Rebecca Lim, Group General Counsel of Westpac Banking Corporation speaks to Asian-mena Counsel about the challenges and opportunities she has encountered in her role at the Australian headquartered bank. Here, she explains how her and her team manage to stay ahead of the curve.
Asian-mena Counsel: Can you tell us what led to your role at Westpac? Briefly as well, can you describe your career trajectory?
Rebecca Lim: I joined Westpac around 11 years ago, having moved from private practice in Australia, New York and London to an in-house role at an investment bank in London, prior to moving back to Australia for family reasons.
After working at a major Australian law firm, I practised corporate finance at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom before joining the in-house team within the Investment Banking Division at Goldman Sachs in London.
My private practice experience provided me with a great foundation to move closer to the end-client and business aspects through moving in-house. I was later specifically drawn to Westpac because of its values and culture – it really felt to me like the right place to build a long-term career. While at Westpac, I have been fortunate to have a combination of legal and senior business roles, which helps me bring a holistic and customer-focussed perspective to my role as Westpac’s General Counsel.
AMC: How do you add value to your company?
RL: I lead a team of very talented legal and secretariat professionals. Our vision is ‘Great people, valued experts, working together to develop creative solutions that make the difference.’ That sums up our approach – we’re focussed on having a deep understanding of technical issues, but also the broader business and commercial context and we bring a solutions-focussed approach. We have excellent relationships with our business partners, and that enables us to be involved with challenges and opportunities from the outset, so that we can develop creative solutions and act as a true trusted adviser.
AMC: What challenges have you perceived in your current role?
RL: Spanning the whole Westpac Group, my role is very broad, and provides a fantastic opportunity to consider a very wide range of issues. There is also a very significant amount of regulatory change underway across the globe for financial services companies. So one of the main challenges for me and my team is being across the full range of issues, working to prioritise those issues and opportunities, and spotting the emerging trends on a proactive basis. While this certainly is challenging, it is at the heart of what we love about our roles – the variety of issues and the opportunity to make a difference.
AMC: Can you describe how legal practice has changed as the market has developed and clients have become more sophisticated?
RL: As in-house practices have evolved, they have become more sophisticated consumers of legal services. My team and I are very conscious of the levers we believe drive value from both internal and external legal services for our customers and our shareholders. We focus on having the right lawyers in the right roles, the mix of work we do in-house and externally, having lean processes to focus on the high value added work and eliminate unnecessary activities. We are also very focussed on having the right external partners – so we have a strong external panel with firms with different capabilities to do different types of work. We additionally work with our strategic sourcing partners in the Westpac Group to ensure we appropriately balance a procurement approach with a relationship approach in selecting and managing our firms. And we find that our firms respond to this – they work closely with us to understand our needs, to offer more holistic services, flexible pricing options and to understand the capabilities we need now and in the future.
AMC: What is the best advice you have been given?
RL: I’d put this in two categories – how to tackle the day-to-day, and then how to approach life more generally!
On the day-to-day, early on in my private practice career, my supervising lawyer told me to make sure I tackle the hardest things in my day first – so do the toughest thing on your to do list early on, while you’re fresh and energised. That was great advice and it has really helped my productivity.
On a broader level, the best advice I’ve received has been to make sure that when you’re present, you’re really present – heart and mind. So if you’re focussing on something at work, give it your all. And if you’re with friends, or your children, be fully present in that moment as well – not constantly checking your messages, or mentally running through your to-do list.
AMC: Can you describe a typical work day?
RL: I work really hard to make sure I spend my time in the most productive way. So I plan my week ahead every Friday, working off a plan of what I need to achieve in the next quarter. My week is then a balance of important things that need to be dealt with straight away, balanced with some time spent working on longer term priorities – that while not urgent are very important to make sure I focus on the strategic goals for my team and the organisation.
This mix will involve spending time with my direct reports, with my broader team – to make sure I’m across the issues they’re dealing with and how they’re progressing. I also work to make sure I stay in touch with our front line business teams – so spending time with senior executives to understand their challenges and issues and how my team can help, to visiting a customer contact centre, or attending client functions. And it is also important to keep an external focus, so I spend time with our panel firms, at industry functions and forums, and time with our regulators.