Melissa Tan is director of legal at Doctor Anywhere, a one-stop telehealth app provider in Southeast Asia. She started her career in 2007 at Rajah & Tann before moving to Watson Farley & Williams, where she made partner in 2014. She spent two years as a partner at private equity investor JLC Advisors before joining the Info-Communications Media Development Authority of Singapore in 2018 as assistant chief counsel. In 2020, she became the inaugural legal counsel for Doctor Anywhere and created its legal function from scratch. She was appointed Director, Legal in January 2022.
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ALB: What have been some of your highlights from your time in charge? And what are some leadership lessons you have learnt?
Tan: We have had several business highlights during my time at Doctor Anywhere - from the fundraising rounds, where we have raised approximately $131.5 million, to the acquisitions of a competitor in Thailand and publicly listed specialist group in Singapore, our expansion to new and exciting territories and answering the nation’s call to provide new services during the pandemic. In all these projects, the legal team has played an important role in working together with the company’s various functions, like corporate development, medical services, commercial, product and regional growth to manage our risks and ensure compliance with the law as Doctor Anywhere’s business expands into uncharted territories.
One of the biggest personal highlights for me is building my team and witnessing how each team member grows. One of the leadership lessons I’ve learnt is that a leader should create a safe space where everyone feels free to exchange views and ideas. This is supremely important for an innovative startup as every member of the team brings with them fresh ideas and viewpoints that can propel the team and company forward. Further, no one person can possibly know everything, and it is important to have an exchange of knowledge and experience amongst team members who have different areas of expertise and skill sets.
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 and your business as a whole?
Tan: In my view, the culture of the company and the team is foundational to its success. I aim to foster a team culture marked by a strong team spirit that embraces an open and collaborative approach, and where team members are not only being their authentic selves but also setting one another up for success so that we achieve our collective goals. The openness in communication that precipitates mutual sharing of ideas and solutions, would allow us to deliver meaningful, impactful and value-added lawyering across the functions we work with.
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?
Tan: When I hire, I seek lawyers who take ownership of their work and are always willing to help each other out. My team members ought to always be keen to learn and open to new challenges. Being part of a business that is often a trailblazer and innovator, the lawyers in my team need to be comfortable with ambiguity in the law.
For retention, I think it is important to be there to guide new members from the start. For many, healthcare is a new sector, and so it is important that they don’t feel overwhelmed and know that the team and I are there to guide them along. I also try to give the team opportunities to grow – for example, by dealing with matters and issues they may never have encountered previously and by giving them opportunities to work directly with the senior leadership team. It is also vital to ensure there is a positive team culture. Having a fantastic team spirit would make the challenging work less daunting and the routine work more fun as you have a team going through it all with you.
ALB: How would you describe your approach to technology? How has the use of tech within your team evolved since you started at the helm, and what is your blueprint for the next year or two?
Tan: Our Legal team is quite lean, so we have taken a measured approach to adopting technology. When I first started out at Doctor Anywhere, we implemented a cloud contract repository system to ensure that all our contracts were logged and stored in one central database. We have also used virtual data rooms for due diligence for our fundraisings and acquisitions. Our next step in the coming months is to launch our legal intranet, where the various business units can access the latest templates, training and guides on legal matters. We recognise the advantages of adopting technology, so as the team grows, we will be looking into adopting contract lifecycle management tools that would improve the team’s efficiency and enable us to be more proactive in managing contracts as the business scales up rapidly.
ALB: When it comes to cooperating with external lawyers, what qualities or capabilities do you believe are the most critical to the work and a sustainable long-term cooperating relationship?
Tan: I enjoy working with responsive external lawyers who can quickly give you practical advice/solutions. To build a sustainable relationship, we value external lawyers who are flexible and are open to having a quick chat about various issues, even if there is no ongoing matter.
ALB: Where would you like to see the team five years from now?
Tan: I believe having experience in dealing with all aspects of being an in-house counsel and understanding the needs of every team in the company are very important foundations for an in-house counsel. In future, I would like to see each team member specialise in and work closely with specific functions in the company, assisting them in all legal matters encountered by that department. I would also like to see the team fully embrace legal technology in our daily work to free up more of our time for more strategic projects.