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ALB talks to Hector M. de Leon, Jr., the newly appointed managing partner of Philippine-based SyCip Salazar Hernandez & Gatmaitan, about his strategy for the firm going forward.
Congratulations on your new role. How have the initial few months been so far?
Great! I am thankful for the support given by my partners and the other members of the SyCip community.
What are your top priorities as the managing partner of SyCip, particularly for the first year or so?
As in many other law firms, growing the firm's revenues remains a top priority. However, there are other things we should focus on.
I am a firm believer in good governance, which helps organisations mitigate risks and operate more efficiently. Further strengthening the firm’s system of governance will be a definite focus point.
The greatest asset of the firm is our people. In this regard, I intend to pay particular attention to the retention of talent.
Finally, several key partners are due to retire this year and in the next several years. The firm needs to ensure proper succession into the partnership, practice areas and key positions.
Even though SyCip has an established brand in the Philippines, the local market is fast evolving, and competition is heating up. What is your strategy to ensure the firm continues to remain successful and in the top tier?
SyCip is at the forefront of legal practice in the Philippines. For example, we handled the first build-operate- transfer (BOT) project in the Philippines and the first financial or technical assistance agreement executed by the Philippine government.
To stay ahead of the competition, we should remain on the cutting edge. I am confident that with our wealth of talent, coupled with the SyCip work ethic, we will remain a cutting-edge firm. The firm will continue to encourage specialisation and the development of new practice areas. We will continue to hire the best talent from the best law schools in the country. The firm will also provide the necessary support system that enables our lawyers to practice law in the best manner.
Where do you see challenges to the firm in the next few years? How would you look to overcome them?
I believe that the firm’s major challenges in the next few years will relate to policy shifts and similar developments in the local and global economic and political environment. Non-Philippine clients constitute a significant portion of our clientele. A reduction in the amount of foreign investments in the Philippines may affect the firm.
While the Philippine economy is expected to grow in the next several years, the Philippine government must foster an environment that is conducive to business, both local and foreign. This is particularly important given increased sentiment in other countries to have an inward focus insofar as business and investments are concerned.
These challenges are external in nature and dependent on matters beyond our control. Accordingly, we should concentrate on the things that we can control as members of the SyCip community, such as doing our work well and providing our clients with the best service. This is the formula that has sustained the firm despite the political upheavals and severe economic difficulties in the past.
What in your opinion makes a successful managing partner?
In Harvard Business Review's “10 Must Reads on Leadership”, psychologist Daniel Goleman writes that the most effective leaders have a high degree of emotional intelligence.
Goleman breaks down emotional intelligence into five components: self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy and social skill. I agree with Goleman. Managing partners must be aware, among other things, of their emotions, strengths and weaknesses. They must be able to control or redirect their disruptive emotions and impulses as well as pursue goals with energy and persistence. They must be able to understand other people's emotional make-up and manage relationships in order to move people in the desired direction.
Based on research, emotional intelligence can be learned and improved. I will certainly strive to increase mine.
Under your management, where is the firm headed in the next couple of years?
In 2045, SyCip will celebrate its 100th anniversary. During our partners' meeting in November last year, I asked my partners this question: How are we going to be remembered in 2045, when the firm celebrates its centennial?
We will not be remembered for simply continuing the excellent work that we do or for building on the success and accomplishments of the firm. That is expected. We need to leave a collective legacy that will make future generations of SyCip partners and lawyers grateful for the things that we started and grateful for the things we have accomplished.
As a managing partner, I intend to lead that journey in achieving our collective legacy. In the next couple of years, the firm will lay the groundwork for the collective legacy we hope to put in place by the centennial.