Wednesday, September 16, 2009

17th CEO Series of Talk - Chew Seng Kok

Live Blogging at 17th Young Corporate Malaysians CEO Series of Talk, Mr. Chew Seng Kok (Managing Partner of Zaid Ibrahim & Co (Zico)).

Youth are the future of the world. Mr. Chew Seng Kok has been sharing at various platform.

During the previous crisis in 1984-1987, and back then, as lawyer, send notices of demand to companies to ask for payment of debts.

Left at age of 27 from Penang to go to New Zealand to be the first Asian to work in the law firm there. Before that, worked 2 years in Malaysia. And then in New Zealand, worked for the law firm, and wrote the State Owned Privatization Act for New Zealand.

In 1989 got Baker & Mckenzie in Sydney and then Hong Kong and then Singapore. At that time, he was 29. Spent 2.5 years there, and worked quite a number of Malaysian work. Previously helped Halim Saad to do a lot of restructuring, to build the Renong empire.

At that time, have to hide, as offshore lawyers are not allowed to practice here.

During the course of work, met Zaid Ibrahim. At that time, Zaid Ibrahim, he invited Chew Seng Kok to come in

Conditions :-
1. Want to create Malaysia power house. At that time, there were only 3 top Malaysian firms

2. Want to create a place for bumiputera to strive, but have to be on merit.

3. Cannot be Jaguh Kampung. Once it succeeds, it has to go out.

Over that lunch at Kampachi, the partnership is on.

At that time, Zaid Ibrahim gave him some money to start the law firm.

Need to have a partner/co-sponsor to support.

In 2001, had 100 lawyers, and then overtook to be the largest law firm in Malaysia. In 2003, opened ZICO in Singapore. In 2003, there was SARS and Iraq war. In 2005, opened in Jakarta. At that time, it was dispute between Indonesia and Malaysia. In 2007, opened in Bangkok and it was the coup. In 2008, opened in Vietnam.

ZICO is about to open in Sydney and Melbourne, after getting the approval.

20 years ago, you needed a signature by British and American lawyers, even though it was created in Malaysia.

One must not take credit for things that one does not do. Chew Seng Kok credited the benefits of ASEAN etc, which helped them to make the move. The commitment of the ZICO partners and lawyers make it happen, besides the opportune time.

Why Malaysian companies lose out in Middle East, we tend to just bring experience from Malaysia to go there, but what we should be doing would be to get local partners. We shouldn't just be depending on our local success to know that we can make it abroad.

Malaysians tend to think that relationship alone is enough, but in abroad, we need to deliver. When ZICO goes out, it does not ask for favour.

In 1998, Zico signed up as 1st Asian partner of Anderson Legal. And Chew Seng Kok learned a lot in Anderson Legal. In 1998, hired a branding consultant. ZICO now branded itself as "trusted business advisor". Chew Seng Kok worked with Azman Mokhtar in his early days in Bina Fikir.

Chew Seng Kok drafted the Danaharta Act within 46 days. Mr. Chew highlighted that we shouldn't go around and claim that we are smarter than others, and we shouldn't claim we know this or that person.

Chew Seng Kok also managed to get the Brands grant, after finding that it is similar to companies who manage to get those Brands grant.

Don't feel scared when go around. Malaysia Boleh! Zico managed to advise for many projects around the world.

There are many Malaysians who are around in the world. So, take the opportunity to hire Malaysians there, instead of them working with other companies there. It is much better than sending a local from here.

If you go around the world, you would be able to see Malaysians around, and it is part of the brand mobility. It is how we capture the talents around.

Pre Global Financial Crisis, if anyone has brain, one can work anywhere in the world.

Because of internet, it is a globalized world. People can do work anywhere in the world.

In 1992, when ZICO produced the 1st newsletter in the industry, it was fined quite a few times by Bar Council. Now, ZICO produced the newsletter every fortnight to send to clients. ZICO invested a lot on the people, IT and delivering the service to the people.

ZICO's partner's room are very basic. Mainly just IKEA furniture. It had rather spend money on the lawyers and delivering the service, rather than on these "dead stuff". 3 years ago, ZICO provided Blackberry for its lawyers who have served for more than 3 years.

ZICO commissions Synovate to do a client survey every 3 years, and the reports go directly to Chew Seng Kok. And if the clients give a poor response, the partners would be called up, and ZICO would go over and apologize to the client.

ZICO focused on delivering the service. Has served General Electric Malaysia for the past 20+ years.

In ZICO, there is a bistro, where there are hot food every night, with rice, chicken or fish, vegetable and then soup. And for breakfast, there is nasi lemak.

There would be a major announcement by Bursa tomorrow at 10:30am with Chicago. Chew Seng Kok was there this morning at 7am to sign, so that it could be in US at 6pm US time.

Today, what we did to American firms, the Indian firms are doing it to us. Now, we have to be smarter. Today, Zico has 7 offices throughout the country. Zico only allow maximum 10% of revenue from litigation and conveyancing. The margin of those kind of work is low.

What Zico focused is on blue ocean. No point competing in red ocean, as others can do it at half the price.

What is termed as good, is that it is good enough to be commercial. There is a growing needs for people to be specializing. For ZICO, there are 22 specialization areas, where every lawyer after 2 years in the firm, would be asked to specialize.

Due to the cost, we need to be agile in the market. ZICO has not expanded the office space in the last 5 years. Basically, get people to work outside of office. Office space are all dead spaces.

ZICO has given the petrol allowance and handphone allowance to the staff since a few years.

Dato' Nik was headhunted to serve the Ministry of Finance in Middle East, and he is a Malaysian who has proved his worth internationally. Despite him of being Chairman of ZICO, he is still working very hard everyday.

If Chew Seng Kok at age of 49 and Dato' Nik can go around the world and working hard, there is nothing that stops us. Separate our nationality when we go out. Internationally, if we are good, no one really cares who you are.

Chew Seng Kok wished that he had gone out earlier. Chew Seng Kok was with ZICO for 12 years, before exploring abroad. They were too comfortable and became a Jaguh Kampung. He would have gone out earlier if he could.

When abroad, the tax rate over there is much lower. Dubai is 0% tax rate and Singapore is 15-18% tax rate, so it makes more sense to be there.

Some of the top lawyers that Chew Seng Kok groomed ended up being poached by top companies, like Khazanah and CIMB etc. Having said that, 4 of his top talents who went out ended up coming back.

In terms of lawyers, ZICO has about 50% of lawyers who graduated locally. ZICO also provided 3 english courses a year for its staff.

For those who come in to ZICO, they are 2nd upper and above.

ZICO took in 20 students every year, where they became apprentice, and half of those are local graduates. These apprentices are brought to court and followed some lawyers who would mentor them.

The fact that ZICO is doing new things and open new grounds, that's the reason why Chew Seng Kok wakes up in the morning and feels excited to work. Last week, his schedule was 2 days in Vietnam, 2 days in Jakarta and 1 day in Labuan. And next week, he would be in Abu Dhabi and Hanoi.

Every time, there is a new thing everyday. When Zaid Ibrahim got appointed, he quit and left ZICO.

Chew Seng Kok always choose to speak to youth. He felt worried that youth these days do not dare to take risk. Chew Seng Kok turned down a partnership at age of 27, when he left to go abroad.

These days, when Chew Seng Kok asked lawyers to go Jakarta, they don't really want to go. Back then, Chew Seng Kok would always just leave the comfort zone and go all out.

We needed to try and go and explore blue ocean. We only have youth once.

When Chew Seng Kok was 27 and being only son, he left to go to New Zealand, then Sydney, Hong Kong, Singapore.

Those exposure that Chew Seng Kok went through would definitely give him a lot of betterment. Do things as it comes to him.

Inquisitive mind is the most important ingredient of being a lawyer. Need to always be curious and think through.

River land was never gazetted, and Vincent Tan tried to run Linear City.

KL Sentral, before it was built, it was 30 years lease land, but it can't be railway land in that circumstance. So, it became freehold, with the condition that railway track runs below it. That turned KL Sentral into reality.

When you work for multinational companies in Malaysia, you get to learn from the world's best, while still contributing in Malaysia.

When Lim Chong Eu started Penang Free Zone, those multinational companies developed a lot of top brains, but we didn't exploit the brains to the rest of the country.

Chew Seng Kok believed that when he went abroad and then he came back, he developed ZICO with Datuk Zaid Ibrahim and now ZICO has 145 lawyers under it.

Today it is a global world, so today, we can contribute to nation-building globally.

Chew Seng Kok's regret is that Malaysia does not have a good policy to bring back top Malaysian talents. He took 50% pay cut when he decided to quit and come back to Malaysia.

There are a lot of top Malaysians in Singapore who want to come back, but there are too many little Napoleons.

For the young ones, do be careful of what you say.

For ZICO, when it pitched to new clients, it showed them the list of general counsels of clients and get the clients to check on the reference. If one has been doing good job, then there is no worry that the new clients can check with the reference.

Chew Seng Kok highlighted that when lawyers submitted stuff to him, and he commented on their work, especially negatively, and they felt happy on it.

Chew Seng Kok's two main passions today is to develop ZICO regionally and also to leave a solid succession plan for ZICO.

Back then, when Chew Seng Kok was 27, his hope back then was to earn a lot of money.

Chew Seng Kok advice is that we should make a difference in people's lives, and when we get financial freedom, we make a difference in others.

Chew Seng Kok said that he took his time out to come and share, because he felt encouraged by what Wan Firdaus is doing, and this is good efforts.
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