Simply Complex: Life at Jebsen’s Legal Department

Tony Chow – Legal Director, Jebsen Group

Jebsen is a fascinatingly complex organisation. From your vacuum cleaner at home to the beer you drink, chances are, there is at least one of the diverse Jebsen-managed brands in your life. With so many moving parts in the company, it takes a lot of people working closely together to make sure that everything runs smoothly. In my case, I help the company navigate the complex world of contracts, M&A, legal disputes, intellectual property, insurance, corporate governance and more, as the Group’s Legal Director.

Unlike lawyers at law firms who have specialised practice areas, an in-house lawyer like me has to be more versatile. The job involves a broad spectrum, which requires frequent interaction with different Jebsen group functions (from human resources, IT to real estate), as well as Jebsen’s highly diversified businesses. For one, I never imagined that I would have a chance to be part of the luxury auto industry, but as it happens, my current role has given me that chance.

When I joined Jebsen, I found myself in a maze of dealing with dealerships, demanding customers, sales and after-sales contracts for Jebsen Motors, a field that was entirely new to me. Car sales regulations and policies in Mainland China are more stringent than other countries, so I have to work extra hard to ensure our contracts and business practices are airtight. Our Motors’ sales and operation colleagues rely on us to work closely with them and to understand the business inside-out, because that’s how we are able to offer timely and sensible legal advice that is actionable on the ground. This close collaboration also extends to other business lines and functions – our “internal clients.” For example, we liaise regularly with our marketing teams to ensure that our marketing claims for various consumer products are always accurate and credible in compliance with local consumer protection and advertising laws.

Since we work with people who aren’t legally-trained, we put a lot of emphasis on clear and transparent communication. As a Legal Director, I believe that legal terms and advice are valuable to our customers and internal clients only if they are clear, comprehensible and actionable. I actively advocate clarity through plain language (e.g. by avoiding legalese). If someone has to call back to clarify something we advised, then we haven’t made ourselves clear enough. When it comes to communicating and forging great work relationships, clear and plain language always gets results (and gains respect).

Being able to communicate clearly and to work efficiently is critical in large-scale projects. In 2018, Jebsen embarked on a journey to form a joint venture with AB InBev in Mainland China, targeting completion in 6 months. It was a complex and demanding project with tight deadlines, and mega-size M&As like this are often considered “mission impossible” (even by our own lawyers) within such a short period. The project required all hands on deck, involving my entire department in providing seamless legal advice and services – ranging from due diligence to multi-jurisdictional secretarial, anti-trust, regulatory and compliance filings and international trademark transfers. We also had to work with every department across Jebsen. But by May 2019, we achieved the impossible, even completing the project a month ahead of schedule. This success was no accident. It was the tight coordination among departments, consistent tracking of milestones, and highly engaged people and communication that made it possible. I count myself lucky for having the opportunity to work with such a brilliant team every day.

Challenging projects such as this one, like everything else I encounter in my job, is definitely not for the faint of heart. My work reminds me of my passion of wakeboarding, snowboarding and other extreme sports, and that thrill of pushing myself to the limit. But the excitement of jumping wakes or cruising down slopes doesn’t hold a candle to being part of Jebsen’s legal group – working alongside bright, dedicated people and knowing that they always have my back no matter how hard it gets.

Our team cannot rest on its laurels, though. The business landscape is rapidly changing with new developments in e-commerce, artificial intelligence, cyber-security, new laws and regulations as well as constantly changing consumer behaviours. Our job, therefore, is to learn to adapt. We need to continuously develop ourselves professionally to keep abreast with the changes in the industry. We also have to feel the pulse of the market and our frontline staff, visiting our operations and stores to see things first-hand. With Jebsen, every day is a chance to learn something new, and for someone who loves pushing the envelope, I cannot wait to welcome my next big adventure.