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“Invest in meaningful relationships with seniors and colleagues and don’t fall into the rat race of titles and pay cheques”- Ketaki Suklikar, Legal He


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Can you walk us through your journey from starting as an associate at Wadia Ghandy & Co. to your current role as Head of M&A at Mahindra & Mahindra? What motivated you to specialize in corporate M&A law?

I would say I was extremely fortunate to have landed up at Wadia Ghandy & Co post law school. WG was the best training ground a fresher could ask for. We were taught everything there is to know about being a thorough professional keeping high ethical and quality standards and integrity in our work. I was given responsibility and freedom to navigate complex matters – with the reassurance that my Partner always had my back. To this day, I count my seniors Djena Sunavala and Ankit Majmudar as my mentors and dear friends- I often reach out to them for guidance.

Unlike current times where lawyers “specialise” right off the bat, at WG in those days as a fresher you had to work on all types of matters thrown at you be it conveyancing, corporate, M&A, regulatory work etc. across sectors. This gave me a broad view of all aspects of the law. However, within a few years I realised that I am drawn to transaction work and loved to work on PE and M&A matters. I then began focusing more on PE and Corporate M&A.

Having 8 years of rich law firm experience meant that I was well placed to join an organisation as in-house counsel. Acumen was a great stepping stone in my transition to in-house life. At Acumen, I was India GC and was responsible for all legal and regulatory aspects of Acumen’s India operations.

Mayfield was an exhilarating journey because VC is a very fast paced, high-energy world where the people you interact with are all extremely driven individuals- operating at a high level of efficiency. The expectations were high and I had to quickly step up to the plate. At Mayfield the sense of ownership and responsibility was further amplified which gave me a huge sense of confidence.

Again, the experience I gained at Mayfield was the perfect pre-cursor to my current role at M&M.

I firmly believe that in a career spanning 4 decades or more, everything happens at the right time when one is ready for the next challenge/shift. I have a very interesting and demanding role at M&M, one that I enjoy thoroughly, but it has come at the right time in my journey when I am well equipped to handle everything it throws at me.

Transitioning from a law firm to in-house counsel at Acumen and later Mayfield must have been significant shifts. How did these experiences shape your perspective on legal practice, especially within the context of venture capital and impact investment funds?

The shift from advisor to decision maker is certainly a daunting one and one must have confidence in one’s abilities to navigate this shift.

A firm head on your shoulders and being clear & decisive is needed. Understanding the business, the priorities and commercial levers driving an issue or transaction is key. One cannot be a roadblock – being solution oriented and collaborative is important but at the same time you need to set guard rails and ensure transactions are being done in a way that you are comfortable with as GC. You need to set standards and ensure you get buy-in from the business on your way of doing things.

I would say these experiences have given me a unique perspective of legal practice, in the sense that I know exactly what the business leaders are, or rather, should be, looking to hear from the in-house legal team and what are the key drivers or critical matters concerning the Board.

As General Counsel at Mayfield, you oversaw legal aspects of the firm’s India operations, including deal structuring and governance. Could you share some key insights or challenges you encountered while navigating the legal landscape in the venture capital industry, particularly in India?

As I mentioned, the venture capital space is fast paced and high energy, which is something I loved about it.

In terms of insights, I would say that building relationships across participants in the industry is extremely important and it makes deal making very smooth. When dealing with a sticky issue in a deal, often times, after several all-party calls and negotiations fail to resolve an issue, a personal phone call to the GC on the other side or the law firm partner on the other side to discuss and come to common ground would solve the matter, because there is a personal connect and the person knows you well enough to know it is not an ego trip and you just want to come to an acceptable middle ground.

In any role there will be challenges, otherwise there is no fun. There certainly were challenges at Mayfield, but here I would say having a good working relationship with colleagues is very important to brainstorm, discuss, vent and then handle the challenges. Each challenge gives you immense learning and builds a new muscle which you never knew you had!

Joining Mahindra & Mahindra marked a shift to corporate M&A, but on a larger scale. What unique challenges do you face as Head of M&A in such a diverse and multinational conglomerate?

As you have rightly said, M&M is a diverse and large group. The main challenge for me personally when I moved to M&M was that I was used to working independently and taking calls on my own, given that Mayfield (as typical for VC funds) was a small team. For obvious reasons, at M&M one has to work with many stakeholders from different teams and departments and this requires a shift in working style.

Apart from this, the sectors are very different from what I was looking at earlier, however, the principles of an M&A deal do not change drastically – it is just a different lens as a strategic player rather than a financial investor.

Leading a team of lawyers in the M&A department at Mahindra & Mahindra, what strategies do you employ to ensure efficient deal management and coordination, especially across different sectors within the group?

I think simple strategies like regular check-ins with the team, creating templates and SoPs for deals, and having the right balance of giving independence but still having some oversight, work very well. Most importantly, I seek feedback from my team and I am learning to be a better manager from them.

With your extensive experience across various sectors and roles within the legal field, what do you consider the most crucial skills or qualities for success in corporate law, particularly in M&A and venture capital?

I would say, the following skills or qualities are crucial to success in M&A/VC (and generally as a corporate lawyer):

  • Understanding the commercial rationale for the transaction.
  • Getting comfortable with numbers and basic principles of corporate finance.
  • Balancing attention to detail with having a 30,000 foot view.
  • Being able to anticipate issues before they crop up and having a Plan B ready!
  • Stakeholder management
  • Great communication and stellar writing skills

Finally, drawing from your rich experience, what advice would you offer to fresh law graduates aspiring to pursue a career in corporate law or venture capital? What key lessons have you learned that you believe are essential for their success in the legal industry?

My advice to fresh law graduates aspiring to pursue a career in corporate law or venture capital is to cut your teeth working at a law firm for the first 5-10 years post law school. Do not “specialise” early and work on diverse matters as much as possible.

Read the business newspapers in detail. Know what’s happening around you in the world. Keep abreast of changes in law and regulations. Follow some leaders in the field and see what they are talking about. If you don’t know something, ASK someone. Don’t only google it, but have a conversation about it.

Invest in meaningful relationships with seniors and colleagues and don’t fall into the rat race of titles and pay cheques. Your career will be very long – there is plenty of time.

These are some learnings from my experience, every person will have a different journey and experience, and it is important not to compare your journey with others.

Get in touch with Ketaki Suklikar-

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