Profile: Global Compliance Chief and Emerging Markets GC, Thomas Kim
The Global In-House profile spotlights an in-house counsel leader in an international role. The questions are consistent from one profile to another. Today we profile Thomas Kim, based in New York City, who is both chief compliance officer for Thomson Reuters and general counsel of the Global Growth Organization (GGO, Thomson Reuters' emerging markets business). Thomson Reuters has operations in more than 100 countries, a revenue base of approximately $12.2 billion, and over 50,000 employees. As chief compliance officer, Kim oversees compliance across the global enterprise, with 21 subject-matter expert lawyers and compliance professionals in Thomson Reuters' major business centers. As GC for emerging markets, Kim leads a function supporting all businesses across Latin America, Africa, the Middle East, Eastern Europe and Asia, with a legal team of 32 legal generalists in 10 regions.
Before these roles, Kim was based in Hong Kong as general counsel, Asia, for Thomson Reuters' Financial & Risk business.
Leigh Dance: Your dual role situation is unusual. Are there synergies in having the two roles?
Thomas Kim: Yes, definitely. By wearing both hats, I can better understand how we drive growth in our emerging markets businesses and the potential risks of those activities. This is a huge help to ensuring that our compliance and risk management controls are effective, so that we can achieve sustainable business growth. With the dual role I'm better positioned to coordinate resources across the organization to achieve these aims. Also, as a member of the leadership team for emerging markets, I can help embed compliance in the organizational culture across these regions.
ELD: What do you like best about your job?
TK: I love developing talent from around the world; connecting people and resources across borders; and operating across complex legal, regulatory, cultural and political landscapes to capture opportunities where others only see problems.
ELD: How have the legal aspects of your work changed most in the last three years?
TK: We had assumed there would be a movement toward global regulatory standards, and instead I see increasing divergence across countries and regions. Data localization requirements in Russia and China, and the breakdown of the EU-U.S. Safe Harbor regime are good examples of this.
ELD: Name three attributes of the best external advisers you've worked with internationally.
TK: The best external advisers (1) listen very carefully to what we say about our business and our objectives, (2) ensure they are aligned before starting on work and check in to ensure they stay aligned with us throughout the engagement, and (3) provide both insight and recommended action; one without the other is pointless.
ELD: For you, what has been the biggest positive surprise of an international in-house counsel career?
TK: Lawyers are typically educated and trained to be substantive, technical experts. As a result, legal professionals love the mental challenge of thorny legal and regulatory issues. But to get anything done in a large corporation, especially across multiple regions, we must be able to lead people, resolve differences and draw strength from diversity. This happens to be the part of international practice that I love: to help people unlock their potential to achieve collective goals.
ELD: What has been the biggest negative of a global in-house counsel career?
TK: While there is the adrenaline rush that comes with a truly global practice, a reality of the job is that there is always some part of the world that is up and needs your engagement. It is not so much a negative as it is the price of admission: a lot of very early morning and very late night calls and videoconferences.
The demands of the job require me to spend a significant portion of time away from my wife and daughter. I work just as hard to plan for and protect valuable time with my family. That means I must be ruthlessly efficient with my time and my focus, which affects my operating rhythms and what I expect from my people. I try to explain to everyone I work with that this discipline can be very demanding, but that it benefits us all.
ELD: Describe the elements of the global (vs. domestic) in-house counsel role that you find the most challenging.
TK: Every day, I need to apply enterprise standards in local markets, and this may have inherent challenges from both legal and business perspectives. Organizational complexity adds to the challenge, as individual business lines and various enabling functions often have different views on the best course of action. Add to all that the inevitable cultural and language differences, and you have the global in-house counsel role. It is challenging as well as incredibly rewarding.
ELD: Describe the most interesting project you worked on recently, and why.
TK: I was the chief counsel for Reuters News during the years of the Iraq War. It was an incredibly difficult time. Our staff on the ground faced almost inconceivable challenges and personal risk. During those years we unfortunately had Reuters staff injured, detained, tortured, and some tragically paid the ultimate price of losing their lives. Those were among the most difficult times for me professionally and personally. And yet it is also the work of which I am most proud. I was fortunate to be able to support such brave men and women in shining a bright light on places that some would prefer to keep in darkness.
ELD: What place do you call home?
TK: Home is where my wife and daughter are. We have lived in and traveled across many different places. I view my career as part of my life journey with them and as long as we are on that journey together, everything will be all right.
ELD: What is your favorite city for dining, and what food do you crave when you're far from home?
TK: I love dim sum in Hong Kong, Tex-Mex in Dallas, Korean barbecue in Seoul, steak and red wine in Buenos Aires, the creativity of chefs in Manhattan's East Village, In-n-Out burgers from LA, Cape Malay food in South Africa, and tapas in San Sebastián. I crave what I haven't had recently when I am on the road.