On May 26, 2016, the In-House Community hosted its inaugural regional Counsels of the Year Awards in order to celebrate outstanding work over the previous 12 months from both in-house and external counsel. The ceremony was held at the Hong Kong Jockey Club Happy Valley Clubhouse and brought together the cream of the legal industry in Asia and the Middle East to recognise their achievements in terms of dedication, innovation, efficiency and value, integration, encouragement and improvement and corporate social responsibility and diversity.
We were truly honoured to receive over 50 nominations for in-house team of the year and know that their contributions will continue to be valued. As the subsequent pages tell, we congratulated numerous lawyers and teams from all across the Middle East and Asia in a variety of industries for their sterling work over the past 12 months. But, what did we learn?
“Heba Ali consistently goes above and beyond her daily duties and is a highly valued and integral member of my extended team.”
Oliver Ebel, Vice President & General Manager,
EMEA Mobile Business Group, Lenovo Middle East and Africa
“The Awards is a time for sharing”. Stephen Maloy, one of our judges, told us. “It is a melting pot of ideas and best practice where I can learn about what the IBM in-house team have done regarding automating documents, for example, and think how that may apply to my own team.” Another senior General Counsel put it more laconically. “Your awards recognize the blood sweat and tears of the in-house role.”The opinions of two In-House veterans seems a good place to start. We received 54 team and individual submissions for the In-House Community Awards and the collective knowledge therein was astounding. Space does not allow for all the wisdom gleaned, but here are some highlights.
In-House legal teams in the real world
The legal team of China Machinery Engineering Corporation contributed to the first belt and road power project in Pakistan (a US$2 billion investment); and the MTR legal team continued supporting the group’s global expansion from its Hong Kong base. In addition, the MTR legal team made a pledge which all in-house teams would do well to replicate – to look at the commercial opportunities arising for the company and in particular how legal change may translate into business opportunities and the commitment to share the same with their other business stakeholders.
Knowledge management, compliance and integration
We were also struck by the ‘tone in the middle’ initiative implemented by 3M Asia Pacific, with grass-roots local videos in local languages generated by the company’s subsidiaries themselves. Tyco’s implementation of a comprehensive client satisfaction survey would also do well to be adopted by all our teams, as it captures on a continuing basis information regarding trust, business alignment, clarity of work product, business acumen, pace and cost – thus truly aligning in a tangible way the legal department and other stakeholders within the company.
Learning something about everything and everything about something
The commitment to ‘always be learning’ was exemplified by the example of our International Legal Team of the Year, Middle East, TECOM Group, with the vision statement that “something more is always possible”. Their success was echoed by CFO Michael Wunderbaldinger’s statement: “I commend the TECOM legal team for its collaborative approach, its technical expertise and its ability to remain flexible in an ever-changing corporate environment”. Thus underlining that it is the attitude of individuals within the legal team that make for lasting success.
Buy-in from the top was certainly exhibited by conglomerate winner CK Hutchison Holdings, with the Group Finance Director Frank Sixt stating “I consider Edith Shih and her team a vital part of the company in delivering the success of CK Hutchison over the past two decades”.
And not all legal departments are large. We learned from both the Far East Organization and Samsung Fire & Marine how much can be accomplished by small teams of four or less lawyers.
The personal commitment to charity was evidenced by the fact that our gathering raised over HK$70,000 for designated charity Lifeline Express. The same charitable impulse was demonstrated in the majority of the 54 submissions, with SingTel’s General Counsel, Shantini Sanmuganathan singled out for particular notice given her personal commitment to volunteer precious time to set up and manage free schools and hospitals for the rural communities of India.
Shortlisted in-house teams
• ABB United Arab Emirates and Oversight Countries
• TECOM Group (Winner – International Legal Team of the Year – Middle East)
• Travelport AFMESA (Winner – Middle Eastern Legal Team of the Year)
• Tyco International plc
• Virgin Mobile Middle East & Africa
Asian & International Legal Teams of the Year
• Aboitiz Equity Ventures, Inc. (Winner – Asian Legal Team of the Year)
• Intel (Winner – International Legal Team of the Year – Asia)
• Sanofi (China) Investment Co., Ltd.
• Sun Life Malaysia Assurance Berhad
The nine teams shortlisted by our four independent judges to be considered for Asia Legal Team of the Year and Middle East Legal Team of the Year had all provided proof of the criteria requested, namely: Dedication: Innovation: Efficiency & Value: Integration: Encouragement & Improvement: and Corporate Social Responsibility & Diversity. Our judges needed their collective 100 years’ service to the region’s legal community to be able to choose the winners.Travelport stood out as Middle Eastern Team of the Year through its ability to rise to the challenge of providing solution-focussed and on-time advice across over 30 distributors in the Africa, Middle East and South Asia region.
The transformative change leadership coupled with their intelligent use of technology exemplified by TECOM secured them International In-House Team of the Year, Middle East.
The history of the Aboitiz team from a team of six in 2004, led by Jasmine Oporto, to a team of 27 is an inspirational story, providing coverage across the core businesses of power, land, infrastructure, food and financial services. Aboitiz impressed enough to win Asian In-House Team of the Year.
Intel won the International In-House Team of the Year, Asia category by clearly demonstrating their competence over a broad range of issues and projects, including: inter alia, software services, IP, sales, marketing, employment, anti-trust, compliance, contracting, technology licensing and mergers & acquisitions. “The legal team are our trusted advisors” shared Robby Swinnen, Vice President & General Managing, Sales & Marketing Asia Pacific and Japan at Intel. “It is heartening to know that they are passionate about what they do at Intel and for the community-at-large.”
And finally to our In-House Counsel of the Year, 2016.
Our judges shortlisted five in-house counsel from the 54 team submissions and any one of the below would have been a worthy winner.
Heba Ali stood out, not just because of the range and obvious respect indicated by the many testimonials provided by her peers and colleagues, but also for the fact that Ali started the legal department for the Middle East from scratch. As one of the judges put it, she has managed to achieve so much in such a short space of time, as well as demonstrating an overwhelming commitment to self-improvement and growth within the Lenovo family. Her team also won the award for Corporate Social Responsibility, presented by Nellie Fong, founder of the ceremony’s charitable organisation Lifeline Express, for which HK$74,000 was raised during the evening.
“Heba exemplifies Lenovo culture in the way she operates. It is easy to work with her and [she] is a reliable resource in the region.”
Our panel of judges
Mr David Miles was formerly Chair of Latham & Watkins’ Asia Practice from 2010-2014. He stepped down from this position on 30th April 2014. From 2006-2010 David was a member of Latham’s Executive Committee and from 2002-2006 Managing Partner of Latham’s London office. David is currently Chairman of Asia Community Venture.
Ms Sue Lynn Koo is a seasoned legal professional with over 20 years of experience, including being the former Head of Legal, Compliance and Secretariat for DBS Group, and General Counsel for the Korea Exchange Bank’.From 1983 until May 2012, Mr Stephen Maloy was General Electric’s senior legal officer for the Asia Pacific region. Whilst serving in that role he lived in Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Hong Kong and Shanghai. For 29 years he was actively involved in the negotiation of many GE investments across the region. Stephen is currently a Senior Advisor to ZICOlaw.
Ms Kirsty Dougan, Head of Asia for Axiom, the world’s leading provider of legal advisory services. Previously Kirsty served as Senior Regional Counsel to Diageo where she started and built Diageo’s legal function for the Greater China region.
Tim Gilkison is a founding director of InHouse Community, founder and hosts of the In-House Community and its associated platforms, including ASIAN-MENA COUNSEL and the In-House Congress series. Tim established the first In-House Congress in Hong Kong in 1998, bringing the the city’s in-house counsel together as a community for the first time. Previously Tim worked for Pearson Professional Limited / FT Law & Tax and Asialaw & Practice.