestiture and distress resolution. When he moved to KPMG Germany and London for five years, he explained, he was an evangelist for investments between India and Europe, and when returning to KPMG India he worked on ensuring effective management of the firm’s markets program.

Big 4 to Big 6

Chemburkar said his move from KPMG to Khaitan is not representative of a change in career, with his role at Khaitan being similar to his job description at KPMG.

“Consulting is a business per se, be it accounting or business consulting or be it law. There has to be a business perspective to sustain, prosper and grow. Unless you get a proper understanding of the business, what you’re doing is reactive stuff. So it is important to identify chinks in the armour for a particular business and start to think ahead what could bring the storm,” he commented.

Chemburkar told Legally India that Khaitan is offering him a package similar to what he was earning at KPMG.

We look at keeping evolving and to keep staying ahead of the curve - this is just another way.

Khaitan Mumbai partner Rabindra Jhunjhunwala commented: “I don’t think any other firm has somebody similar [in designation to Chemburkar]. It is yet again one of the visionary [ideas of the firm to have him on board]. We look at keeping evolving and to keep staying ahead of the curve - this is just another way. We thought strategy wise it would be good to get a professional. At the end of the day you need specialists just like you need a specialist lawyer for advising on [a certain area], so do you need a specialist for the growth of the firm.”

“As a non lawyer he can’t be [having a share in the firm’s equity] but the real idea is that to have a person like him, if he’s going to be a person developing the strategy, he has to be one of us. He can’t be anything else. Which is why [he was appointed as] executive director which is [a designation] at par with a partner [at the firm],” he added.

Curves: Where you want to be

Law firms traditionally have been pretty reactive to business. But they have to be up ahead on that curve.

Questioned about his view of the challenges in the legal profession, Chemburkar said: “Things to be appreciated in the context of the legal profession in India are that corporates in India are continuously grappling and facing the heat from growing stake holder activism. There is a litigious environment. We are in the day and age of globalisation, uncertainty and competition. So there is a lot more pressure on a present day law firms to be adept at giving advice on a lot of these complex things.”

“Law firms traditionally have been pretty reactive to business. But they have to be up ahead on that curve. There are so many competing firms that you have to come up with some proactive set of thoughts, so it is becoming more and more important for lawyers to really have a business mindset,” he added.

“Typically English law is something that we’ve been pretty good at understanding but when you’re talking about the other markets - the new frontier markets I’d like to call it - I think it’s becoming important for Indian law firms to try and educate themselves and align themselves [with other jursdictions’ laws],” said Chemburkar.

He commented that Africa, Japan and central European countries are examples of markets which are perceived as “simple” but are really not. For Indian law firms to advise clients in these parts of the world, an understanding of the “business issues” and risk assessment is vital, and he said that he aimed to help Khaitan with it.

He said that practice areas such as competition law and intellectual property (IPR), which currently seem limited, have potential for complexities and firms should have “the latitude to try and really smell and sense an area” where there could be violations.

“When talking of competition law in the current context, discussion is limited to an acquisition a company is doing and giving the CCI the comfort of non creation of a monopoly. Going forward, competition law is going to be covering a lot of other areas. The notices that CCI is sending to [oil and gas] companies [for example,] is nothing but a signal that competition law is not just going to be restricted to M&A cases. You’ll see many more companies in the oligopolistic zone so [a firm] will help, in warning companies of the fact that they will be sitting on a danger zone tomorrow.”

“If you look at IPR it’s quite wide. It includes patents copyrights and trademarks and so on. The advent of this in India and the kind of work that is happening is pretty run of the mill stuff, straightforward stuff. For instance clients approach law firms to register a patent. But because India is becoming conscious and becoming an integral part of the global market, many more Indian companies are becoming conscious of flouting any of these IPR requirements. So you’re finding many more Indian companies being conscious of who is copying what at the moment.”

A year ago, Khaitan hired Morgan Stanley managing director Sudhir Bassi for its capital markets team as an executive director.

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