How can real estate companies stay on top of market growth opportunities in a shifting regulatory environment? Cushman & Wakefield’s Natalie Craig, Chief Legal & Commercial Officer for Asia Pacific, shares her views as well as her experience as a transactional and commercial lawyer within the real estate industry in Asia Pacific in our Shaping What’s Next podcast.
Below are just some of the highlights from that conversation.
Law wasn’t Natalie’s first choice as a career
“I’ve been a lawyer for 17 years. I started my career as a tax lawyer. I then moved into project finance and then finally to property. But law wasn’t my first choice. I spent most of my youth dreaming of being a concert violinist. As a young person I played violin and piano and I absolutely adored both and thought I would become an orchestral violinist or a concert violinist.
I have to say my family probably were the biggest influence in making that change in position. They were a little bit surprised at my choice of music when I had this sort of academic skills to do something else in addition to music. What they really put to me was that music could always be part of my life and that I would be well-placed to consider a profession. And that’s where I ended up. I do love practicing law in an in-house commercial environment and I still play lots of music. I now have three children who I convinced to take up various musical instruments, so I do feel like I get the best of both of those worlds now and experience it.”
Cushman & Wakefield gave her the opportunity to practice both transactional and commercial law in an in-house environment
“I found myself in an increasingly narrowed pathway of specialty that didn’t allow me to really see the big picture of how transactions were put together and executed. That was an area where I had a real interest. While I was happy to build my technical skills and know a lot about a very small area of law, I found myself always very interested in what else was happening on any transaction I was working on. The fact that I’d be more interested about the transaction as a whole and all of the various parts of them suggested that maybe an in-house role would suit me better because there’s just a lot of greater variety and breadth in terms of what you need to be across.
I got to work as a transaction lawyer and from there I began to build my interest in the commercial aspects of the job. I think that’s actually a really interesting opportunity that we’ve been presented with here at Cushman & Wakefield – to have a legal and commercial group under the same leadership and within the same structure. Lawyers in-house do a lot in terms of the advice they give and the benefit that they can add to transactions when they truly understand the commercial reality, the commercial pressures and what the market expects in terms of service providers like us. And when you got both aspects of that knowledge sitting within a legal function or a legal and commercial function, I think it makes our lawyers far more practical and insightful in terms of the advice they give.
It’s a little bit of an experiment. None of the other legal teams around the globe at Cushman & Wakefield have this particular structure, so we’re really testing it out here in Asia Pacific to see if it will work. Then we’re hoping to see this be rolled out elsewhere.”
Natalie believes that legal teams within organisations should be enablers of opportunities
“I think the legal team has probably the biggest challenge, and that’s because we are required to work within a certain constructs – things like minimum contract terms and particular approval processes. Working strictly within those often means that we have to say no. if you apply them very strictly and literally, the legal team will have to say no to a lot of things.
What I’m adamant about though as a legal function within an organisation, and particularly when it’s legal and commercial, is that we should never say no to a business. What we should do is explain why this is a problem, and then work to overcome it together. I don’t want the legal team to be the deal killers. That’s a label that a lot of legal teams get.
I want us to be enablers of opportunities in a way that protects our business as well as allowing us to provide services for our clients in a way that our clients will be appreciative of.”
There are commercial growth opportunities to be had in industries or contract structures that the business previously had less success with in Asia Pacific
“I’m very much supportive of us taking on more complexity in the business that we do. For example, we are involved in a number of public-private partnerships in Australia and in Singapore. We had a mixed history in terms of our success with those particular contract structures, but we’ve learnt some incredible lessons as a result.
I’d really like to see us take the lessons that we’ve learned and apply them by doing business better and not necessarily shying away from contract structures or sectors or industries where we might have previously had issues, but just learn from them and grow. I’ve started to look at more opportunities in this particular region and I’m hopeful that the executive chain will support that as well. There’s quite a lot of opportunities still in Australia and certainly in other parts of Asia.”
Collaborating with key individuals around the region and keeping up to date with regulatory changes in countries within the region help her and her team understand local nuances
“In terms of how I stay on top of things, we do rely on external lawyers who we’ve got relationships with around the region who typically watch out for regulatory and statutory changes and generally report to their clients about items that they think will affect them. We take the next step to local lawyers to make sure they’re keeping us up to date.
Then in areas where we have particular interest or we see as having particular risk for us, we also make effort to check quite regularly to make sure that there aren’t changes that could be disadvantageous for us or where we might need to actually change our business practice.”
Note: The above article has been edited for conciseness.