| Gammon Construction
General counsel and legal director
Ashley Howlett’s career in private practice saw him live and work in Auckland, London, Kuala Lumpur, Singapore, Hong Kong and Beijing and ascend to the very top of the profession as a partner at Jones Day. His time with the firm contained a number of impressive highlights, including establishing Jones Day’s office in Beijing in the early 2000s. Always looking for a challenge, Howlett made the move in-house in July 2015, a re-orientation that would require him to master a significantly different area of legal work combined with a business management role. As a mark of the respect for his achievements in private practice throughout Asia, Howlett was offered the director of legal role with Gammon Construction, one of the most prestigious construction companies in Hong Kong, and is the first general counsel the company has ever had. Howlett has had a major effect on how the legal team operates in his time at Gammon. First on his agenda was ‘rationalising the internal processes’ of the department based on his experiences of organising a legal team. He has also ensured that he and his team are approachable, believing that ‘excellent interpersonal skills’ along with the ability to be ‘diplomatic, pragmatic and patient’ with business colleagues marks out the best in-house counsel. Operating in the construction sector, Gammon’s work is more subject to external political and social forces than many other businesses, and Howlett undertakes a significant amount of lobbying work as a member of various chambers of commerce and other industry groups. On top of this, he also oversees the company secretarial and insurance functions within Gammon and is part of their ‘top management’ team that provides input to the strategic direction of the company. Comparing his time in-house with that spent in private practice, Howlett comments that there are ‘vast differences being involved in the management of a company that employs around 8,000 people, especially when a lot of the decisions that have to be made are not legal matters’. This has required him to be assertive when putting across his viewpoints, and he advises other in-house legal professionals to ‘speak out and stand up for what you believe to be the best course of action’.