New Baker chair’s steady course


    Baker McKenzie will carry on the firm’s strategy its late chairman helped create, and remain flexible enough to adjust to the challenges of changing markets, said Milton Cheng, the firm’s newly elected global chair.

    Cheng was recently elected following the death in April of his predecessor, Paul Rawlinson. He is the firm’s first Asian chair and was the managing partner of the firm’s Hong Kong office, in addition to overseeing business in eight markets across the Asia-Pacific region. His four-year tenure began in October.

    “Our vision and purpose remains the same, which is to help simplify and navigate a complex world for clients, and to work with our clients and our people to serve our communities globally,” he told Asia Business Law Journal.

    Cheng said his work going forward would be anchored around five priorities.

    “My priorities will be to fortify and align our client programmes around the world, our key client initiatives,” he said.

    “We will make sure that we properly package and articulate ourselves internally, and for the resource market externally, what it means to be a Baker McKenzie lawyer, not just what it means to be a lawyer, in today’s world, and for the future.

    “We are going to continue our efforts for profitable growth, but updated from three-and-a-half years ago, when we launched our strategy, is today’s market where, in addition to the focus we have on New York, London and China, we will look at other key markets as well as trade and global macroeconomic circumstances change.

    “We will, as part of all of this, embrace innovation, not only in technology terms, but in broad mindset terms, so that Baker people will remember that this means being willing and keen to approach and adapt, and embrace change. Changing our business model, changing the way we can help our clients, because our clients are doing so themselves.

    “And lastly, we will continue our various efforts to work closer together as one global team, to collaborate more on our client programmes, to facilitate working more across teams. We recognize that financial integration and structural integration are subject to a lot of regulatory and other constraints. But we’ve worked well for so many years as one team globally, we need to continue pushing that.

    One big challenge for Baker McKenzie in Asia is “making sure that as the next cycle in the economy develops, we are alert enough and nimble enough to make the adjustments that are needed so that we can adapt to the changes in the trade and capital flows”, said Cheng. “Given the volatility in the economy at the moment, we need to keep a close eye on developments.”

    He has confidence. “We are well prepared and well hedged for any slowdown as we have such a broad array of practices that can be countercyclical, and because we are in such a broad range of geographies. We’ll be looking at how we can best serve our clients, even though the economic order may change and trade flows may evolve in new ways.”

    Cheng said that another big challenge – and also an opportunity – is the digitalization of businesses across all sectors. “We need to have lawyers who are willing to get their heads around that and work with our clients as they are dealing with issues such as data privacy, cybersecurity, management of big data, all these types of things in the new paradigm,” he said.

    “In our own business, we need to advance so that we are thinking in terms of how that can help our business, rather than being fearful of it.”

    Cheng also noted the firm’s joint operation with FenXun Partners in China, and said the firm would continue to grow in this fast-developing country.

    “We are going to continue to grow so that our operation in China is not just for investment going into China, but also to support Chinese companies and capital flows going out from China to the rest of the world,” he said.

    He added the firm was “keen to explore other opportunities in China”.

    “Obviously with the Greater Bay Area [initiative] and the government pushing towards it, it’s encouraged us to accelerate that a little bit, and we’re looking quite closely at trying to do something, the regulations permitting.”

    Becoming a partner of Baker McKenzie in 1999, Cheng specializes in acquisitions, real estate investment trusts (REITs), restructuring, regulatory and corporate finance matters. He said he would remain based in Hong Kong for his tenure as chairman.