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Audrey Shum, managing director and general counsel of Christie’s Asia Pacific, joined the storied auction house in 2012 as vice president and head of legal Asia and took on her current role in 2022. Prior to Christie’s, she was a partner at Stephenson Harwood, specialising in litigation, IP, and IT law, and before that, she worked at Clifford Chance, Bird & Bird, and Clyde & Co.

 

EDITOR'S NOTE: If you're a general counsel based in Asia who'd like to be featured in this series, please email ranajit.dam@tr.com.

 

ALB: Tell us about your legal career so far, and what led you to taking up this role.

Shum: An opportunity came up 12 years ago which resulted in me being seconded to Christie’s to be their acting head of legal. As an ambitious young partner at the time, I seized the opportunity to work at my client’s office to get to know them inside out and see how my firm at the time could fulfil their legal needs. As life is always full of surprises, I ended up joining Christie’s as their head of legal for APAC for good. Two years ago, another opportunity arose, and our president, Francis Belin, sold me the idea to become the managing director of Christie’s in APAC, leading both our operations and legal teams.

ALB: What have been some of the highlights of your time in charge? And what are some leadership lessons you have learnt?

Shum: Christie’s is a very fast-paced workplace, and it always gets your adrenaline running. There have been many unforgettable moments in the past decade. However, if I must pick one, I would say it was the setting up of our own wholly foreign-owned enterprise (WFOE) and rolling out the first auction in Shanghai. The project timeline was very aggressive, and we had to push many boundaries as there was no precedent at the time. Colleagues from different teams and external advisors must work together seamlessly to make everything happen in time without sacrificing the ambitions of the project and Christie’s high standards.

The hard work really paid off when we saw the successful opening of our own auction house in Shanghai, being the first international auction house at the time to hold their own auction through a WFOE in mainland China; and our carefully selected exquisite objects sold to their new owners. This was really the perk for working as an in-house lawyer as you really get to see a project through from beginning to end.

Besides setting up the WFOE, the legal team also had to work out the full road map, ranging from advising on what we could auction in the mainland to the import and export of each unique fine art object, as all these activities are subject to complex regulations. While it was very challenging at the time, the project really helped me build my network and groundwork within the company in a very short time, and you always have the privilege and honour to be part of the inaugural team.

ALB: Apart from legal work, how do you participate in your company’s business?

Shum: Lawyers are always seen as people who are logical, rational and sensible. Therefore, when the business enters into unknown territory, colleagues wish to bounce off their innovative ideas with their in-house legal team.

With my dual roles, I am involved in managing, with the support of my most professional and diligent operations team, anything which relates to the operations of our business, from ensuring we roll out meticulously presented exhibitions, to the safe shipment of our clients’ one of a kind and valuable fine art objects from A to B, to managing a mega fitting out and relocation project involving our Asia Pacific headquarters. In less than five months’ time, Christie’s will move its Asia Pacific headquarters to The Henderson, a striking new urban landmark in Hong Kong designed by world-renowned architecture firm Zaha Hadid Architects. 

ALB: How would you describe your strategy for the legal team?

Shum:  Teamwork is the key. Success is never the effort of one person. Besides that, each team member is encouraged to develop a niche so that everyone is an expert in a certain area. To share one successful story, our company secretary joined us 12 years ago as our junior paralegal. After discovering her strengths in handling company secretarial works, we have encouraged her to pursue further study and develop further in this field and she is now a certified company secretary.

ALB: How important is the company’s culture, according to you? What kind of internal culture are you looking to foster both within the team, as well as your business as a whole?

Shum: Christie’s has over 250 years of history and to stay relevant to all generations, our culture must continue to evolve and adapt so that our colleagues, regardless of background or generation, feel they are part of this great company with such long history.

At Christie’s, many colleagues take on corporate responsibilities, outside of their jobs, to drive programmes which aim to promote art in our communities while managing the cultural, economic and environmental impact of our activities.

Having a culture of mutual respect and inclusiveness is particularly important to me, and this is something Christie’s is proactively promoting. I am also the co-chair of our Equity, Diversity & Inclusion Committee in APAC.

ALB: On that note, how would you describe your hiring and talent retention strategy? What kinds of lawyers would make the best fit for your team?

Shum: Within the legal team, it is crucial for everyone to understand the importance of being a team player and be ready to lend their helping hands when another team member is in need. Another crucial strategy is to keep developing your team members. When colleagues feel they are learning and growing and are part of a collaborative team, they will stay on the job longer.

Lawyers that would best fit our team: strong legal knowledge, pragmatic, business orientated and enjoy working in a team.

 

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