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Sophie Gelbert, General Counsel and Secretary of the Board, Air France

[caption id="attachment_5652" align="alignnone" width="2127"] Sophie Gelbert, Group General Counsel of Air France.[/caption] SINCE JANUARY 2014, SOPHIE GELBERT HAS SERVED AS GENERAL counsel and secretary of the board for Air France, one of the largest airlines in Europe. As a result of a 2004 merger with the Dutch airline KLM, Air France became part of the Air France Group. The group operates the leading long-haul network on departures from Europe. In 2016, its network carried 93.4 million passengers, Gelbert notes. Air France’s headquarters are at Charles de Gaulle Airport near Paris. LEGAL TEAM: Gelbert says she manages a team of 38 employees, including 22 lawyers, in different domains of expertise: transport, distribution, consumers and intellectual property, corporate, contracts and international projects, cargo and maintenance. Most of the team works in the Air France headquarters, but lawyers dedicated to maintenance or IT activities work near Orly Airport. “In order to ensure a consistent position to the Air France-KLM Group, the whole team works closely with its KLM counterpart on all joint files in all domains, as well as on elaborating good practices and recommendations,” Gelbert says. OUTSIDE COUNSEL: Gelbert notes that Air France uses external law firms or advisers on some issues if the team does not have that particular expertise or as a complement to the team’s expertise. The firms used range from large to small in size. DAILY DUTIES: Gelbert says her daily duties are divided between the different components of her job. For example, as secretary of the board she monitors the board activities and assists its chairman. “I am personally in charge of the company’s most significant, sensitive files or litigation,” she says. But foremost, she is involved in all that is implied in being a team manager, such as maintaining and promoting skills and abilities in a complex and sometime difficult environment. She must have a clear vision of the company’s goals and policy as well as an understanding of its economic, technical environment to be able to generate solutions. ROUTE TO THE TOP: After receiving her law degree from Paris I Pantheon-Sorbonne University in 1984, Gelbert worked for Coface, a credit insurer operating globally, in the aeronautical and naval sectors. From 1991 to 2010, she worked for Thomson-CSF/Thales, first as an in-house lawyer and then, beginning in 1995, as general counsel in charge of antitrust and regulatory matters worldwide. She joined Air France in March 2010 as deputy general counsel. PERSONAL: Now in her late 50s, Gelbert is married and has two sons, ages 19 and 17. “Whenever possible, we dash to Brittany to relax on the sea shore, walk,” she says, noting that she also loves to cook, read, watch a good movie and travel all around the world. LAST BOOK READ: “All the Light We Cannot See,” a novel by Anthony Doerr. WHAT KEEPS HER UP AT NIGHT: Gelbert lists her main concerns as anticipating and integrating risks, protecting the company’s reputation, finding innovative solutions and dealing with the unexpected. PRIORITIES: Gelbert says her main priority is to ensure that the company’s development is in all aspects legal and respectful of law. But also as partners in the business, she wants members of the legal team to be as helpful, precise and innovative as possible in finding solutions. Her role and duty, according to Gelbert, are to protect the company in its strategy, as well as all in its activities and reputation. She also wants to develop a vision of compliance that facilitates top-level strategies and decision-making and makes everybody understand that compliance is more than an additional constraint, but a key tool for competitiveness. Gelbert says that what she likes best about her job and what keeps her going daily is to ensure that her team’s legal expertise is a trustworthy ally for the company in its minor or major achievements and in its projects of large or smaller scale. “We are part of Air France DNA and most proud of it,” she says.