INSIDE TRACK: A Volvo CE lawyer explains how compliance policy helps her colleagues to do their jobs
by Patricia Kelly
Zoi Sazaklidou is one of a team of three lawyers based at Volvo CE headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, supporting their colleagues elsewhere in the company. As legal counsel and Volvo CE’s compliance officer Sazaklidou says there is often a misconception about how the company’s compliance policy works. “The aim is not to stop people from doing things, quite the opposite,” she explains. “We are here to make sure that people do whatever they need to do but in a safe way.”
Greek-born Sazaklidou says that company employees do not necessarily need to do less in order to be safe. “If they use compliance properly, read the policy, and consult the compliance officer and local legal counsel then they can usually do as much as they want to but in a risk-free and compliant way,” she says, adding that she feels it is important to help lighten the burden that compliance issues can sometimes impose.
“It can be stressful for someone if in the back of their mind they are not sure they are doing the right thing,” she says. “The ability to be able to ask for advice from the compliance officer or legal counsel alleviates that stress – let’s leave people to be creative and concentrate on their jobs rather than worry whether they are doing the right thing.”
Sazaklidou left her home in Veria, northern Greece at the age of 18 to study in London. “I always thought I would go back, but I never did,” she says, although she visits her parents in Greece “at every opportunity”. A first degree in politics led to a second degree in law. “My grandparents were farmers and my father is a doctor,” she explains. “I knew I was never going to be a doctor and I would always do something more theoretical and an inclination towards law came naturally.”
Eleven years ago, after 11 years in London, an interest in European competition law took Sazaklidou to an internship at the European Commission in Brussels, leading to work in a private law firm before she joined Volvo CE. She is enthusiastic about the variety her work at Volvo offers compared to private practice.
“What I do here is much more suited to my talents,” she says. “It is much more social. I don’t just read alone in my office, which is the kind of thing you do when you are in private practice. Here you have to constantly deal with people and support people rather than companies – it is a different kind of dynamic.”
SINGING VOLVO’S PRAISES
Sazaklidou says that one of the reasons that convinced her to take the job at Volvo was being told that the company was looking for someone with integrity. “I had never heard that before in an interview and in the back of my mind I thought it might be posturing, but now I realize that the company ethos and morals are important to the people who work here and they don’t trade them easily, even for personal gain.”
Involved in the corporate social responsibility side of Volvo CE as well as compliance, Sazaklidou says everyone in the company, not just management, “takes these things seriously and they are happy to do it”.
Working at Volvo meant staying in Brussels: “It is an easy place to live – you can be a foreigner but still feel comfortable,” she says. After several years, Sazaklidou decided she wanted to learn to play a musical instrument, but instead discovered she had a voice and started singing ‘rembetiko’ with a band. A type of Greek music, it started underground and developed over the years much as the blues, flamenco, fado and tango have done in other cultures, with lyrics telling tales of the realities of life, both happy and sad.
“I love it,” she says. “I grew up with it, so it is very familiar – I have been listening to it all my life.”
With her band, Fildisi, she participates in various charitable events especially those supporting the victims of the crisis in Greece, through organizations providing basic things such as food and medicine.
“We all have other jobs and sometimes it is difficult to rehearse, but we have done quite well and are becoming known – it has also been fun.”
Back in the office, with a global role that includes sales and purchasing support, Sazaklidou is involved with a variety of legal issues including dealer agreements, litigation, helping commodity buyers negotiate agreements, and explaining changes in the law. “My horizons have broadened since I started at Volvo,” she says. “Being based in Brussels, I was more focused on Europe before. Now, there is suddenly China, there is Indonesia, there is Brazil, etc.”
She continues: “Again, it is about supporting people without legal knowledge when they are faced with legal issues. Of course, sometimes I have to tell people that something is not possible, and the best way to do that is to explain why. I always try to find another way of doing the same thing or achieve similar results. I think people are generally grateful and appreciate the support.”