Xavier Schops is currently the Group General Counsel of Sonova AG, a Swiss listed medical devices company where he manages Legal, Compliance and Data Privacy. Xavier joined from Mondelez (ex-Kraft Foods) where he served as Chief Counsel Europe. A French trained lawyer with a Master in Finance, Xavier started his career for Michelin in France, Switzerland and Singapore before joining JCDecaux then Imerys as General Counsel EMEA and Asia-Pacific. Xavier then moved back to Switzerland as GC EMEA for PPG, a Fortune 200 chemical US group.
Over his career, beyond being a corporate and commercial attorney, Xavier focus has been on M&A, restructuring and partnerships, complex litigations, negotiations with public authorities as well as building and redesigning diverse international teams.
OPL: Have you always wanted to be a lawyer?
Xavier: I initially wanted to be a city planner, helping build and redesign cities: Unfortunately, my drawing skills were not good enough to take things further. At 18, law was recommended to me by my family and it really grew on me over time and is a passion today.
OPL: What does your current legal team look like?
Xavier: I am currently the Group General Company for Sonova, a Swiss listed medical devices company. The legal, compliance and privacy function consists of 28 individuals, 21 of whom are lawyers. The team is spread globally across Europe, the US, South America and Asia.
OPL: How much legal work do you handle in house vs outsourcing to law firms?
Xavier: All business-facing work is done in house. We tend to instruct lawyers regularly where we don’t have the adequate geographical coverage or lack specific legal expertise; this constitutes a minority of the overall legal workflow.
OPL: What attributes do you look for when assigning outside counsel?
Xavier: We are not “married” to a particular law firm or network. However, for some areas such as antitrust, we tend to go to a firm with whom we have a very historic relationship with and know well. We stick to lawyers more than law firms. The outside counsel deep understanding of ways of working is as important as the expertise and partnership they bring, in particular for big-ticket legal matters.
OPL: Are there any particular individuals or law firms you have really enjoyed working with over the years?
Xavier: Rémy Blain from Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner in France is a true pleasure to interact with. I particularly appreciated working closely with Robert Crothers from Clifford Chance London and Simon Milthers from Bech-Bruun in Denmark for complex transactions. When I was in Asia, I enjoyed the support on growth provided by John Grobowski at Baker Mckenzie.
OPL: What is your secret to running a productive in-house legal team?
Xavier: Clearly, spend time with the team members. I had the chance to manage large teams but also to have built and designed very successful departments. The General Counsel needs to trust the judgement of the legal members and empower them. Make sure you are across all key information but also systematically push down relevant information from exec committees and management meetings to your team so that they are on top of the business and strategic agenda. Find ways to work with each individual to build a connection beyond the technical legal side of the job.
OPL: What types of challenges do you anticipate facing over the coming months?
Xavier: Government affairs is an area of increasing importance and seems to be more closely aligned with legal as time goes on. Also, review how we leverage the legal department to proactively protect and defend what we do, in emerging markets in particular?
OPL: What has been a highlight in your career as a lawyer?
Xavier: I am a generalist. My highlights include having supported very diverse industries, from automotive, mining and chemicals to advertising and consumer goods and now medical devices, all in a very international context. I have learnt new skills along the way and found the challenges and changes really engaging.
Integrating 2 teams at PPG, creating the compliance and export control functions was also an experience that was really valuable and enjoyable. The many M&A transactions I supported or managed, in particular in emerging markets, were also great experiences.
OPL: What is the most rewarding thing about your role?
Xavier: Marketing the legal function and observe its growing influence in shaping the business agenda! Legal was called the litigation department when I started my career. I have enjoyed how much the role as in-house lawyer has evolved to become a business enabler. That is really rewarding.
OPL: What advice would you give to a young lawyer starting out in their career?
Xavier: Work super hard and focus. Be involved, committed and absorb as much as you can. It will lead to opportunities and establish your credibility. Be passionate about the business and keep your curiosity for what the business does.
OPL: What do you enjoy doing in your free time?
Xavier: I live in Switzerland so enjoy hiking, mountain biking, and being around the water. An outside lifestyle is fantastic for me.