GENERAL COUNSEL AND COMPANY
Veronica Lai is general counsel and company secretary of Singapore infocomms blue chip StarHub.
She met with Catherine McGregor to discuss the changes she has seen during her 15-year tenure
and her career journey so far.
G C I N T E R V I E W
EDITOR AND FEATURES WRITER
GC: Did you always know that you wanted to be a lawyer?
Veronica Lai (VL): From when I was an impressionable 16 year- old. I became inspired by the trials of David Marshall, and there was no looking back!
GC: What made you first want to go in-house?
VL: I really enjoyed being part of Rajah & Tann during such an interesting part of the firm’s growth. I was fortunate to train under V. K. Rajah, now Attorney-General of Singapore, and Kenneth Tan, one of the youngest senior counsels then appointed by the Court.
I had the unique privilege of working in all three areas of the law whilst in practice at Rajah & Tann - real estate, litigation and corporate - which gave me a great grounding, through a range of legal practice. I eventually left practice because of my family - the hours were long and it was challenging balancing being a young mother and having a busy practising career.
I am still at my second job after Rajah & Tann. StarHub started as a fixed and mobile telecommunications company. It later acquired CyberWay and merged with SCV [then Singapore Cable Vision], and the business morphed into an exciting infocommunications quad play company, offering telecoms, media and broadband services.
Sometimes life doesn't turn out quite the way you imagined it when you were 16! But it has been a tremendously fulfilling journey.
One of the most important things for an in-house team is hiring good people who can complement one another and the business, so we are complete as a collective whole.
I am fortunate that quite a number of lawyers on my team have been with me for more than a decade, so they have seen the company grow to what it is today. Within the legal department, we rotate our portfolios so that counsels get the opportunity to gain new skills and build a new network of internal and external contacts. Our experience has been that counsel at the end of two rotation stints become far more experienced and adaptable. The rotation also creates and supports diversity and promotes teamwork; for example, if someone is on maternity leave, another counsel can step into her role seamlessly to support the business.
An in-house role enables women to have a fulfilling career whilst achieving a work-life balance. The in-house role is also enjoyable because we have the privilege of seeing a commercial project grow from genesis to its successful launch. We adopt a more business-oriented perspective. The sense of satisfaction and achievement at the end of a successful project alongside the team is tremendous.
GC: What’s the best thing about working at StarHub?
VL: Getting a buzz from technology. If we didn’t, my colleagues and I would find it hard to work here for so long. And, liking the people and environment we work in every day. The fact that the legal team is so stable is testimony to that. The counsels at StarHub are viewed as trusted pairs of hands. We take time and effort to train and mentor our new legal hires, and to help them settle down.
GC: What’s your least favourite part of your day at the office?
VL: It is hard to get excited over compliance work. But thankfully, one can ameliorate that by hiring good, meticulous people. We have a good secretariat team, who have compliance in their blood, and they help to keep me honest!
GC: What has been the highlight of your professional life so far?
VL: The merger with SCV and the IPO in quick succession - these were defining milestones which changed the company, and the nature of my work.
GC: How much do you outsource as a team, and how much do you keep in-house?
VL: We do a lot of our work in house because our counsel walk close to the business, and they understand the business and the transactions better. This helps them to render practical and commercial legal advisory. We do, however, outsource a range of work, such as capital markets, intellectual property, litigation and project-related complex transactions.
GC: What are you reading at the moment?
VL: The Fault in Our Stars by John Green, which my son passed to me! I am reading it to de-stress. The interesting thing about my job is that I get bombarded with a lot of legal, telecoms, media and industry information. Sometimes there is information overload!
GC: What do you like to watch in your free time?
VL: We carry more than 200 pay TV channels. I make it a point to watch the channels for which StarHub is negotiating our content agreements. So, my viewing taste is very varied, across languages.
GC: If you weren’t practising law anymore, what would you be doing?
VL: I might have been a journalist or a literature teacher!