Guilherme Poggiali Almeida of Usiminas discusses his role as general counsel, how he hires private practice lawyers and developments in the Brazilian legal market.
"The best way for law firms to stand out is to consider each client as a unique one, dedicating at least one or more senior partners to regularly oversee the company’s requests and getting closer to the company by being more available and getting to know its businesses and projects."
Name: Guilherme Poggiali Almeida
Position: General Counsel
Usiminas was founded on 25 April 1956, and since its first construction of a steel mill in the small town of Ipatinga in 1958 the company has grown to become one of the largest steel producers in the Americas, with an installed capacity totalling 9.5 million metric tons of steel per year. The company accounts for 20 per cent of Brazil’s total steel output, and has a presence in seven states throughout the jurisdiction. Its mission is to be an innovating steel group with a global reach, and to grow in a sustainable fashion to position itself among the world’s most profitable companies.
The Usiminas group consists of seven integrated companies, with over 25,000 employees in total. Each company focuses on a specific stage of the steel production process. The Usiminas industrial complex is the largest plain steel complex in Latin America; the group achieved export sales of 1.8 million tonnes in 2012 (27 per cent of total sales), and having recently rebranded its business to present a “much stronger and unified business structure”, looking to the future it is clear that Usiminas will continue to be a major international presence in the steel industry.
Who’s Who Legal spoke to Guilherme Poggiali Almeida, general counsel, about his role within the company and the Brazilian legal market as well as the current opportunities within the steel mining sector.
Tell us about your role.
My position is general counsel of Usiminas and I am in charge of the legal department, the team responsible for all internal legal advice and lawsuit management in Usiminas and its controlled companies.
Describe a typical day.
There is no typical day at a corporation as large as Usiminas, since our department answers for any and all legal issues that arise in the company, which can be very diverse! Usual activities involve analysing, at the start of the day, the reports of the lawsuits that had a decision issued the day before. Then I have 15-minute meetings with each of the four managers responsible for the various areas of the legal department, in order to follow up the most important current matters and align the strategy in each of them, while also checking on the progress of their yearly goals. Aside from that, there is no routine established, there can be meetings involving any of the aforementioned important matters, reading internal monthly reports and identifying courses of action to be corrected or improved and, of course, reading and answering many emails.
How big is the legal and compliance department at Usiminas?
There are currently 27 lawyers and 10 paralegals in the legal department across five different cities, divided into four areas each one with its own manager: tax and environment, labour, commercial and corporate affairs.
Tell us about any recent special projects your team has been working on. Which law firms did you hire?
We have been involved in two important M&A projects, for which we hired Ulhôa Canto, Rezende e Guerra. We have also recently changed the firms responsible for our civil and commercial lawsuits, which are now Veirano Advogados (São Paulo state) and Pinheiro Mourão Raso e Araújo Filho (Minas Gerais state). This involves establishing new routines and procedures for all of these lawsuits.
Do you tend to use the same law firms?
Yes, whenever possible. We believe it is important to develop long term, partnership relations with the law firms, so that they can know the company’s history, its goals, businesses and needs and, as the relationship develops, they can offer more specialised and customised services.
A lot of international firms have been moving into the Brazilian market in recent years. Is the legal marketplace very competitive? Is there a lot of choice for clients such as yourself? How can firms distinguish themselves?
The legal marketplace in Brazil is getting more competitive every day and the good options for clients have indeed increased in recent years, but only in the biggest commercial centres. There is still a need for more good law firms in smaller cities, and this can become more feasible as the economy grows. The best way for law firms to stand out is to consider each client as a unique one, dedicating at least one or more senior partners to regularly oversee the company’s requests and getting closer to the company by being more available and getting to know its businesses and projects.
What is the greatest challenge – legal, practical or political – facing the steel industry in Brazil?
One of the greatest challenges facing the steel industry in Brazil is the need for strong logistics investments, especially on railroads and ports, and the high tax rates, which impact many aspects of the industry – from production to payroll. However, Brazil has a relatively low steel consumption per capita, so there is a lot of room for growth in that aspect.
What makes a good private practice lawyer?
Aside from always studying and working hard, a good lawyer has to communicate effectively and objectively with the client. Long and complex legal opinions with Latin words are important in the academic area and sometimes in exchanges inside the department, but the client is not interested in that. The client wants objective, easy to understand and clear instructions on how to proceed when facing a legal situation, and it gets frustrated when its lawyer is more concerned about technicalities and in using formal language than in solving the client’s problem.
What do you consider to be your most important role as in-house general legal counsellor at the company?
Issuing good legal opinions and handling lawsuits diligently is the main focus of this job. I believe the most important role as an in-house general counsel is to present the management with a safe and clear legal path through which to guide the company; that is, pointing out as clearly as possible the legal risks in every important decision and warning the directors and officers, as soon as possible, about the likely outcome of the company’s lawsuits.
What makes Brazil a great place to work?
As such a large and populous country, Brazil has a very diverse economic and cultural environment which allows contact with many different ways of doing business and qualified professionals. In the last decade, as Brazil’s economy was swept by globalisation, this rich environment was greatly improved with the vast experience of international workers and companies. Finally, there are always new business opportunities arising, and it is an exciting challenge to embrace them and work hard to turn them into reality.