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Ryan Chung is head of legal for Southeast Asia at Klook, an online travel agency backed by Softbank that was founded in 2014. Having started his career with Rajah & Tann’s TMT practice group, he moved in-house with the now-defunct video streaming service Hooq. Chung joined Klook in 2019.

 

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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?

Chung: My time at Klook has been nothing short of exciting. There were the highs of 2019, a period of rapid global expansion after achieving unicorn status; the lows of 2020, when travel grounded to a halt during the pandemic; and the recovery, when we gradually climbed back to pre-pandemic levels and even surpassed previous milestones in recent times.

Through the ups and downs of the last few years, one lesson that stuck was the importance of empathy. Not just empathy towards your team members or colleagues but also to other partners and stakeholders. This was especially important during the pandemic when everything was uncertain, and there was a natural tendency to look out for yourself instead of others. Having empathy allowed us to show our understanding towards others and build the trust and unity that was required for the industry to bounce back together.

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

Chung: Culture is very important to us as it helps to guide our values and day-to-day behaviour. This is especially important for us as we are a global company, with our legal team spread across five markets with diverse cultures.

Within our legal team, we closely align with our company’s core beliefs, PATH, which is short for

“Push boundaries, Ask for and give feedback, Take ownership and Help each other.” As a relatively lean team from diverse backgrounds, the latter is particularly important for us to offer unique perspectives that may be helpful to one another on different issues or occasions.

ALB: What kinds of lawyers would make the best fit for your team?

Chung: The travel industry is fast-paced, and the work we do at Klook is very dynamic. Our legal team prides ourselves on being able to be at the forefront with our business team and empowering our business growth.

Legal expertise aside, one of the important traits we look out for is a growth mindset and the willingness and agility to learn fast and adapt. This person should also ideally embody an entrepreneurial spirit and a sense of ownership as we do empower our team members to contribute directly and meaningfully to projects and tasks. Lastly, as our team is still relatively lean and dynamic, we expect team members to be team players and help one another where necessary.

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?

Chung: At Klook, technology and data are at the very core of our business. In the same way, our legal team has been set up to leverage technology and data to drive process efficiency and workflow optimisation. We’ve always had a strong focus on legal operations since our early days and built up a dedicated legal operations function to help the team with process building, contract and approval automation, budgeting, OKRs setting and weekly data analysis to help manage and allocate workload.

In the next few years, we will continue to closely monitor the advancement of relevant technological tools that we can adopt to add value to our workflows and business, such as use of generative AI for process automation and optimisation.

ALB: When it comes to cooperating with external lawyers, what qualities or capabilities do you believe are the most critical to not only the work itself but also a sustainable long-term cooperating relationship?

Chung: We are thankful for the support that our external lawyers have provided over the last few years. As alluded to in the earlier quote above, we would not be able to get to where we are today without going together.

In terms of qualities, domain expertise is a given. Beyond that, we see great value in collaborating with external lawyers who have a genuine interest in our company and are invested in our success. Their familiarity with our platform and products not only shows their interest in what we do but can provide valuable insights when advising on specific matters.

In the fast-evolving world of travel, external lawyers who are knowledgeable not just about the law but also aware of other factors that are important to the business, such as geopolitical awareness make great partners. As a global business, we rely on our external lawyers to be our eyes and ears on the ground to provide practical market insights.

ALB: What is the best piece of advice you have ever received? What motto do you live by?

Chung: There is a saying, “People don’t quit bad jobs; they quit bad managers.” While this may not be entirely true and is an over-simplistic description, it still serves as a reminder for me to be a good manager. I strongly believe that you are only as good or as capable as the team you build. This is why I place high emphasis on building an effective and happy team. It is not an easy task to balance the team’s workload, play to each of their strengths and yet provide enough challenge to push boundaries. But I will gladly put in time to ensure that the team is set up for success so that we can continue to empower our company’s growth effectively and efficiently and create more moments of joy for our customers.

 

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