Jeffery Tan has been with Jardine Cycle & Carriage, the investment holding company of the Jardine Matheson Group in Southeast Asia, since April 2016. He is responsible for legal, compliance, company secretarial, communications and public affairs at the group level. Prior to joining his current company, Tan was the group general counsel, chief compliance officer and board secretary for UTAC Holdings. Before that, he accumulated significant experience in not just private practice and in-house legal roles, but also on the business side.
ALB: Your career so far combines both law and business. Tell us more about that.
Tan: I am the group general counsel and chief sustainability officer of Jardines Cycle & Carriage, a leading STI-SGX listco. My other role is as CEO of the registered mental health charity Jardines MINDSET. I also serve on the board of the Singapore International Chamber of Commerce.
I graduated in the last millennium (1987) with an LLB (Hons.) from the National University of Singapore and practised law as an advocate & solicitor of Singapore and a solicitor of England & Wales. I am privileged to have more than 30 years of private practice and in-house legal experience with international law firms and multinational companies such as Allen & Gledhill, DLA Piper, Siemens and Motorola. I have also served in a business capacity as president of Motorola Singapore for five years.
Besides receiving legal training, I have also sought to learn more about business and management through the completion of the Senior Executive Management Program at Northwestern University – Kellogg School of Management and Driving Strategic Innovation for Senior Management by MIT’s Sloane School of Management and Switzerland’s IMD.
ALB: What have been some of your learnings from the past few months?
Tan: Over the past few months, we have seen the larger community coming together to do good for lesser groups within our society. From improving the lives of foreign workers living in dormitories to building sustainable food supplies through community gardens, to implementing steps and initiatives that focus on workplace and colleagues' mental health - there is a sudden spontaneous explosion of opportunities in sustainability, corporate social responsibility (CSR) programmes and, in general, doing good.
To this end, lawyers - with their networks and connections as well as their reach across the corporations they work for and the external community they interact with - should leverage this and be at the forefront of CSR initiatives and programmes. At a higher level, this allows lawyers to lead and contribute to the larger community. From a less altruistic perspective, it helps with disproving the stereotypical perception of lawyers as lacking the ability to display compassion for their fellow men and women.
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?
Tan: In the time of COVID-19, many lawyers will be asked to opine and advise on matters that go beyond the law. Lawyers will need to exhibit boldness and a willingness to embrace these new, non-legal challenges. They should quickly recognise that these invitations to assume non-legal roles are spawned from their intimate knowledge of the businesses they support and partner with.
When this lawyer-business partnership is well delivered, it leads to lawyers gaining a level of trust of key management - where a confidante relationship is established and a safe environment is created, one in which business leaders can be open with their lawyers, enabling them to lay all cards on the table as it relates to the many difficult business challenges they grapple with. Such special moments allow lawyers to play their role as a counsellor (the apt American term used for lawyers) to the business - whereby insights and guidance goes beyond just pure legal advice.
When such a relationship of confidence is attained between a lawyer and a client, it is possibly the highest accolade that can be accorded to a lawyer.
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?
Tan: The pandemic has brought to the fore an important area: How best to bridge the gap between the physical and the virtual? Many lawyers have discovered and realised how important it is to be tech-savvy. Rather than consigning this skill to something that the resident IT department provides, this is best embraced by lawyers with enthusiasm as a life skill. From having to set up routers for effective work-from-home (WFH) set-ups to navigating software for virtual conference calls, many lawyers are transitioning to new levels of tech-savvy and a greater independence in this area.
ALB: Where would you like to see the team five years from now?
Tan: A legal team that is energised, engaged and empowered brings much value to the business it partners with. I am greatly blessed that the members of the Jardines Legal Team fully subscribe to this vision and credo.
ALB: What motto do you live by?
Tan: We should always remember that we are all human beings - created equal. Consequently, it is important for us to display kindness, compassion, respect and civility one to another, regardless of one’s station in life. Put another way, we need to practise the golden rule: ‘Treat others as you would like others to treat you’.
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.