Alex Liam is the Head of Legal, data protection officer, and company secretary of YTL PowerSeraya (YTLPS), one of Singapore's largest electricity producers and a diversified energy company. Before joining YTLPS in 2020, he served as the General Counsel of Banyan Tree Hotels & Resorts and as the Asia-Pacific counsel for Thyssenkrupp, a German engineering conglomerate.
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ALB: Tell us about your legal career and what led you to take up this role.
Liam: I joined YTL PowerSeraya (YTLPS) three years ago during the COVID-19 pandemic. It was daring, given that I was moving from hospitality to the energy sector. I was intrigued by the challenge of building a legal function from scratch, and was also promised a leading role in driving major projects in the company’s effort to restore profitability (which I find exciting). The role has been challenging, but it has also been rewarding.
ALB: What have been some of your highlights from your time in charge? And what are some leadership lessons you have learnt?
Liam: One of the highlights is the S$270 million acquisition of Hyflux’s Tuaspring power plant, which was a complex and challenging transaction. The refinancing of a S$2 billion syndicated facility with several banks was another critical transaction that aided financial stability.
In an immensely difficult period of supply and pricing volatility triggered by various factors, including the Russia-Ukraine conflict, I was also able to secure favourable terms for the company in a number of fixed terms and spot gas agreements worth a few billion dollars. These agreements have also put the company in a better position to cope with price flux.
Finally, I was also able to assist in reviewing, drafting, and negotiating the first-ever commercial import of energy from Malaysia, including a bespoke power purchase agreement and other contracts. Expanding our involvement in green initiatives has also been quite exciting for me, whether through our electric vehicle charger business or expanding our search for new renewable energy sources.
Through these challenges, I have learnt that it is important to be decisive to move things forward. Also, if faced with difficult circumstances, perseverance is important. That said, even while being decisive, you should always remain open to feedback and be open to adaptation when presented with new information or unexpected roadblocks. Keeping things simple in communications is important too. Your team and colleagues will thank you for that.
ALB: How do you participate in your company’s business besides legal work?
Liam: I am involved not only in legal work but also in negotiating deals from a commercial perspective. I am happy to be given the opportunity to assist in business development as well.
ALB: What kind of lawyers would make the best fit for your team?
Liam: Good legal analysis and an eye for details are non-negotiables. If you do not have any prior experience in the industry you are joining, you should be proactive and invest time and effort to come up from scratch quickly so that you are able to contribute meaningfully to the business. Further, you should view yourself as a business partner to your clients and seek to mitigate risks that threaten our commercial objectives as well. This has probably been said many times before, but in-house lawyers should not ever be rubber stamps (e.g. merely parroting whatever your business colleagues say) or merely serve as managers of external counsel.
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?
Liam: I feel that external lawyers need to be effective communicators, responsive, have a good eye for details and also be cognisant of commercial goals of the company to a reasonable extent. All of these qualities will help external lawyers build trust with their clients over time and result in more fruitful collaboration.
ALB: What motto do you live by?
Liam: A good friend of mine should be credited for this motto that I live by - always stay grounded. Its simplicity belies its universal applicability. On good days, do not get carried away and on bad ones, remember that they never last and things will revert to the mean.