A Hong Kong native, Heidi Hui studied in New Zealand, and then started her career in Singapore with Drew & Napier in 2000. In 2007, she joined Reuters, which later became Thomson Reuters following the merger with Thomson Financial. And then, in 2018, after Thomson Reuters sold a majority stake in its Financial & Risk business unit to Blackstone, she joined the newly created entity Refinitiv.
Hui is part of a 14-member legal team at Refinitiv, four of whom report directly to her. In Asia, the legal team has a presence in six key cities, namely Beijing, Hong Kong, Mumbai, Singapore, Sydney and Tokyo.
ALB: How would you describe your strategy for the legal team?
Hui: Taking into consideration, the size and complexity of our business, Refinitiv’s legal team is relatively lean. As a result, we need to be very focused and pragmatic in our approach. A successful in-house counsel needs to be business-savvy, be aware of the organisation’s strategies and business requirements and most importantly support these strategy and requirements. Additionally, our approach in supporting our internal clients is not only reactive but also proactive, being aware of the legal and regulatory development in different jurisdictions is important and so is being ready in responding to market or geopolitical changes in the region.
ALB: What are some of the big challenges the business has been facing in the past few months, and how are you looking to tackle them?
Hui: Without a doubt, the biggest challenges in the past few months have been COVID-19 and the effects the pandemic has in the region and the world. There is significant impact on the way our staff and vendors work and perform their services in many affected countries. Members of the legal team are involved in advisory work around our staff, vendors, our customers and generally how the markets react. COVID-19 started in the Asia region and we were put in the frontline responding to the unprecedented impact this has in many key cities, many of us need to provide advice and response with little or no guidance from local government as well. We have been able to respond proactively, and with a very tight team, we’ve also looked to share experiences and guidelines from other governments when devising a more consistent policy across the organisation. Other than local policy on staff’s working arrangements, the legal team has also proactively created new contract execution policies during lockdown periods, and clarifications on force majeure provisions in customers and vendors contracts.
ALB: How do you feel the pandemic will reshape the way your team (and broader company) operates? What strategy changes have you put in place in the long run?
Hui: To me, the challenge has always been creating a cohesive and effective team and with the latest pandemic and full-blown work from home practices, it is more important than ever to ensure the connection within the legal team and with our internal customers remain effective. It’s clear that until there is such time that everyone feels safe working in a close environment or when there is a vaccine developed, working from home will continue for a long while more and it means we need to rethink logistics and staff morale that are impacted by long term virtual work environment. Many of us, notwithstanding family circumstances, end up having longer working hours when we work from home. We no longer have the benefit of “breaks” during commute to settle the day or our minds after a long day work. Our company has made it clear that we are empathetic to individual circumstances which can differ greatly depending on your home environment and family circumstances. Personal leave and working hours are fully respected and we recognise the health and safety of our staff remains most important to us.
ALB: How important is the company’s culture, according to you? What kind of internal culture are you looking to foster both within the team, as well as your business as a whole?
Hui: A company’s culture is the foundation of its success and shapes the values of its people. Our culture defines who we are, and at Refinitiv, our values are bold, focused and open. These values encourage accountability, decision making, high performance, and innovation. What I am particularly proud of is that our organisation encourages and inspires us to make a real difference in the markets and local communities that we operate in, giving back whether in the form of pro bono services, volunteering, and other forms of sustainability leadership such as sustainable finance and climate change.
ALB: How would you describe your approach to technology? How has the use of tech within your team evolved since you started at the helm, and what is your blueprint for the next year or two?
Hui: We are a technology company, so I think it’s not a surprise that we embrace technology in our work. When I first started, we could get by with doing our work with minimal technological support, drafting with simple word processing or perhaps with a Dictaphone and used to communicate with phones, faxes and plenty of face to face meetings. Now, even before the pandemic, our communication via e-mails, phones and texts is more common than physical meetings. As we are responsible for a few markets that require local language, we also utilise a number of machine translation software that have proven to be very useful and timesaving. While majority of our work still requires important judgments that can only be made by human, I foresee that more and more work will be done by full or partial automation including contract review and limited amount of drafting. For our technology to be truly impactful, we will need to make sure that we have sufficient database to support that. So, the next focus for us is to ensure there is a knowledge database of legal depository for the team in a shareable environment.
ALB: Where would you like to see the team five years from now?
Hui: I certainly hope the legal and compliance team continues to be an important part of the regional leadership team. Members of our team should be having healthy and trusted relationships with our business team. This will assist in sharing a proactive and future-ready legal team for the organisation.
ALB: What is the best piece of advice you have ever received?
"Don’t let what you want, lose sight of what you already have." This advice reminds me to focus on the positive, no matter whatever work we have done or decisions we have already made and to be grateful for what we already have.
ALB Conversations is a weekly series of in-depth Q&As with leaders of law firms and in-house legal departments across Asia. If you are a managing partner or general counsel based in the region who is interested in being a part of this series, please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.