Interview with Tonell Liu, legal director of Suning Sports


Managing a legal team is a test of a general counsel’s wisdom, especially in the midst of an unprecedented pandemic crisis such as the one the world faces. Tonell Liu, legal director of Suning Sports shares his insight with us on team management

“I think the progression path of an in-house counsel can be viewed through the following four quadrants, which showcases how in-house counsel position themselves and give full play to their value.

The first quadrant is “techniques”, which refers to a systemic and comprehensive technique system that includes the understanding/interpretation/application of legal rules, contract review, negotiation techniques, conflict management, financial analysis and information technology, with legal techniques at the core. Techniques are the basis for the professionalization of an in-house counsel, and any corporate counsel or legal team that lacks a systematic and structured system of technical competencies cannot carry out any service and management work.

The second quadrant is “service”, which refers to understanding and meeting the needs of “clients” with a service mindset. Clients that in-house counsel serve include business colleagues, management, and the company itself. To improve service capability, in-house counsel should go deeper into the business, involve in, and have a timely impact on projects, and engage with the commercial and business frontier. In-house counsel should establish the mindset of business operators, use the language of business, and solve the business problems. We output not only legal solutions, but also commercially feasible business plans.

The third quadrant is “management”. While service deals with the relationship between the in-house counsel and the clients, with clients the main focus, management is self-focused, with in-house counsel the main focus. In-house counsel should not only address business issues, but also commit themselves to commercial transactions management, project management, risk management, compliance management, corporate governance, contract performance management, and conflict management within this quadrant. In-house counsel should strengthen their management awareness, maintain their independence, and contribute their proper value from a management perspective.

The fourth quadrant is “strategy”. In-house counsel should establish a composite knowledge and competence structure, and learn to think and solve related issues such as supply chain, business model, regulation and efficiency, competition and co-operation, control and empowerment, management and humanity, culture and governance from a higher dimension. Using their knowledge structure and resource advantages, in-house counsel are fully capable of, and should take on more, work such as major project co-operation, business model design and its optimization, leading business development and innovation, optimizing corporate governance rules, promoting and optimizing industry legislation, and building healthy business ecosystems.

The sports industry around the globe is suffering a tremendous impact due to the COVID-19 outbreak. The challenges and issues of reviewing and adjusting transaction rules, rationally controlling business risks and losses, balancing the interests of all parties, resolving various types of disputes, and promoting and safeguarding the achievement of transaction objectives in the new environment require corporate counsel at the forefront of business to carefully observe, think and design solutions in the above four quadrants.”

This interview was conducted during the CBLJ Forum at Grand Hyatt Hotel, Shanghai, on 12 November, with the theme “Seizing Cross-Border Opportunities – Managing Global Risks”. For more information about the conference and videos of the forum sessions, please visit our CBLJ Forum 2019 webpage here.