Jiyoung Won is currently lead counsel at General Motors Korea. Between 2016 and 2019, she was the global general counsel of carmaker Hyundai’s financial unit Hyundai Capital Services. Prior to that, she held senior legal roles at AIG Korea and LG Display. Won, whose law firm experience includes stints at Brodies in Edinburgh and Korea’s Yoon & Yang, also spent time at the World Trade Organization in Geneva, where she focused on trade litigation and engaged in multilateral negotiations. This experience, she says, contributed to her later career as a senior in-house counsel at multinational organisations.
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ALB: What are some leadership lessons you have learnt during your career?
Won: Legal plays a key role in many areas to support the business's overall success. Where I find it to be essential to the success story of the business is the "people" that I work with in supporting tasks. Over 25+ years, I have had many people join and leave our team. The lessons I learned are to treat everyone with respect, as you want to be treated at all times, and not to undermine the potential of people. Work with people and support them to grow as instrumental team members. Everyone is special!
ALB: How would you describe your strategy for leading a legal team?
Won: Be fluid, be creative, yet stick to your principles and never compromise looking after the company's best interests. Legal does not tackle just one angle, but functions as a multi-tasking advisor to our business - a problem solver, a coordinator, a strategic thinking partner, a mediator, a compliance officer, a moral balancer, etc. You need to be flexible to be a multi-tasking advisor.
ALB: How would you describe your hiring and talent retention strategy? What kinds of lawyers would make the best fit for your team?
Won: A person with "respect for people with differences" can work with people with the aforementioned differences that entail different backgrounds and natures, in addition to being creative in what they do.
ALB: What kind of compliance system have you established for your company? What are the advantages of it? What parts need further improvement?
Won: A global policy rolled out in our Korean operations called Winning with Integrity. The aspect I try to focus on with our local team is looking into areas with possible gaps in the global policy compared to local laws, regulations, and business operation cultures. I try to address these gaps to adhere to the global compliance standard while reflecting differences and being more optimal to the local business’s operation. As a good governance practice is able to operate on a regular and/or ad hoc basis, continuing to pay attention to gap analysis and reflecting the optimal changes is a must for our evolving business’s operation.
ALB: What would you do if your compliance code of conduct contradicts business decisions?
Won: Speak up and work together to provide alternative solutions. What is important is for our management team to make informed business decisions, understanding the contrary situations. And work with the business to devise alternative approaches to narrow the potential gap in non-compliance.
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?
Won: To some extent, the pandemic period drove us forward using necessary IT systems - such as Microsoft Teams - to become more effective and optimal in evolving the working environment. The working environment will continue to evolve, so we should always be ready to adapt. Also, we continue to focus more on the software side of the business with the transition to the EV generation. Therefore, 'Legal's support should be bold and challenging regarding uncertain or grey areas. We should work with the team to not only aim to resolve current issues but also continue to focus on creating a "pathway" for our business to continue to drive ahead and be innovative as a forward-thinking business.
ALB: How have your legal requirements evolved in recent times? How does that change how you use external counsel and other legal services providers?
Won: Legal requirements will continue to evolve. The important thing is how fast and well legal service providers are able to adapt to our evolving situation. Due to the pandemic, face-to-face meetings decreased, while Teams meetings took over, which I think was a positive direction given the circumstances. I would like to see a more optimal and effective approach in the way consulting is provided.
ALB: How would you rate the current standard of legal services available in your jurisdiction? What do law firms do well, and what could they do better?
Won: Law firms in Korea tend to be very conscious of the current environment of policies, culture, and the judicial system. As a result, it is not easy to find external counsel who are able to think beyond what is considered as being within the context. I wish more law firms were able to provide service with the "think outside the box" mindset.
ALB: Regarding 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?
Won: Understanding the need of the client and being able to meet its needs in an effective manner is most important.