Hooi Bien Chuah is the head of legal for Lazada Malaysia, an e-commerce marketplace platform and logistics network under the Alibaba Group. She is also the litigation centre of excellence lead for Lazada entities in Southeast Asia. Prior to joining Lazada in December 2018, she was the legal director and ethics and compliance officer for GSK Malaysia and Brunei. She has had previous in-house stints with Shell Malaysia and UCB Asia Pacific, and also experience in private practice.
ALB: What have been some of your highlights from your time with Lazada Malaysia?
Chuah: I joined Lazada Malaysia about two years ago at a time of change, and built the legal team. It was not without challenges, but we ended up doing some exciting stuff together!
The e-commerce marketplace business is complex - with product categories crossing multiple industries, millions of users, and an evolving landscape. The business is constantly raising its bar, with expanding business models and product categories, merchant services, and consumer engagement initiatives.
As examples, we ventured further into the digital marketing business, with a new sponsored search and sponsored affiliate-marketing business. To tackle the lack of funds for small merchants, microloan arrangements are set up. The launch of UGC (with livestreaming and videos) enables merchants and consumers to showcase products vividly. To excite consumers, we had celebrity concerts livestreaming, augmented reality game and game shows. To better protect intellectual property rights, a reporting portal was rolled out. On a day-to-day basis, we also manage risks relating to conducts of diverse merchants and consumers.
To enable these initiatives, the legal team managed legal reviews, provided solutions, supported contracting and trainings, and engaged regulators where needed. We often tackle uncertain and untested situations under tight timelines.
We were thrilled when the legal team is recognised as the Innovative In-house Team of the Year at the ALB Malaysia Law Awards 2020. A special thanks to bosses, friends and colleagues for the valuable insights, camaraderie and great support.
ALB: What are some of the big challenges in the past few months, and how did you help tackle them?
Chuah: Consumers, merchants and the community are important to us - our focus was to support them as much as we can during the COVID-19 pandemic.
When the pandemic broke, Lazada helped Malaysians get access to necessities such as face masks at reasonable prices. Food is a national love – solving distribution issues during lockdown was another focus. Amidst nationwide movement restrictions, the timely digestion and sharing of evolving government SOPs also helped manage supply chain issues.
Within two weeks of lockdown, to help communities in receiving aids, LazadaForGood donation was launched, leveraging on the online platform to enable the public to contribute in a hassle-free way to non-profit organisations such as the Red Crescent Society, UNICEF and Hospice Malaysia.
In a later stage to help revive the economy, Lazada joined the government in assisting micro & small-medium businesses. When unemployment rose, Lazada collaborated with 50 corporations, to bring 1000 jobs openings to job seekers via a digital job fair.
The legal team played a variety of roles there - all within a super short period whilst working closely with stakeholders, albeit remotely. This included conducting regulatory analysis, crafting legal solutions, and contracting. It’s been hugely gratifying.
ALB: How do you feel the pandemic affected the way your team (and broader company) operate? What changes do you see in the long run?
Chuah: During the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown, to work seamlessly with colleagues, we used video calls and chat app to keep in close contact. Fortunately, we have been storing documents digitally, so accessing them was not an issue. To keep up the team morale, celebrations and the fun stuff were not forgotten.
We continue to monitor the situation and adjust our work arrangement accordingly, with priorities in protecting health, maintaining business efficiency, and preserving morale.
When we work for causes greater than ourselves, work can be super meaningful and motivating. It’s heart-warming to see that (aside from Lazada/Alibaba) numerous other companies have done great work, most notably in developing COVID-19 vaccines, disseminating disease awareness education, helping the less unfortunate groups, and PPE donations (the list goes on!).
In the longer run, I hope companies continue to embrace the can-do and agile spirit, and go the extra mile in serving society.
ALB: What motto do you live by?
Chuah: Though not a motto, the pandemic reminds me of the Chinese words for “crisis,” which is made up of two words: danger and opportunity. The crisis has given the world a precious opportunity to help, to reflect, and to change. Let’s treasure it.
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