Hispasat: Mission control
Javier Folguera’s role as General Counsel and Vice-Secretary to the Board of leading Spanish satellite company Hispasat may have required an education in the satellite business but he was already very comfortable managing cross-border issues
‘Hispasat’s satellites may operate beyond the atmosphere but the company’s legal needs are much more down to earth, albeit intrinsically international – encompassing, for example, the issues that surround the construction, insurance and launch of our satellites, to the commercial agreements we sign with our clients, wherever they may be.’
Established in 1989, Hispasat has become a global satellite operator, offering coverage and services in Europe, North Africa and America, and is the leading satellite operator in the Spanish speaking countries. Hispasat has subsidiaries in Brazil and Mexico, as well as a branch in Argentina.
The lawyers within the legal team need therefore to operate in different countries, under different legislation and work across cultures, says Folguera, who oversees a team of inhouse lawyers in Spain and Brazil, as well as those providing legal advice to the affiliates in Mexico and Argentina. He also manages the external lawyers used in the different countries in which the company operates.
‘In Brazil, the local legal team reports administratively to the Country Manager, but at the final stage reports to me as General Counsel. It can be a challenge to manage different locations, plus the legal needs we have in those countries in which we do not have a physical presence or in-house capability, so it is important that we build the sense of being a single entity.’
This is done in part by ensuring that the legal team uses standard technologies and IT platforms and shared precedent and document banks, but also that the work is done in a common and joined-up way, says Folguera. Standard legal models are used but which take into account specific jurisdictional idiosyncracies.
The major focus of Hispasat’s satellites is towards the Americas and it is here that many of the current legal issues derive, he says. The legal department manages Hispasat’s project based needs as well as the issues that surround its corporate wellbeing.
‘Issues inevitably arise around the different arrangements necessary to build a satellite, to launch it and to commercialise it. But beyond that we also manage internally as much of the company’s own legal necessities, although always with the support of external lawyers when required.’
Hispasat’s legal needs are sometimes Spanish-law focused, but others may derive from any jurisdiction, says Folguera. So while the legal team tries to handle the majority of issues there is inevitably also a recurring need for external legal advice.
‘Outside of the US there are very few firms with specific experience of the satellite sector. But currently much of what we do is focused towards Latin America, where of course we have our own capability, but beyond that we look to local firms to handle the issues we have.’
Folguera places emphasis on the commercial awareness of his own lawyers and their ability to get close to, and understand, Hispasat’s own business, as well as to be able to manage a broad portfolio of work.
‘The breadth and complexity of what we do keeps things interesting, but at the end of the day the in-house role is to find ways to secure Hispasat’s strategic needs. Therefore we have to find ways to win the trust and respect of the different areas of the company by making constructive contributions.”
The team needs therefore to be proactive, it cannot be perceived as merely reactive or placing unnecessary obstacles in the way, he emphasises. Hispasat’s lawyers, as well as those it uses externally, have to help propel things forward, but always ensuring that every legal risk is under control.
‘We aim to understand the needs and concerns of the divisions and to have a clear idea of why decisions are made. It is much easier to offer advice from the outset of a project and to anticipate and identify issues before they arise. Within the orbit of our own work sometimes you have to say ‘no that cannot be done’, but you cannot leave it there. You must say ‘let’s do it this way instead’.