Prior to joining Boehringer Ingelheim as head of legal and compliance for South East Asia and South Korea at the tail-end of 2014, Justus Chua led on the legal aspects of Reckitt Benckiser’s spin-off of its pharmaceuticals arm into Indivior, where he was regional counsel (developing markets). He met with Catherine McGregor at his offices in Singapore.
B U S I N E S S T H I N K I N G
GC: Did you always know that you wanted to be a lawyer?
Justus Chua (JC): With the inexperience of youth, I thought of journalism, or academia, working for a think tank or being a diplomat. I wanted to read international relations and politics in the US. I applied to a reputable university and got an unconditional offer, then my late father said: “You’re going to read law.” Through the directions of my father I am what I am - but I now think he knew best. I think I am a better lawyer than I would have been at something else, and I have really learnt to love what I do.
GC: What made you first want to go in-house?
JC: Circumstance really. I was in private practice, doing a lot of hours and spending a lot of time in court - working 14 hours a day plus weekends. My son was one and I hardly saw him and it got to me. I realised it was not just about me - I brought this life into the world and was not taking part in his upbringing. Also, most of my work was litigation, and I didn’t have corporate experience.
I was advised by in-house peers that the hours were a bit less demanding because of the focus on one client, and that the hours were also more predictable. An offshoot was that it was also an opportunity to build up the corporate / commercial side of my practice. Today, there are many more areas of law that I have been involved in, and I feel that I am achieving completeness as a lawyer.
GC: What’s your favourite part of your day at the office?
JC: I like training colleagues in terms of compliance - conducting workshops, having interactive role-plays - and raising awareness about compliance and conduct, whether it’s healthcare or ethical issues like bribery, etc. I like seeing people debate about these issues.
I have also had gratification from building plants in remote parts. You find yourself standing on a vacant piece of land, and ten months later seeing a ten million dollar processing site and knowing that you had a hand in that coming up. For me, it’s about seeing work realised and getting a tangible result.
GC: What’s your least favourite part of your day at the office?
Reviews and contracts, as these are not as tangible.
GC: What has been the highlight of your professional life so far?
JC: Having reached a level where you can join an organisation and lead a function, and knowing that you are able to bring that value to the commercial organisation. Not just being legal person, but having been recognised as commercial business lawyer. It didn’t come overnight, but through years of experience. I say to younger in-house that you can get there, but you have to go through a journey of experiences.
GC: What legal issues or challenges have you got coming up over the next few months?
JC: I always look at challenges in terms of the next four months and beyond.
In healthcare there are challenges regarding compliance, integrity of processes and engagement with healthcare providers and hospitals. China and Indonesia are areas where there are red flag compliance issues. There’s a continuing challenge of raising the standard within your organisation in terms of compliance. There’s a Confucius saying that is apt: it does not matter how slowly you go, as long as you do not stop. Compliance is that kind of journey!
GC: What do you expect from an external lawyer?
JC: A key trait is cost-efficiency - but that doesn’t necessarily mean cheap. Response times are key. I also like my lawyers to embed themselves in my business and understand our commercial processes, our products and our markets; only then as external counsel can you understand the pressure points of clients. I think external counsel need commercial acumen as well, to help us avoid potholes.
GC: What are you reading at the moment?
JC: I’m reading Lee Kwan Yew’s Hard Truths to Keep Singapore Going, a number of interviews with the former Singapore Prime Minister. I includes his views on Asia from a social and economic dimension, and has such an insight into global politics.
Being part of the economic miracle in Asia, for me it’s important to see where the future might lie. I read lots of biographies and am keen to find out the insights of politicians, economists and so forth.
GC: What’s your favourite film?
JC: The Godfather trilogy. I like the storyline and characterisation. I enjoy looking at how actors get into roles, and the storyline with the family and the journey they go on. I have done the marathon of all of the films a few times and it’s close to seven hours! I enjoy the strong characters.
GC: If you weren’t practising law anymore, what would you be doing?JC: I’d be a journalist who was a traveller and would want to report from the stranger parts of the world. I like observing lives, people and cultures.
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