Ong Johnson is senior group legal manager of i-Berhad, a publicly listed real estate developer and operator best known for i-City, a theme park in Selangor. Following his admission to the Malaysian Bar in 2017, Johnson embarked on his professional journey at Loi & Co, a commercial and corporate litigation boutique, before joining i-Berhad in 2020.
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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?
One particular achievement that stands out is the successful realignment of the legal department's strategy with the broader business objectives of the organisation.
Throughout my tenure at i-Berhad, I have instilled a significant mantra within the department, emphasising the dual purpose of every legal decision we make: first, upholding the highest standards of legal excellence, ensuring uncompromising quality, and second, aligning with the practical realities of the business world to deliver pragmatic commercial benefits to the organisation.
In terms of leadership lessons, my tenure at i-Berhad has instilled in me the importance of empathy. I have learned that true leadership encompasses more than making tough decisions and setting strategic directions; it necessitates understanding and connecting with people. By embracing empathetic leadership, I have gained deeper insights into the unique challenges and perspectives of different stakeholders, thereby fostering enhanced communication and teamwork within the organisation.
Furthermore, another leadership lesson I have acquired is the cultivation of a growth mindset fueled by curiosity. A growth mindset allows me to perceive challenges and setbacks as learning and professional development opportunities. Also, it encourages me to be receptive to new ideas and perspectives from all stakeholders and instils resilience, adaptability, and a commitment to continuous improvement within the legal division.
ALB: Apart from legal work, how do you participate in your company’s business?
As the Senior Group Legal Manager at i-Berhad, my role extends beyond traditional responsibilities. In addition to providing legal expertise, I actively assist with corporate strategy and investor relations efforts, where I identify investment opportunities, manage the end-to-end investor relations process, engage potential investors, conduct meetings, and prepare investment proposals, presentations, and pitch decks.
Furthermore, I also play a proactive role in government relations efforts, where I engage with government officers, ministers, and ministries to foster strong working relationships. I represent the organisation in meetings and strategise effective engagement and potential collaboration with governmental stakeholders.
One of the key aspects of my role involves formulating and implementing strategies aimed at fostering growth, enhancing competitiveness, and ensuring the long-term success of the organisation. I take an active strategic role in identifying and evaluating new investment opportunities as well as potential partnerships, ensuring that the organisation seizes valuable prospects and establishes fruitful alliances with other companies.
ALB: How would you describe your strategy for the legal team?
The strategy for the legal team at i-Berhad is encapsulated in a dual mandate.
Firstly, we must uphold the highest standard of legal quality by ensuring that our actions and decisions always reflect the highest ethical standards and comply with the letter and spirit of the law. Therefore, we consistently work towards enhancing our legal knowledge, staying abreast of the latest legal developments, and ensuring our proficiency in various areas of law.
Secondly, we prioritise practicality and business alignment. We strive to provide legal solutions that are not only technically correct but also pragmatic and conducive to our corporate objectives. While it is crucial to understand the law accurately, it is equally important to translate these interpretations into strategies that are both effective and pragmatic for our business. To this end, we ensure that our legal strategies are not developed in a vacuum but are instead closely aligned with our company's broader business goals.
In essence, our strategy strikes a balance between legal excellence and business practicality. This dual mandate forms the bedrock that guides our actions and decisions.
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?
When engaging with external lawyers, three key qualities are crucial to ensuring not only the success of the work at hand but also the longevity of our professional relationship.
Firstly, a profound and specific understanding of our industry is paramount. Every sector has its unique set of challenges and intricacies, and for external counsel to truly add value, they must possess a deep understanding of the commercial landscape in which we operate. This allows them to tailor their advice to our specific needs and provide commercially viable solutions.
Secondly, comprehensive legal knowledge is non-negotiable. External lawyers are often brought on board to lend their expertise on specific subject matters, and their proficiency in these areas is absolutely critical. We rely on them to keep us abreast of the latest legal developments and provide advice that is not only accurate and up-to-date but also clear and easy to comprehend.
Lastly, we highly value external counsel who make an effort to truly understand our objectives and needs. They should not only be able to identify the legal issues at hand but also discern the broader business implications of these issues. We appreciate lawyers who can think beyond the legal box and provide solutions that align with our strategic and commercial goals.
In summary, an effective external counsel to us is someone who understands our industry, possesses comprehensive legal knowledge of the subject matter, and can provide solutions that truly meet our needs and objectives. These qualities are key to fostering a successful and sustainable long-term working relationship.
ALB: What motto do you live by?
The motto I have steadfastly adhered to in every sphere of my life is: "Whether given little or much, be a good and faithful servant." This quote deeply resonates with how I view life, and it serves as my guiding principle, propelling me to strive for excellence in both my professional and personal endeavours.