Timo Matthias Spitzer, Head of Legal Corporate & Investment Banking Germany, Austria & Switzerland at Banco Santander, has just won the Global Counsel Award for General Commercial Individual of the Year from the Association of Corporate Counsel and Lexology. Following the award ceremony held on 20 June 2019 in New York City, he describes his view on the role of a General Counsel in today’s dynamically changing environment.

Mr. Spitzer, firstly, the whole Digitorney team congratulates you for winning the Global Counsel Award in New York City in addition to your victory at the European Counsel Awards in March 2019.
These outstanding recognitions confirm your reputation as a globally leading Head of Legal.

Over the past 20 years, you have been working in both international law firms and corporate legal departments around the world. What areas of expertise are you focusing on?

Timo Spitzer: Many thanks. Especially winning the Global Counsel Award means a lot to me, and I would like to thank everyone who has supported me towards achieving this tremendous recognition. Given our globalised economy, an ample set of legal skills is essential, especially for a Head of Legal in a multinational organization. I started my career at international law firms, working in banking and capital markets teams, moved into arbitration and corporate finance, before I became an acquisition and export finance lawyer in 2008. Given the financial crisis and the pressures it had on the business, I broadened my legal horizon in order to provide advice on many other legal areas. In addition to my German legal qualification, I qualified as UK Solicitor to cover both German and English law governed transactions. Moreover, I had the chance of joining the in-house legal team at UniCredit in Munich, looking mainly after cross-border transactions, and the advisory and trust team at Citi in London, both as a secondee. Nowadays, as Banco Santander’s General Counsel for its multinational wholesale customers headquartered in Germany, Austria and Switzerland, I need to employ a wide range of legal skills, which allow me to identify cardinal points in any matter and to provide sustainable solutions.

You coordinate legal services for customers headquartered in the German-speaking region and its subsidiaries around the globe. What role does communication play for your role and how do you manage to make things crystal-clear?

Timo Spitzer: In my role, I coordinate legal matters with the local teams, for instance, in Brazil, Chile, Mexico as well as in China and the United States to name but a few. This makes effective communication essential to overcome potential cultural barriers and to assist our clients in swiftly achieving commercial success in their dealings with us.

In these days, speedy and secure formal processes are key factors in order to manage legal projects. This applies particularly to highly regulated industries such as banking. How do you tackle this?

Timo Spitzer: We need to be customer-focused and efficient, whilst always preserving integrity. This entails compliance with applicable law, rules and regulation, considering ethical implications, and acting in line with values such as honesty, fairness and transparency. Commercial success must never come at the price of compromising integrity. Sustainable growth also provides financial success for the organisation as it validates it as a desirable business partner for customers on a global scale.

At the same time, both colleagues and clients expect that their in-house lawyers understand the commercial logic behind projects. How do you and your team meet these expectations?

Timo Spitzer: We are fully integrated into the business as we must understand all the “nuts and bolts” of the commercial considerations so that we are best placed to advise our internal clients and help them to achieve commercial success with the transactions they are engaged in. To be a trusted advisor, we must be both lawyers and economists, having our particular areas of expertise but also showing a deep understanding of other functions in order to round-up our profiles within the organization.

In a dynamically changing environment, leadership becomes increasingly important in order to drive transformation and manage daily business in parallel. How do you define your role as Head of Legal in this regard?

Timo Spitzer: Leadership is key, especially in an age of high regulation and increasing reliance on technology. In my opinion, leaders mostly serve the purpose of building an environment where people can feel safe and valued so that they may perform to their best of their abilities. I always encourage my legal team, featured in The Legal 500’s GC Powerlist Germany Teams, to genuinely support one another as well as our clients, which creates lasting respect and success for all parties concerned.

The legal industry faces significant changes due to digitization on a global scale. From your perspective, what role does the human factor play for the legal practice in the future and how can innovation be strengthened in corporate legal departments?

Timo Spitzer: I am a firm believer in the importance of human leadership to the extent that a person must be at the centre of any innovation process in order to achieve a sustainable implementation of technology. We must understand and be on top of all relevant processes in our organization to identify and mitigate potential pitfalls. Using digital tools, in particular to meet more-for-less pressures, can enhance performance and efficiency if incorporated wisely, but we must always retain and train our human ability to make responsible judgement calls in order to ensure sustainable decision-making in a fast-paced globalized environment.

Timo Spitzer (left) from Banco Santander and
Dr. Rüdiger Theiselmann from Digitorney