Motoring through the crisis – Nissan

The crisis is hard on many sectors and the motor industry is no exception. But Nissan is steering its way through current headwinds on a full tank, according to Antonio Navas.

La crisis ha afectado a muchos sectores y el sector automovilístico no es una excepción. Sin embargo, Nissan está conduciendo a través de las tortuosas carreteras con toda su fuerza, afirma Antonio Navas, Director de Asuntos Legales de España y Protugal. Aunque las ventas en la Península Ibérica son lentas, en otras regiones del mundo crecen con fuerza, por lo que la clave para permanecer a flote es evitar riesgos y aprovechar las oportunidades que se presenten.

Antonio Navas, Head of Legal Affairs Spain & Portugal for Nissan sees a change happening in Iberia. “Spain and Portugal are slowly becoming more competitive again, and our manufacturing plants in Spain are getting ready to increase their volume to take advantage.” And any new assigned vehicle or investment also generates a great deal of welcomed work for his legal department.

The mechanics
Navas’s team is made up of two lawyers and two paralegals in Spain, and he is responsible for two lawyers in England and another in Paris. “Our lawyers all have previous experience in dealer and supplier litigation, giving them an extra edge in being able to prevent potential issues early on,” he explains.
The legal department is also part of the Nissan Management Committee – a big advantage. “We are involved in all new projects and decisions from the start, so can advise on any risk before crucial decisions are made.”
One key driver is increasing the expertise of the team. As well as an initial in-house trainee programme, Nissan has ongoing internal training covering business and organisational issues because as a large corporation, he explains, training is essential.
This year, they are focusing their training on corporate issues, due to a new Block Exemption Legislation that enters into force in June 2013. “In Europe, Nissan has more than 1,200 dealers,” Navas explains, “so we are negotiating new contracts network by network, and each jurisdiction has different issues”.

The driver
Coming from a family of lawyers, Navas joined Nissan straight out of law school as a Junior Lawyer in Barcelona. It was a very exciting time, he says, as all legal matters were managed in-house. “I was involved in very difficult litigations right from the start, not just a junior making photocopies.”
During his 23 years at Nissan, Navas’s role has included being Manager in RBU-IBERIA Sales and Marketing Business Unit Spain/Portugal, Legal Coordinator of Regional Business Units South-Eastern Europe, Head of Legal, and now Company Secretary as well as Chair of the Legal Committee of ANFAC (Spanish Car Manufacturers Association).

Roadside assistance
Nissan’s relationship with external law firms is quite new, explains Navas, because, until 2006, legal matters were never outsourced.
The matters they now keep in-house include management advice on legal issues and projects, commercial marketing and advertising, competition and some litigation issues. They outsource all labour law issues, some litigation, second opinions on decisions or complex matters, certain specific areas of law and support for big M&A projects.
“I normally use five main criteria when choosing firms,” says Navas. “In-house expertise, risk, workload, added value and cost.” As Navas’s responsibilities cover both regional and European issues, he says it is crucial to have a pan-European panel of law firms ready to support ongoing matters. “And a complete understanding of Nissan and the automotive business is essential. As is excellence, commitment, flexibility when necessary and adequate cost.”
To form part of the panel, a law firm must be proposed regionally and approved centrally. “In addition, we have an internal process to continually assess the quality of the Panel. Each gets a score, dependent on which the law firm is kept or removed.”
In Spain, while Navas uses different law firms including Garrigues, for labour, and Roca Junyent, he mostly relies on Uría Menéndez. “I have worked with them for many years and they have a universal knowledge and are highly technical; for me, they have something special.”
As they have no in-house team based in Portugal, Navas relies heavily on law firms. “The approach is slightly different, and they act as a kind of extension of Nissan’s Legal Department.” Interestingly, Navas has no one-law firm but rather one lawyer, Antonio Rolo, at Pares Advogados. “Antonio understands our business inside out, and he is very creative, effective and flexible.”

The to-do list
Currently, Navas is focused on three main challenges. “Setting up a new European legal purchasing department, supporting the business to enhance the distribution of the Electric Vehicle in Europe and implementing the new Block Exemption regulation.” While also dealing with new and proposed Government reforms stemming from the crisis.
But despite the crisis, and while it may be a paradox says Navas, there are great opportunities for companies that have a global presence such as Nissan; while sales in Spain and Portugal are slow, in other regions they are growing rapidly. “We are faced with risks and opportunities, and the key to staying on top is to avoid the risks and make the most of the opportunities that are out there.”

Antonio Navas is the Head of Legal Affairs Spain & Portugal at Nissan.