CEELMDirect Profile Pick: A series of interviews with partners and firms with profiles on the new CEELMDirect online legal directory. Today’s interview: Damir Topic, Partner and Head of M&A and Co-Head of Banking, Finance, and Capital Markets at Divjak, Topic, Bahtijarevic & Krka in Croatia.
CEELMDirect: Damir, according to DTB's CEELMDirect profile, this past year the firm won CEE Legal Matters’ Croatian, Bosnian, and overall Deal of the Year Awards. That’s remarkable. What was the deal, exactly, and can you tell us a bit about how the firm managed such a complex, challenging assignment?
Topic: This remarkable deal was about the acquisition of the entire frozen food division of one of the largest regional companies, Fortenova. Our client, Nomad Foods, acquired production facilities and the entire network from Croatia, Bosnia, Serbia, Slovenia, North Macedonia, Kosovo, and Hungary at a price of over EUR 600 million. It was critical for us to enable (through our SEELegal Network) the seamless execution of the transaction, from obtaining all regulatory approvals to closing the transaction simultaneously in all jurisdictions. This was successfully done for two reasons. Firstly, because of our long-standing cooperation with our peers from our network and, secondly, because of our firm and our peers’ deep workforce capacity enabling us to carry out this demanding assignment in parallel with our other engagements. DTB is, and for a long time has been, structured in a way that it is constantly open to accommodate the most demanding engagements by maintaining the number of our experts at a level above our competitors. This strategy has put us in a position to carry out all sorts of engagements without snowing our lawyers under or pushing them to the limit in their work. Instead, we make sure our lawyers are focused on and dedicated to the client they are serving at the given time and not just running errands on several parallel transactions.
CEELMDirect: According to the Activity Rankings function of the CEELMDirect website, DTB has worked on far and away the most reported deals in Croatia in the past decade – more than doubling the next firm's. That’s amazing, and I can’t imagine there are many other countries where one firm so dominates the market – if any. What do you attribute your firm’s success to?
Topic: As I have mentioned in my response to your previous question, we believe the reason for such a high presence in the transaction market lies in the strategy of having a strong focus on maintaining a good balance between the workload and the number of experts who are serving the clients on such deals. The fact that our lawyers can commit themselves fully to a deal and a client, from the preparatory phase to the completion of a deal, including the partners’ actual work and participation in critical phases of the deal, has been recognized on the market. Clients have been coming to us because they are certain that they will get from us all that we can professionally give. We believe that our ability to motivate our people to give their best performance each time does not go unnoticed by clients – and then the success you mention is the well-deserved reward.
CEELMDirect: What with COVID, global inflation, and a major military conflict not too far away, this has obviously been a challenging past few years in Croatia, as across CEE and the world. In your expert opinion, how has Croatia weathered those storms – and is there something you think the country could or should do better going forward?
Topic: Indeed, these were and still are challenging times for all of us and Croatia certainly hasn’t been the worst performer, although there were areas where we could have done better. When it comes to COVID, I think we handled it reasonably well, balancing the needs to safeguard people’s health and preserve tourism as one of the key economic drivers. The health system proved to be robust, not just because of its relatively solid organization, but primarily because of the tremendous personal sacrifice of doctors and all medical staff. As regards inflation, Croatia is not the worst and it will be confronted with the reality of inflation after January 1, 2023, when it becomes a member of the Eurozone. The introduction of the euro as the new currency in other countries has always contributed to inflation. Therefore, even without the current inflationary pressures, we will face additional challenges on inflation. Finally, the developments in the energy market are troubling, but it seems Croatia is doing well, not just because we have an LNG terminal giving us a reasonable level of energy independence, but also because of other natural resources (hydro, solar, gas, and oil) available in our country. In that sense, I’m an optimist when I say there won’t be a cold winter here.
Topic: I think the awareness of how other peers are doing and the potential for sharing experience are the takeaways we are counting on here. We recognize the platform as a tool that can enable our people to expand their visibility, and have a place to measure themselves and the firm’s position in the local and regional communities. We are looking forward to the feedback we will gather from within the firm and will try to communicate it with you when we have some constructive proposals.
CEELMDirect: Finally, are there any major or significant changes or initiatives underway at DTB you’re proud of and would like to tell us about?
Topic: We are currently dealing with the introduction of several new IT tools designated to improve our billing and project management and the handling of our know-how. We are also participating in several initiatives related to the use of AI in firms of a similar scale to ours. Finally, we have had a pilot coaching program that has exceeded our expectations. For that reason, we are going to run a permanent coaching program for our lawyers. The idea behind all these initiatives is to reduce the time our lawyers spend on matters potentially distracting them from the main goal – performing the best legal practice.
CEELMDirect: Thank you so much, Damir, and we’ll look forward to hearing – and reporting on – the many deals you and your colleagues at DTB work on going forward!