Carolina Bula – Iveco Group
Walt Disney once said, “All our dreams can come true if we have the courage to pursue them.” And today, 100 years after its founding, his company is a fully diversified entertainment behemoth with $84 billion in revenue and millions of pint-sized fans.
Disney has its share of grown-up fans, too, and among them is Carolina Bula, who lives by those words and tries to incorporate the Disney ethos into her leadership strategies.
“If you have a dream, you need to focus on reaching that dream,” Bula says. “And every day, you need to work toward the place where you want to be in the future.”
For her part, Bula has never stopped chasing the dream, and as a result, she has risen to the position of general counsel of South America for Iveco Group, an Italy-based multinational vehicle manufacturing conglomerate specializing in trucks. She attained a leadership position even while raising her son and daughter, born roughly a year apart, who tested her determination to reach her career goals.
“From the first day that I joined the company as a trainee, I wanted to leave my mark on the company, to leave some legacy,” Bula says. “I think that even if you are tired, if you try hard, you can manage. And I tried to be a good example for my children. Just to let them know that with effort, you can reach everything you want.”
Cutting labor and product liability lawsuits
Bula has seen her hard work pay off recently in Brazil, where her company faced a huge amount of litigation, especially on the labor and product liability fronts. The company’s goal in 2022 was to reduce the amount of new product liability trials by negotiating with the clients. It managed to cut the number of new claims by 25 percent compared to 2021.
According to Bula, her aim is to take to Brazil what she has done in Argentina, where Iveco is the only automotive company that does not have new disputes with any dealer.
She and her team are taking a proactive approach to litigation across Latin America, offering preventive legal counsel to internal clients rather than merely reactive counsel.
“We have meetings with the different departments, we discuss the possible actions or where we can be sued, and we try to oppose them,” Bula says. “We have committees; we talk about the things we need to improve in order to avoid litigation.”
For example, when a former customer sues Iveco alleging problems with the quality of the company’s product, Bula tries to talk to the quality team and the after-sales team to ascertain whether the problem is a real one. Sometimes, she says, the claims stem from a customer’s faulty use of Iveco’s highly specialized vehicles. In those instances, she invites the customer to a meeting to try to reach a solution without going to court.
For labor claims, Bula typically sees former employees suing after they are dismissed, alleging they are owed more severance, that they worked more hours than they should have and so forth.
“We almost always win these claims,” Bula says. “So, what we try to do is to work coordinately with human resources department in order to handle labor contract agreements’ resolutions in a proper way, to reduce the possibility of future litigation.”
Copying Disney’s culture of service
Bula relies on external counsel for some matters, but she’s very focused on leading her team of in-house counsel. Within her department, she is trying to change her teammates’ mindset as lawyers to become partners in the business.
“Because we work for a company that sells trucks, we do not work in a legal office where our core business is trials,” she says.
This is where Bula’s efforts to emulate Disney come in. She believes in a culture of service, and she has tried to adapt Disney’s best practices to Iveco. Because her team works directly with its internal client, the business side of Iveco, she and her colleagues don’t have much interaction with the end customer. That is why she is convinced that the best contribution by her team is to help avoid a claim.
“It’s very difficult for the legal department to reach the person that buys the truck,” she says. “We reach them through the business—the commercial team, the sales team. So, we must be a good strategic partner to have an excellent customer experience for our final client.”
So, Bula has implemented training for her colleagues. It covers everything from how her teammates should handle litigation to how they should handle emails—responding promptly and asking for time to do an assessment before following up with a proper answer, so internal clients know legal is always taking their concerns into account.
Before DEI was “cool”
Bula is a graduate of the Instituto Santa Rosa, where she received her bachelor’s degree, and the University of Belgrano, where she earned her law degree. She also studied at the University of Buenos Aires, where she earned a degree in business law, and the Universidad del CEMA, where she got her MBA.
She has worked at Iveco for nearly 25 years, rising from a trainee to a junior lawyer in the legal Argentinean department. She moved up from being the legal manager for Argentina to a member of the board of directors and her current role.
“Many people say that it’s very difficult for a woman to be in a position like mine in the truck industry,” she says. “To me, it was not a problem. I never felt different because I was a woman or because I was young.”
Bula credits two mentors with helping her get to where she is today. One is Antonio Alvarez, her former boss in Argentina, who trusted her to assume his position at age 24, teaching her everything she needed to know and put into practice when he retired. The other is Diego Saluzzo, who told her she would become manager of the region someday and stood beside her in her journey.
Looking back over her climb, Bula says Iveco valued diversity, equity and inclusion “before it was cool.” The Italian company elevated a young Argentinian woman to a leadership role in 2000, at a time when no one in corporate America was talking about DEI.
As for what made that climb possible? Bula points to her favorite font of business wisdom.
“People often ask me if I know the secret of success and if I could tell others how to make their dreams come true,” Disney once said. “My answer is that you do it by working.”
View this feature in the Vanguard Fall I 2023 Edition here.
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