»We want to actively partner with the operating business.«

Alexander von Voß, Chief Legal Officer ProSiebenSat.1 Media SE

Acquisitions worth millions, licensing deals with Hollywood studios, and the fastest way to get US visas for a whole group of GNTM contestants plus the camera team – all this falls under the ProSiebenSat.1 Legal department’s purview. And they said being a lawyer was boring. In our Insights interview, we discussed awards, recipes for success, and teamwork with Alexander von Voß, Chief Legal Officer at ProSiebenSat.1.
This year, the legal magazine JUVE nominated you as part of the General Counsel Group for its prestigious award in the In-House Team category. Your department was recently added to The Legal 500’s GC Powerlist, an honor reserved for only the best and most influential lawyers and legal departments. What is your recipe for success?

For starters, we run extremely smoothly as a unit, and that’s also how others see us. Teamwork is paramount here. Plus, we don’t consider ourselves just people who sit in the back room with our heads buried in the files. We want to actively partner with the operating business, which is why we are brought into decision-making processes at an early stage. This active role is our philosophy – and the market has definitely noticed. We always aim to get the best deal for ProSiebenSat.1 in negotiations, of course, so we take a tough stance without ever getting emotional. And we always take the other party’s interests into account as well. That has earned us a reputation as a team you can make good deals with.

Alexander von Voß, Chief Legal Officer ProSiebenSat.1
What do you think a successful legal department needs to bring to the table?
Our approach is to handle as many issues as we can in-house and outsource as little as possible.

First of all, it’s vital for any legal department to know and understand the company’s strategy. You need to grasp the factors driving strategic decisions in order to provide the operations side with good advice.

Something that is very important to me personally is that the people in a legal department take a stand. I am not a fan of “maybe,” or waffling or delegating when it comes to making decisions. That can be a challenge in practice, of course. In an effort to define responsibilities clearly as well as foster autonomy and agility, one step we took this year, for example, was to establish a new, leaner structure in Legal.

Are there departments in the Group you work particularly closely with?

We basically work with all the other departments in the Group where legal issues arise. We made the conscious choice not to apply our offerings to the whole Group cookie-cutter style; instead, we tailor our advice to each case. There is one more thing that is vital, too: We don’t impose ourselves on others. We respect and encourage each business area’s entrepreneurial freedom. Naturally, in some cases it also makes sense for us to work closely with the departments. For instance, setting up a desk right in another team’s office once in a while has worked very well. We call that “Legal embedded”: One of our colleagues spends three days a week here in the Legal department and the other two days in the other department, including taking part in their meetings. We have been doing that successfully for years with SevenVentures, our investment branch. The people at SevenVentures have to make a lot of decisions fast. So it’s much better if they can just discuss issues across the desk rather than having to make a phone call or send an e-mail. We have also installed a work space for lawyers in the offices of our production subsidiary RedSeven, which is located in Unterföhring as well.

What topics have kept you especially busy this year?

Our new partnership with General Atlantic was certainly a major focus for all of us. The capital investor acquired a stake in the NuCom Group, our commerce pillar, in early 2018. Various areas of the Legal department were involved in that. The number of issues and the relatively tight timeframe were definitely a challenge, and we had to juggle quite a few things at the same time. So it’s especially gratifying when the project is concluded successfully, as it was in this case.

Another major milestone was the renegotiation of our license agreement with Warner Bros. As part of that deal, we got important additional rights that go way beyond the linear offerings. Not only that – we negotiated the entire deal completely on our own, just as we did with past licensing agreements. Our Legal Affairs Content Licensing team headed by Julia Kuckuck has very substantial expertise, including in US law. In any case, our approach is to handle as many issues as we can in-house and outsource as little as possible.

In addition to major projects, there is also regular business, of course. For instance, we have a team that makes sure our feature shows like “Germany’s next Topmodel” and “The Voice of Germany” are on a solid legal footing. That is the responsibility of Christof Filip’s Legal Affairs Content Production team. They are sometimes confronted with very basic legal issues. Such as the fact that it’s not so easy to enter the US any more. If you’re planning to work there, you need a special visa. And getting those visas for our GNTM contestants and the whole production team really kept us on our toes last season. It was not a no-brainer by any stretch of the imagination. We even accompanied people to consulates, to say nothing of the myriad telephone calls. That was really a great team effort, and in the end all the hard work paid off and everyone got to go. So we’ve had plenty of practice for the 2019 cycle.