Jovan Velkovski is the Head of Legal at JAT (Yugoslav Airlines) Tehnika, an Aircraft Maintenance Repair & Overhaul Center in Belgrade. Prior to joining the company, he worked as a Senior Legal Advisor at Privredna Banka Beograd, where he gained professional experience in bankruptcy cases.
CEELM: Tell us a bit about your professional background and about the road that led to your current position.
J.V.: Immediately after graduating from the Faculty of Law at the University of Belgrade, I found a position as a legal apprentice at a respectable law office. The main advantage of working for this office was the great diversity of work, which allowed me to be very independent in handling legal matters usually done by much more experienced lawyers. The office specialized in bankruptcy cases, and therefore I gained a lot of experience in this area. That was very beneficial for me, mainly because dealing with insolvency procedures upgraded my experience in different legislation areas, depending always on the type of business done by the company that initiated the bankruptcy procedure. Commerce, construction, banking, civil procedures, labor law, real estate law, corporate law … all in all, a lot of great experience that proved to be significant for my future career. After two and a half years in that office, I passed the Bar exam, and thus gained the necessary qualifications to enlist in the Chamber of Law as an attorney at law. Experience in insolvency procedures led to me being hired as a legal advisor by Privredna Banka Beograd, which had previously gone into bankruptcy. That position was a significant step forward in my career – sort of a crossroads – as I moved from private law environment and became an in-house lawyer. After a year of intense work, I got an offer to enter a completely new field for me at that time – aviation, to be precise – to work for Jat Tehnika at its maintenance, repair, and operations center in this part of Europe. My commitment and devotion to my new business surroundings generated my first results, and after six months I was promoted to Head of Legal – the position I have today.
CEELM: In your experience, what were the main differences between working in-house in the banking sector and in-house in the aviation industry?
J.V.: Apart from the obvious differences pertaining to these two unlikely fields, the main difference comes from what it means to be a legal advisor, and what it means to be the head of legal. In other words, from the very different competencies and responsibilities that these positions bear.
CEELM: What kind of legal and personal skills are necessary in order to lead a legal team at a company like JAT Tehnika?
J.V.: Jat Tehnika has 800 permanent employees, and a certain number of people who are working there part-time. They work in 12 different sectors, and in six separate bureaus. This fact shows the variety of our staff, but also the variety of work that needs to be done, so that the aircrafts, the engines, and the different components can be ready and safely back in the air. All of that requires legal support, whether in terms of insurance, labor law, procurement of parts or equipment, property issues, and commercial agreements – and all of which also requires organizational skills and maximum devotion.
CEELM: Where can the added value of a legal department best be seen?
J.V.: The added value of the legal department can best be seen through its relations with employees, as I always insist on honoring their rights to the maximum. This is important because respect is a two-way street: if you disrespect somebody, you cannot expect a positive outcome, regardless of the corporate hierarchy and position. When employees feel that you have invested yourself and your efforts into solving their problem, they feel like an important part of a bigger system, they are more eager to show enthusiasm for their tasks and obligations. Quite frequently, satisfied employees provide more than expected. In my opinion, ensuring synergy between employees and management is the best strategy for generating successful businesses.
CEELM: To date, what do you consider to be your greatest success at your current job?
J.V.: Jat Tehnika is a completely state-owned company (by the Republic of Serbia), and there is an ongoing privatization process. One of my biggest challenges was taking part in a due diligence team dealing with property law – legal issues with neighboring companies like Air Serbia and Airport Nikola Tesla. Handling such complex and long-standing legal matters within a team is perhaps the most complicated work that I have done so far, and if it ends successfully, it will be something I would be very proud of. I should also add that I consider introducing greater discipline into our compliance process a success, especially elements related to labor.
CEELM: What are the biggest challenges that in-house lawyers face in Serbia these days?
J.V.: After the arrival of big, foreign companies to Serbia, the market for in-house lawyers has expanded. The issue that this market is still facing is connected to highly networked and well-developed law firms. Big law offices with a significant number of experienced lawyers have a competitive edge over the others. As a result, there is an evident lack of quality in-house lawyers on the market. To conclude, better days are yet to come for in-house lawyers, and with that, as trade and market develops, new bachelors of law fresh out of college will have a better idea where their career should head.
CEELM: What are the most important features that you take into consideration in choosing external counsel to work with?
J.V.: Availability at any time is crucial, of course, to an expected extent. In relation to cases that cannot stand delay, there must be assurance that new challenges can be met, even past working hours. Devotion, punctuality, and professionalism are needless to mention.
CEELM: On the lighter side, how do you relax after a long day at work?
J.V.: After a hard, working day, what I enjoy the most is relaxing with my family. Also, it happens that I stay after hours to exchange ideas and experience with my friends and colleagues in a more informal atmosphere, which I consider very beneficial.
This Article was originally published in Issue 5.2 of the CEE Legal Matters Magazine. If you would like to receive a hard copy of the magazine, you can subscribe here.