Andrew Tavi came to his GC position at Nissan North America in Tennessee via the heart of the American automobile industry. Born and raised in southeastern Michigan, he earned B.A. and J.D. degrees from the University of Michigan, then worked in the Detroit office of Foley & Lardner, where he focused on corporate law, mergers and acquisitions, venture capital investments and real estate matters.
He later served as interim CEO at Noble International, an automotive supplier in Troy, Mich., where he also served as GC for several years.
He came to Nissan, in Franklin, Tenn., in 2009, and he now is vice president-legal and government affairs as well as GC. He is responsible for all legal, corporate compliance and government affairs activities in the Americas region.
He lives in Brentwood, Tenn., with his wife, Lauren, and their three children, Kyle, Julia and Carson. With the notable exception of his annual college football road trips to randomly selected schools, he spends virtually all of his spare time with his family.
He recently discussed his legal department with the Daily Report's Mary Welch.
Daily Report: Tell us about your department and your role in it.
Andrew Tavi: The Nissan Americas legal department consists of approximately 50 lawyers and 40 staff located in Franklin, Tenn., Dallas, Farmington Hills, Mich., Curitiba and Rio de Janeiro [Brazil], Mexico City and Mississauga, Ontario. The ratio of lawyers to staff is much lower in the U.S. than in the other regions, primarily as a result of labor costs and all of the work required to support litigation, which is more prevalent in the U.S.
We have a matrix organization, with leaders in each geographic region and functional leadership across our main disciplines throughout the entire region. The latter is essential to having an effective and efficient regional practice that is not limited by geographic boundaries. Each member in the department adheres to a strict set of client service standards that require solution-oriented counseling and advice.
I am responsible for the entire legal department, as well as our government affairs function. More and more, my attention is on matters outside of the U.S. as we continue to expand our operations in the region. This reinforces the need to be aligned.
DR: Tell us about your use of outside counsel.
AT: We utilize outside counsel as extensions of the in-house staff, reporting into the internal team members. Rarely does outside counsel interact directly with our internal clients, as we want our internal team members to "own" every issue that comes their way. This ensures that legal advice coming back to the client is shaped by lawyers that are most knowledgeable about the clients' objectives: our internal team members.
We utilize a small variety of firms, relying heavily on our Nashville firms for corporate and local matters, and several regional and national firms for our litigation and distribution practice across the Americas region. It is very likely that our list of external counsel decreases in the near future, in favor of fewer firms handling the bulk of our work. I think this will provide a great opportunity for those firms that show the most interest in being one of our core providers and the creativity to make it work.
DR: You oversee compliance issues. Are there any glaring differences with how corporations in Asia and Europe handle compliance versus in the U.S.?
AT: Nissan is a global company, and we take a global view of compliance. Therefore, rather than taking a region-by-region approach, we have implemented global processes based on the most restrictive region's regulatory environment.
In most instances that region is the U.S., as compliance investigations and related litigation in the U.S. are more prevalent and growing more rapidly. The U.K. Bribery Act has led to increased training and activity in Europe, but investigations and enforcement still lag behind the United States.
As a result, prevention and training efforts in the U.S. are the most robust and serve as the basis for our efforts worldwide. The result is that our approaches are going to be very similar across the globe. Our legal department is taking the lead in this transformation.