Fernando Serec: “It is imperative that we all work urgently towards diversity and inclusion”

As elite full-service firm TozziniFreire Advogados celebrates its 45th anniversary, long-standing CEO Fernando Serec tells Leaders League about the firm's journey from its foundation in 1976 to the present day. In this interview, Mr. Serec reveals his main goals as CEO of one of Brazil's leading law firms, TozziniFreire's main institutional milestones over its 45-year history and the key role of diversity and inclusion in the Brazilian legal market today, among other topics.

Posted Monday, December 6th 2021
Fernando Serec: “It is imperative that we all work urgently towards diversity and inclusion”

Leaders League: Celebrating its 45th anniversary in the Brazilian legal market, TozziniFreire Advogados is one of the most renowned law firms in the country. What are your main goals as CEO of TozziniFreire Advogados and what are your main challenges?

Fernando Serec: I believe that my main goal today is to prepare the firm for future generations and to strengthen all our practices. Likewise José Luis de Salles Freire and Syllas Tozzini left a beautiful and important legacy, we want to preserve our culture of innovation and our excellent standard of service. In recent months, we were able to bring ten new partners to the firm, reinforcing our existing practices and creating new ones.

Our course of action is based on three values: excellence, innovation and inclusion. I consider the quality of our services and maximization of our efficiency through technology a priority, including new tools, artificial intelligence and partnerships with legal techs. All combined with environmental, social and governmental policies that are in line with our organizational principles, guided by the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

The pandemic brought many challenges to us, but all members of TozziniFreire’s Executive Committee and I believe that the agility in adapting and anticipating solutions have allowed us to navigate this moment with serenity.

 

TozziniFreire was established in 1976 and, throughout its trajectory, has often played an important role in the largest transactions in Brazil and Latin America. In your view, what are the main institutional milestones of the firm over its 45 years of history? Why?

TozziniFreire played a key role in the 1990s, in the first wave of infrastructure privatization. Among many privatizations in which the firm has participated, we highlight several privatization processes in the steel, petrochemical and energy industries, such as the sale of Usiminas, whose transaction value was $1.7 billion. This expertise that we have developed certainly makes us even more prepared for the second wave that is coming.

TozziniFreire’s institutional trajectory is marked by its performances in some of the largest transactions in the country, such as the merger between Fibria and Suzano, the acquisition of control of Grupo Pão de Açúcar by our client Casino and the acquisition of Kolynos by Colgate. We have made several acquisitions for Mexico’s FEMSA Group and continue to work on major acquisitions. Additionally, we have had many victories in court cases and arbitrations. I also highlight our internal accomplishments, which I believe define us and consolidate our organizational principles.

We have been a benchmark in our administrative structure and have always committed to social impact issues. Thus, in 2004, we implemented our Social and Environmental Responsibility Program, focused on environmental education, digital inclusion and legal inclusion. In 2017, we signed the UN Global Compact and, in 2018, we launched the TFInclusão program, which consolidated all the social initiatives we had developed over the years. Another important milestone in Diversity and Inclusion is our Executive Committee, which since 2019 has had a majority of female participation in its composition.

We are the first Brazilian law firm to create our own Compliance program and, since 2008, we have also adopted an internal Code of Ethics and Conduct, in addition to the Brazilian Bar Association (OAB) Code. As of 2016, we have a Compliance Officer, with unrestricted access and reporting to our Executive Committee, in order to ensure the independence of the function and effectiveness of the program.

Regarding the innovation ecosystem, in 2018, we launched the first innovation program within a Brazilian full-service law firm: ThinkFuture, which aims to promote and coordinate the production of relevant content on the subject, supporting our lawyers in planning multidisciplinary innovative strategies.

TozziniFreire played a key role in the first wave of infrastructure privatization during the 1990s

In a recent international PwC survey, 77% of institutional investors said they plan to stop buying non-ESG products over the next two years. How has the ESG agenda impacted the Brazilian market? And how has this impacted TozziniFreire internally?

ESG principles have become fundamental in the corporate world, gaining even more traction in the Brazilian market, bringing new business models and changing the investors’ parameters. The value of companies are starting to go beyond their market value, being also based on their ESG performance. The Brazilian Stock Exchange (B3) recently created a platform that allows investors to analyze which companies have the best ESG practices. This is an example of the maturity of the market in this matter.

We live in a global climate emergency, in a country with deep social inequality, evidenced and aggravated by the COVID-19 pandemic. These issues require changes in companies, which are increasingly demanded by society and, particularly, by the next generation.

At TozziniFreire, one of the reflections of this scenario is the creation of three new areas directly focused on the theme: ESG; Sustainable and Impact Investing; and Business and Human Rights. We have been involved in social and green sustainable bonds issuances, corporate governance assessments, and structuring products in the carbon market.

In addition to our social and environmental initiatives, internally, we are also engaged in a process of assessment and reduction of the greenhouse gases emitted by our activities. We are the only law firm to join CEBDS (Brazilian Business Council for Sustainable Development) and we have worked together with the association on the most diverse fronts, involving strategic topics for sustainable development in Brazil.

In 2020, together with the CEBDS, we prepared a statement letter for the fight against deforestation, also signed by other leaders of companies and sectoral entities, addressed to the Vice President Hamilton Mourão, who also chairs the National Council for the Legal Amazon. This letter resulted in several meetings with the leadership of the Three Branches of Government, including a meeting with the Vice President. With this example, I point out the importance of us, as part of the private sector, in being vocal about these agendas, taking a public stance in an even more affirmative manner.

 

Can you tell us about the firm's main Diversity & Inclusion initiatives? In your opinion, what is the importance of D&I in the Brazilian legal market today?

We believe that we can contribute to an effectively fairer and more egalitarian Brazilian society and we express this objective in the firm's mission. Through pro bono work, we can make our legal expertise available to social projects, non-profit institutions and people in vulnerability. Additionally, we have also strengthened our projects and partnerships related to social and environmental responsibility and we often discuss other ways to positively impact the society in which we live. We embrace Law for inclusion, as an inducing element of a fairer world.

Regarding the current scenario of the Brazilian legal market, it is imperative that we all work urgently on diversity and inclusion. Even though we already have a female majority, we need to break down the barriers still present in the market. Among our other concerns are the low participation of black lawyers in law firms and the discrimination against LGBTI+ people. We need to speak more openly about these issues and continue to pursue the ideals of equality and respect for diversity.

TFInclusão is our diversity and inclusion program, which comprises three main fronts: pro bono, diversity and social. In our work, we highlight five themes divided into affinity groups, through which we strive to help change the current reality of the legal market and of our country:

TFAffinity – promotes the values ​​and rights of the LGBTI+ community.

TFAfro – addresses the development of black lawyers and promotes their participation in law firms.

TFforHer – discusses gender equity and reduction of vulnerabilities.

TFMundi – aimed at refugees, the group debates their struggles, proposing possible actions.

TFwithoutBarriers – initiatives in favor of the inclusion of People with Disabilities, including discussion and learning about ableism, accessibility and reducing inequality.

We are the first Brazilian law firm to create our own compliance program and, since 2008, we have also adopted an internal Code of Ethics and Conduct

What new initiatives can we expect from TozziniFreire over the next 12 months?

We will continue aiming for a better economy, focused on our growth strategy, investing not only in lateral hiring but also in promoting senior lawyers to partners. In recent months, we have expanded our Corporate, Litigation, Tax, Compliance and Infrastructure areas and, certainly, we will have an even larger legal body next year.

TozziniFreire will also keep investing in business and technological sustainability, such as Artificial Intelligence and partnerships with law techs, always thinking of productivity, anticipating solutions and new sectors.

Our 45th anniversary also brings a significant change to our brand, with a new visual identity, in line with all the moves we have made in recent years and with those we will continue to make, involving constant innovation and growth, which allows us to succeed in new segments, without leaving our roots behind. We will remain focused on the future.

 

By: François Le Grand