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Women on Top in Tech – Sue McLean, Of Counsel at Morrison & Foerster.

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(Women on Top in Tech is a series about Women Founders, CEOs, and Leaders in technology. It aims to amplify and bring to the fore diversity in leadership in technology.)

Here is my interview with Sue McLean, Of Counsel of Morrison & Foerster. Sue McLean is an Of Counsel lawyer in the London office of international law firm Morrison and Foerster. Sue is a member of the firm’s Technology Transactions Group and Global Sourcing Group and leads the firm’s FinTech practice in London. Sue has over 16 years of experience advising clients on their strategic technology deals and business models, including outsourcing, technology infrastructure and digital transformation projects, cloud computing, e-/m-commerce, and social media. Sue’s clients range from emerging companies to large multi-nationals and she advises across many business sectors, but with particular experience in financial services.

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What makes you do what you do?

I’m fascinated by new technology and love the fact that the law is always playing catch-up. It means that I’m always learning. If I think back 10 years ago, we were dealing with the emergence of cloud and social media. Five years ago – the internet of things, robotics. Today its blockchain, VR/AR, AI. There’s also a huge variety in my work. In the same week, I can be working on a multi-million pound deal for a bank that is outsourcing its IT and network infrastructure, advising a FinTech on the terms of use and privacy policy for its new app, and advising a technology company on the legal implications of rolling out its new business model across Europe.

How did you rise in the industry you are in?

I worked very hard to provide a great service to my colleagues and clients so that I became a go-to person for the most challenging and complex technology projects. As a tech lawyer, clients want a deal-maker, someone who understands their commercial drivers and works well with the business. So building good relationships with the technical and business teams, as well as the in-house legal team is vital.  Remaining curious and keeping up-to-date with new technology is also essential so that you can advise clients of the legal implications of their new tech projects and business offerings. As with any sector, you also need to build your network, both internal networks and external networks so that you build your reputation as a trusted advisor.

Why did you take on this role/start this startup especially since this is perhaps a stretch or challenge for you (or viewed as one since you are not the usual leadership demographics)?

At university or law school I certainly didn’t expect to become a lawyer specializing in technology projects. After all, STEM subjects were not my favorite subjects at school and my experience with technology was purely as a consumer, which was pretty limited. Those were the days before the Internet and smartphones. After spending time with a commercial law firm during university I knew that I wanted to work in business law, but I still wasn’t exactly sure what type of law I would end up specializing in. However, during my two-year training contract, I spent time working on a major IT outsourcing project plus various e-commerce projects and I found the sector and the work really exciting. That was the late ‘90s and the pace of technology change was huge.

Do you have a mentor that you look up to in your industries or did you look for one or how did that work?

I have had various mentors over the years. Technology law is still pretty male dominated at the senior levels, so most of my mentors have been men. In terms of finding them it was organic – they tended to be colleagues or ex-colleagues. My female mentors have tended to be women outside of technology law and again it’s been more organic, than deliberate. However, there are many women in technology that I consider role models. Women who really led the way like Stephanie Shirley – just an incredible woman in terms of the scale of what she achieved in business, the adversity she has dealt with during her life and her generosity and humility. But also lots of other women in tech that are less well known – women creating and leading tech businesses, helping drive diversity in their organizations, giving back.

Now as a leader how do you spot, develop, keep, grow and support your talent?

We have a very talented group of junior lawyers here at MoFo. I feel very strongly that to keep talented people motivated, you need to give them responsibility early on and harness their natural enthusiasm – get them involved in business development, invite their views, encourage them to take initiative and make them feel invested in the business. We greatly benefit from their energy and their new ideas. I also encourage my junior colleagues to take charge of their careers right from the beginning, focus on what they want to achieve, highlight their successes, and look for mentors and sponsors. It’s also important to create open communication – provide them with regular constructive feedback (and seek feedback from them).

Do you consciously or unconsciously support diversity and why?

I am a passionate champion and advocate for women in law and in technology. Women make up more than half of lawyers entering the profession, but we are still seeing very small percentages at the most senior levels. In technology, the challenge is even greater. Not enough women are entering the sector, but there are also challenges in retaining women in the sector and progressing women to management positions. It’s absolutely clear that we need to get more girls and young women studying STEM subjects and considering technology as a career. That means starting early with school age children (and, importantly, their parents and teachers); breaking down stereotypes, highlighting role models and raising awareness of the diversity of roles available in the sector. I’m very pleased to support organizations like the Stemettes who are doing a terrific job encouraging girls and young women to get involved with technology.

What is your take on what it takes to be a great leader in your industry and as a general rule of thumb?

For me, a great leader is someone that loves what they do and instills confidence, inspires and brings the best out in their team. Someone that has high ‘emotional intelligence’, is open-minded and invites the views of others while being able to be decisive and make difficult decisions. Given the fact that technology is continuously evolving, you also need to be love learning and be adaptable to change.

Advice for others?

I’m a big fan of Facebook’s mantra “What would you do if you weren’t afraid?” It may be a stereotype, but I think women can have a tendency to over-think things and avoid taking risks, which can hold us back. Sometimes we need to push ourselves outside our natural comfort zone. Take that stretch assignment, apply for that job, agree to speak at that event. That’s why I loved this year’s International Women’s Day theme; “Be Bold for Change”.


To learn more about Morrison & Foerster, please see https://www.mofo.com.

I am a huge fan and cheerleader of Women Leaders — If you know of an AMAZING Woman Founder, CEO, Leader in Tech or you are one yourself — Write me here.
AMPLIFY Conscious Business Leadership with me.

Callum Connects

Benjamin Kwan, Co-Founder of TravelClef

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Making music to create a life for his family, Benjamin Kwan, started an online tuition portal and his music business grew from there.

What’s your story?
I am Benjamin and I’m the Co-Founder of TravelClef Group Pte Ltd, a travelling music school that conducts music classes in companies as well as team building with music programmes. We also run an online educational platform which matches private students to freelance music teachers. We also manufacture our own instruments. I started this company in 2011 when I was still a freshman at NUS, majoring in Mechanical Engineering.

I was born to a lower income family, my father drove a taxi and was the sole breadwinner to a family of 7. I have always dreamed of becoming rich so that I could lessen the burden placed on my father and give my family a good life.

After working really hard in my first semester at NUS, my results didn’t reflect the hard work and effort I put in. At the same time, I was left with just $42 in my bank account and it suddenly dawned on me that if I were to graduate with mediocre results, I would probably end up with a mediocre salary as well. I knew I had to do something to gain control of my future.

During that summer break, I read a book “Internet Riches” by Scott Fox and I knew that the only way I could ever start my own business with my last $42 would be to start an online business. That was how our online tuition portal started and after taking 4 days to learn Photoshop and website building on my own, I started the business.

What excites you most about your industry?
Music itself is a constant form of excitement to me as I have always been an avid lover of music. As one of the world’s first travelling music schools, we are always very eager and excited to find innovative ways to a very traditional business model of a music teaching.

What’s your connection to Asia?
I was born and raised in Singapore and I love the fact that despite our diversity in culture, there’s always a common language that we share, music.

Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
Hands down, SINGAPORE! Although we are currently in talks to expand to other regions within Asia, Singapore is the best place for business. I have had friends asking me if they should consider venturing into entrepreneurship in Singapore, my answer is always a big fat YES! There’s a low barrier of entry, and most importantly, the government is very supportive of entrepreneurship.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
I have been blessed by many people and mentors who constantly give me great advice but right now, I would say the best piece of advice that I received would be from Dr Patrick Liew who said, “Work on the business, not in it.” This advice is constantly ringing in my head as I work towards scaling the business.

Who inspires you?
My dad. My dad has always been my inspiration in life, for the amount of sacrifices that he has made for the family and the love he has for us. He was the umbrella for all the storms that my family faced and we were always safe in his shelter. Although my dad passed away after a brief fight with colorectal cancer, the lessons that he imparted to me were very valuable as I build my own family and business.

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
You can not buy time, but you can spend money to save time! With this realisation, I was willing to allow myself to spend some money, in order to save more time. Like taking Grab/Uber to shuttle around instead of spending time travelling on public transport. While I spend more money on travelling, I save a lot more time! This doesn’t mean that I spend lavishly and extravagantly, I am still generally prudent with my money.

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
I would have taken more time to spend with my family and especially my father. While it is important to focus our time to build our businesses, we should always try our best to allocate family time. Because as an entrepreneur, there is no such thing as “after I finish my work,” because our work is never finished. If our work finishes, the business is also finished. But our time with our family is always limited and no matter how much money and how many successes we achieve, we can never use it to trade back the time we have with our family.

How do you unwind?
I am a very simple man. I enjoy TV time with my wife and a simple dinner with my family and friends.

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
Batam, it’s close to Singapore and there’s really nothing much to do except for massages and a relaxing resort life. If I travel to other countries for shopping or sightseeing, I am constantly thinking of business and how I can possibly expand to the country I am visiting. But while relaxing at the beach or at a massage, I tend to allow myself to drift into emptiness and just clear my mind of any thoughts.

Everyone in business should read this book:
Work The System, by Sam Carpenter. This book teaches entrepreneurs the importance of creating systems and how to leverage on systems to improve productivity and create more time.

Shameless plug for your business:
If you are looking for a team building programme that your colleagues will enjoy and your bosses will be happy with, you have to consider our programmes at TravelClef! While our programmes are guaranteed fun and engaging, it is also equipped with many team building deliverables and organizational skills.

How can people connect with you?
My email is [email protected] and I am very active on Facebook as well!
https://www.facebook.com/benjamin.christian.kwan

This interview is part of the ‘Callum Connect’ series of more than 500 interviews

Callum Laing is an entrepreneur and investor based in Singapore. He has previously started, built and sold half a dozen businesses and is now a Partner at Unity-Group Private Equity and Co-Founder of The Marketing Group PLC. He is the author two best selling books ‘Progressive Partnerships’ and ‘Agglomerate’.

Connect with Callum here:
twitter.com/laingcallum
linkedin.com/in/callumlaing
Download free copies of his books here: www.callumlaing.com

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Entrepreneurship

Before you enter a Startup or before you choose your founding team or new hires read, “Entering Startupland” by Jeff Bussgang

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Before you enter a Startup or before you choose your founding team or new hires read “Entering Startupland” by Jeff Bussgang.

Jeff knows how to spot and groom good culture, as the book session was held in Zestfinance a company he invested in and now, “The Best Workplaces for Women” and for “The Best Workplaces for Tech”, by Fortune.

These are the questions during the Book Launch.

How to know if a hire including the founder is Startup material?
Jeff says to watch for these qualities.

First, do the hires think like an owner?
Second, do the hires test the limits, to see how things can it be done better?
Are they problem solvers and are biased toward action?
Do they like managing uncertainty and being comfortable with uncertainty? And comfortable with rapid decision-making?
Are they comfortable with flexible enough to take in a series of undefined roles and task?

How do we know if we are simply too corporate to be startup?

Corporate mindsets more interested in going deep into a particular functional area? These corporate beings are more comfortable with clear and distinct lines of responsibility, control, and communication? They are more hesitant or unable to put in the extra effort because “it’s not my job”.

If you do still want to enter a startup despite the very small gains at the onset, Jeff offers a few key considerations on how to pick a right one.

He suggests you pick a city as each city has a different ecosystems stakeholders and funding sources and market strengths. You have to invest in the ecosystem and this is your due diligence. Understand it so you can find the best match when it arises.
Next, to pick a domain, research and solidify your understanding with every informational interview and discussion you begin. Then, pick a stage you are willing to enter at. They are usually 1)in the Jungle, 2) the Dirt Road or 3) the Highway. The Jungle has 1-50 staff and no clear path with distractions everywhere and very tough conditions. The Dirt Road gets clearer but is definitely bumpy and windy. Well the Highway speaks for itself, doesn’t it?

Finally Please – Pick a winner!

Ask people on the inside – the Venture Capitalists, the lawyers, the recruiters and evaluate the team quality like any venture capitalists would. Would you want to work for the team again and again? And is the startup working in a massive market? Is there a clear recurring business model?

After you have picked a winning team and product, how would you get in through the door?

You need to know that warm introductions have to be done. That’s the way to get their attention. Startups value relationships and people as they need social capital to grow. If you have little experience or seemingly irrelevant experience, go bearing a gift. Jeff shared a story of a young ambitious and bright candidate with no tech experience who went and did a thorough customer survey of the users of the startup she intended to work with. She came with point-of-view and presented her findings, and they found in her, what they needed at that stage. She became their Director of Growth. Go in with the philosophy of adding value-add you can get any job you want.

And as any true advisor would do, Jeff did not mince his words, when he reminded the audience that, “If you can’t get introduced you may not be resourceful enough to be in startup.”

Startupland is not a Traditional Career or Learning Cycles

Remember to see your career stage as a runs of 5 years, 8 or 10 – it is not a life long career. In Startup land consider each startup as a single career for you.

Douglas Merrill, founder of Zestfinance added from his hard-earned experience that retention is a challenge. Startup Leaders to keep your people, do help them with the quick learning cycles. Essentially from Jungle to Dirt road, the transition can be rapid and so each communication model that starts and exists, gets changed quickly. Every twelve months, the communication model will have no choice but to break down and you have to reinvent the communication model. Be ready as a founder and be ready as a member of the startup.

Another suggestion was to have no titles for first two years. So that everyone was hands-on and also able to move as one entity.

Effective Startupland Leaders paint a Vision of the Future yet unseen.

What I really enjoyed and resonated with as a coach and psychologist was how Douglas at the 10th hire thought very carefully what he was promising each of his new team member. He was reminded that startups die at their 10th and their 100th hires. He took some mindful down time and reflected. He then wrote a story for each person in his own team and literally wrote out what the company would look like and their individual part in it. In He writing each of the team members’ stories into his vision and giving each person this story, it was a powerful communication piece. He definitely increased the touch points and communication here is the effective startup’s leverage.

Douglas and Jeff both suggested transparency from the onset.

If you think like an owner and if you think of your founding team as problem solvers. Then getting transparent about financials with your team is probably a good idea. As a member of a startup, you should insist on knowing these things
Such skills and domain knowledge will be valuable. There is now historical evidence of people leaving startups and being a successful founder themselves because they were in the financial trenches in their initial startup. Think Paypal and Facebook Mafia.

What drives people to enter a startup?

The whole nature of work is changing. Many are ready to pay to learn. Daniel Pink’s book Drive showed how people are motivated by certain qualities like Mastery, Autonomy and Where your work fits into big picture. Startups do that naturally. There is a huge amount of passion and the quality of team today and as it grows then the quality of company changes.

The Progress principle is in place, why people love their startup jobs is not money rather are my contributions being valued? Do I see a path of progress and do I have autonomy over work and am I treated well?

Find out more about StartupLand on Amazon

And learn from Zestfinance

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