As well as highlighting the importance of teamwork within an in-house team and between the legal team and others within the business, Michele Kythe Lim, Group Head, Legal & Secretarial/Company Secretary at IHH Healthcare discusses what she feels is essential to in-house success, as well as revealing how she motivates and inspires her team and herself. She also points out how now, legal departments need “to work hand-in-hand with the client”.
ASIAN-MENA COUNSEL: Can you tell us what led to your current role? Briefly as well, can you describe your career trajectory?
Michele Kythe Lim: I graduated with an LLB (Hons) degree from the University of Wales, Aberystwyth and was called to the degree of the Utter Bar with the Honourable Society of the Middle Temple, United Kingdom in 1992. I was admitted to the High Court of Malaya as an Advocate and Solicitor in 1993 and subsequently became a member of the Malaysian Alliance of Corporate Directors in 2012.
My career started at Messrs, Shook Lin & Bok, one of the largest law firms in Malaysia. This was followed by a seven year stint culminating in my position as Assistant General Manager for the Legal Affairs and Risk Division of Pengurusan Danaharta Nasional Berhad, the national asset management corporation of Malaysia, which was formed to deal with distressed assets following the 1997 Asian financial crisis. I was then headhunted to join Proton Holdings Berhad, the national car company of Malaysia as General Manager and later Chief Legal Counsel, Group Legal, Secretarial and Compliance where I was a member of the senior management team and Group Management Committees overseeing legal advisory/risk, corporate secretarial and compliance issues for the group. I then completed the Senior Management Development Programme of the Harvard Business School in 2009. Afterwards I joined IHH Healthcare Berhad in 2013 as Group Head, Legal & Secretarial/Company Secretary and remain there to this day. IHH is the second largest healthcare group globally by market capitalisation.
AMC: How do you add value to your company?
MKL: My day-to-day work involves reporting to the Managing Director and CEO of IHH and I have a team of eight who report directly to me with functional reporting from the group subsidiaries. The value I add on a daily basis is to ensure that the legal and corporate compliance risks of the group are adequately identified and mitigated against, whilst finding solutions to the business. I firmly believe also in creating an inclusive environment and a motivated team as this will bear fruit in terms of increased productivity.
AMC: What is the best advice you have been given?
MKL: I will re-phrase this question to say “how do you work best?”, and the answer to that is not to have expectations and to take a step back and analyse any situation before giving feedback. Also, I rely on my instincts.
AMC: What challenges have you perceived in your current role?
MKL: I believe the challenge most in-house counsel face is to balance business needs against risk mitigation and to be solutions oriented. I constantly strive to achieve that in the work place. For a growing business that I am in, this also involves understanding the dynamics of the business across different geographies and managing that integration.
AMC: Can you describe how legal practice has changed as the market has developed and clients have become more sophisticated?
MKL: Legal practice has evolved to become as dynamic as the businesses it advises. Having been a practising lawyer myself and now a client, I can easily say that clients nowadays are more exacting. Legal practice is now required to be more holistic and proactive. It needs to work hand-in-hand with the client. No more can the firm simply say “here is our advice and this is our bill”. Lawyers should equip themselves with other skills aside from the law and not forget to market themselves, as at the end of the day, they are selling a service.
AMC: Can you describe a typical work day?
MKL: I start with an hour of brisk walking at 5:30am and am in the office before 9am. Work covers dealing with internal and external stakeholders at any point in time and managing the ongoing projects and daily legal, secretarial and corporate compliance matters. I believe in empowering my team, so teamwork is essential, especially considering the various countries we are present in.
AMC: Please share with us how you approach external counsel.
MKL: I believe it is the individual lawyer that counts and not the firm. I also believe that external counsel (however senior you are) need to be approachable and responsive at all times. A business-minded approach to legal issues is also a value add that I look for in external counsel.