Lorna Solopian Building a culture of compliance

Working in the Fast Moving Consumer Goods (FMCG) sector is, as the name suggests, a fast-paced affair. This especially applies to those offering FMCG companies legal counsel in an in-house capacity.

Our editorial team visited Kenafric industries headquarters in Nairobi to meet and interview its in-house counsel.

Meet Lorna Solopian, General Counsel at Kenafric Industries. Lorna has practiced for over 8 years as in house counsel in finance investments and manufacturing. She is the Vice Chairperson of the Legal and Regulatory Board Committee at the Kenya Association of Manufacturers. Lorna is also the founder of Nashelu Foundation which provides mentorship and educational support for young girls and boys from upper primary through to the first years of their work lives.  

A sit down with Lorna revealed valuable insight concerning in-house legal practice at an established FMCG conglomerate.

Lorna first joined the company in 2016 and although she did not yet grasp the magnitude of the task ahead, she braced herself and hit the ground running.

Before her arrival, the firm had not had an in-house legal team for over a year leaving her with no one to learn from, or pick up the mantle from. 

 “When I joined the company in 2016, I had to handle a demerger and an acquisition. The funny part is that I had never handled a demerger before and I remember I was actually pregnant at the time. So my first day at Kenafric Industries was a rollercoaster for me but at the same time it was the best learning experience,” Lorna reminisced fondly.

 Lorna says it took her at least two years to ensure each department’s documentation was up to date and logged into the company’s digital filing system. 

Since joining Kenafric Industries as the in-house legal counsel, her work has been a whirlwind of experiences which has included learning and unlearning different aspects of her law practice in order to provide the best possible solutions for the company.

Kenafric Industries 

Founded in 1987 by the Chedda family, Kenafric Industries Limited is one of the largest manufacturers of Confectionery, Culinary Products, Juices, Biscuits and Snacks in Kenya.

Over the years, Kenafric has built a strong brand and distribution network taking its sweets and bubble gum all over Africa, with 16 markets under its belt.

 Kenafric has expanded its business beyond confectionery and footwear riding on its strong distribution network and systems. In 2009 it acquired food spices brand OYO from Spanish food processing firm CGB Foods. Kenafric’s food production business line competes with multinational Unilever which produces Royco. Kenafric also acquired a stationery business that manufactures books and notepads.

 Legal Function

 The confectionery manufacturer has seven law firms on its legal panel in Kenya, three in Tanzania and one in Uganda. When picking external counsel, Lorna picks law firms based on their expertise and distributes legal work  according to specialization. 

 For its operations in the rest of the countries across Africa, Kenafric Industries has liaised with Kenyan law firms which connect her with partner firms in those jurisdictions. 

 The company exports to 16 countries across Africa so it is important for the legal department to be conversant with the laws that govern each of these different jurisdictions.

Fact sheet

Number of law firms on the panel7 in Kenya, 3 in Tanzania, 1 in
Legal team size3
Markets served16
Legal department age6 years.

In-house Counsel.

 The role of General Counsel in the FMCG sector includes but is not limited to risk assessment, litigation management, contract management, and immigration management (work permits).

 “A good general counsel not only deals with matters regarding the law but also has to have a good business acumen because working in-house is definitely different from working in a law firm. This is something I really struggled with in my first year,” she said.  

 According to Lorna, as in-house legal counsel, one is constantly working to resolve issues before they get to litigation meaning one always has to think outside of the box and be a very good negotiator.

 “To be in-house counsel you have to be tenacious, a good communicator, and brave; I had to start becoming solution-oriented to adapt to the role. I had to begin to think like a businessperson,’’ she added.

 Lorna says that being in FMCG is very fluid meaning one has to be agile. Every day there is a completely different fire that needs to be put out. 

“The urgency has to be determined through prioritising the different risks that present themselves daily. Every day is a learning experience,” she said.

Team, Leadership and Technology.

Lorna leads a lean yet effective legal team. For efficiency, she assigns work according to each team member’s strengths. 

A number of digital tools have proven highly useful in the day-to-day work of the Kenafric legal team and one such tool the team lead swears by, is Google.

 “Google is my team’s best friend, from google drive to google sheets, these different tools really come in handy in our line of work,” she said.

Kenafric has also adopted new technologies such as SAP that gives the firm’s management the ability to be efficient.

 “We use SAP for bring-ups, you can imagine the kind of dates that I have. It keeps sending updates on what needs to be done ahead of time,” she added.

Compliance Culture

  “One year into the madness we came up with a mantra for the department ‘Building a culture of compliance,’” Lorna said.

This, she said, involves explaining the risk of non-compliance and the adverse impact it can have on the individual employee and the company at large.

 “We constantly have to train managers from each department on performance management,” she told Corporate Juror. 

To encourage innovation, Kenafric Industries has embedded a culture of cross-departmental forums. 

Management Support

Lorna credits her success to the support that she receives from the Board of Directors and the leadership of the company.  

Emerging areas of Law 

Where Lorna stands, Compliance is a key area of practice moving forward. Regulatory authorities in the country are constantly coming up with regulations that companies need to comply with which is proof that it is a serious emerging segment in in-house law. The digital space, data protection and privacy as well as competition law are also growing in the country’s law space.

To let her hair down, Lorna loves to take long walks, long drives and like the accomplished lady she is, she doesn’t mind a glass of red wine every once in a while.


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