One without the other makes no sense, and to provide the truly best service, you need a bit of both, says Ignacio Illan
A career that started in law, then moved into the world of finance, finally led Ignacio Illan to combine his “two professional hats” as Head of Legal and Auditing for France, Germany, Italy, Spain and Latin America at Solaria Energía y Medio Ambiente.
Designing, manufacturing and delivering efficient photovoltaic solutions, Solaria is the only solar energy company listed on the Spanish Stock Exchange. “This is where the two pieces of my ‘professional life’ puzzle finally fit together.” Something he believes should be more commonplace in today’s business world.
First rung of the ladder
Illan studied law at the Centro de Estudios Universitarios (CEU), while also working in his family hotel business. However, following one of the thousand pieces of advice given to him by his great mentor Luis Butragueño Ramos, he realised that he needed to get a “serious job”, and in 1984 joined the-then KMG Espacontrol (today Deloitte), going from a staff member to a Manager in five years.
“I went into a world of economists as a lawyer, and after 12 years at Deloitte I came out as an economist.” Throughout his time there, he kept learning “on the job”, with colleagues who provided him with all the economic tools that he lacked.
Then in 1996, at a Gala in Miami, he sat next the Head of Media Planning SA, now part of Havas Media, who happened to be looking for someone to head up their Mexico operations. By the end of that year Illan had emigrated. “I joined as Vice President of Corporate Resources and went back to my roots, immersing myself in all the legal aspects of the business.”
A year later, a call from a Deloitte client took him to Monaco as a Director of a law firm, but it was KPMG that brought him back to Madrid, as a Senior Auditing Manager, where he spent three years before moving to Telepizza, as Deputy General Manager.
And after eight years, he made his final move to Solaria in 2008, as Director of Internal Auditing before taking on the role of Head of Legal as well in 2009.
In & out
Illan’s current team is made up of another lawyer, an intern, a finance manager and a consultant. And he then relies on the support of external law firms for larger or more specialised operations such as project finance and cross-border contracts, as well as assessing the risks of a project or transaction.
Outside of Spain, he uses domestic law firms, but in Spain, he relies more on “people than law firms”. For energy matters he uses Silvestre Arana at Garrigues and Javier Acevedo at Deloitte, for litigation Javier Gaspar at VCGH, for corporate matters María José Paz-Ares Rodríguez at Gómez Acebo & Pombo, and for IP issues he relies on Borja Sainz de Aja at Uría Menéndez. “These are my first points of reference,” he explains.
What he looks for in any external, is simple. “They need to have a much better understanding of the issues and subject matter than I do. But that doesn’t always happen.” He credits the best external-internal relationships as being built on a personal rather than client-provider basis. “Confidence is key, and also hard to find. Once you do, you stay with that person.”
Finance and legal
Illan’s career has been very much an intertwining of two branches of the same business tree. And his view is that one does not function without the other. “Finance and law are intrinsically linked. While you can have more experience in one than the other, they undoubtedly fit together,” he explains. “Legal matters nearly always involve very important finance elements that, as a lawyer, you need to understand, and vice versa.”
To him, it’s a perfect balance. A huge fan of old classics, Illan compares these roles to types of cars. “Economists are automatics, everything is very logical. While lawyers are like manuals, always thinking about which gear to be in, and a more common sense approach.”
There are few in the business with his background he says, and he counts himself lucky that he has had the opportunity to combine the two areas. The dual experience of working within auditing companies and in-house is also something he thinks is essential these days for anyone in the sector.
“My theory is when working as an auditor or lawyer, before promoting someone to a partner, it is necessary to gain in-house experience, to walk in the client’s shoes so you can better understand them.”
And something a client once said struck him as being key to both roles. “Auditors and lawyers are like soldiers that return to the battle ground to check which dead bodies are still alive. What a client really wants is a soldier that goes with him to win the battle.”
Ignacio Illan is Head of Legal and Auditing at Solaria Energía y Medio Ambiente for France, Germany, Italy, Spain and Latin America.