Embracing GenAI Transforming Legal Leadership for Revolutionary Legal Teams

Maria Varsellona’s Transformative Journey: Leading Unilever’s Legal Evolution

Over the past two years, Maria Varsellona, Chief Legal Officer and Company Secretary at Unilever, has spearheaded a remarkable transformation within the company’s global legal team. Introducing generative AI technology and earning recognition as one of the world’s top in-house lawyers are just a few milestones in her tenure. In our exclusive interview with Maria, she shares insights into this transformative period.

Revolutionizing Legal Operations

Maria, could you elaborate on what prompted the transformation of the legal team and its impact on Unilever’s operations?

Our journey of transformation aimed to modernize how legal services are delivered across the organization, emphasizing efficiency, simplicity, and digital enablement. This strategic shift ensures we are better aligned to support Unilever’s Action Plan effectively.

A pivotal element of this transformation is the establishment of three global Legal Powerhouses located in Bangalore, Mexico City, and Barcelona. These Powerhouse teams leverage generative AI tools and comprise skilled lawyers tasked with diverse legal responsibilities. By providing continuous global support, we not only equip our teams with invaluable skills and experience but also enhance efficiency and streamline our workflows. It’s an environment where young lawyers would thrive.

Moreover, this transformation has fostered closer collaboration with our business counterparts. I strongly advocate for in-house lawyers to function as strategic business partners, uniquely positioned to identify opportunities aligned with our Action Plan priorities. For instance, we play a pivotal role in bolstering product superiority by safeguarding intellectual property assets and substantiating product claims.

Leadership Approach

How would you characterize your leadership style?

I consider myself a fair and inclusive leader, deeply committed to meritocracy. My aim is to cultivate a team culture where individuals are not only passionate about their work but also collaborate seamlessly, unlocking immense potential collectively.

Attraction to Unilever

What drew you to join Unilever?

My journey began in private practice in Italy before pursuing solicitor training in the UK. Upon returning to Italy, I observed that the most compelling legal endeavors were happening in-house, prompting my transition.

The allure of Unilever stemmed from its unique blend of outstanding performance and commitment to societal impact. I firmly believe that true success lies in achieving both excellence and meaningful contributions to the world. At Unilever, I am determined to demonstrate that such a balance is not only achievable but imperative for sustained success.

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