“When I look back on my life, I don’t want to be confronted by a blank canvas, filled with all the good I did not do and all the help I did not give.”
Stefanie is an inveterate people person, and no one, neither the cleaner in the same lift nor the CEO behind her in the coffee queue, is spared her conversation. Her interest in people has not only built her a formidable network of contacts, but also underpins her strategic abilities in boardroom battles.
Since helping set the firm up in 1998, this super-connector juggernaut has helped take TSMP ever onwards and upwards. Stefanie is now TSMP’s Joint Managing Partner, heading its Transactional Practice. Her areas of expertise include mergers & acquisitions, capital markets, corporate/commercial transactions and investments, in each of which fields she is an acknowledged leading professional.
Deeply invested in every relationship, Stefanie’s unique personality and her proficiency in English, Mandarin and Cantonese have won her clients the world over, from the States, Europe, as well as Mainland China and Hong Kong, whom she fights for with a fierce commitment.
Beyond the boardroom, Stefanie’s battlegrounds extend to charitable causes such as hospice and providing free cleft surgery for needy children, as well as enhancing Singapore’s philanthropic landscape in general. She’s also an active and outspoken commentator on topics she is passionate about, and is often quoted and published on a broad range of topics, from female empowerment to dual class share listings. She is a regular guest commentator on BBC’s Business Matters.
Clients praise her as “a safe pair of hands,” whilst commentators note that “she does everything she can to achieve the right result for her client.”
“Access to regulators to guide the client towards a more optimal solution; responsiveness and innovative ideas in problem solving.”
“She should be commended for single-handedly linking the commercial and legal issues, piecing together a solid understanding of all the relevant pieces and offering sterling service.”
“Praised for her ability to ‘work through obstacles’… sharp, fast and very charismatic… clients love her”
“The ‘go-to among Singapore nationals’ … The consistent quality of her work, efficiency and professionalism are qualities frequently singled out by sources, along with her ‘solutions-oriented’ approach – she has delivered results in stressful conditions under severe time constraints many, many times”
“Highly regarded senior partner – very knowledgeable, responsive, and fights for her clients.”
“Stefanie always add her personal touch to each transaction, and it is evident that she invests time in understanding her clients' needs before advising them accordingly.”
You have been known to be working on a billion-dollar deal, writing a column about bitcoins and attending a charity gala – all in the same night. How do you do it?
The phrase people use most often when describing me is “force of nature”. I laugh at the back-handed compliment but it’s true to some extent. Womanhood, at its core, is a force of nature. And one of our greatest strengths is in multi-tasking and getting on with things.
I get stuff done because I don’t think of it as a job. Handling a legal transaction well is a personal obligation, because the client has, over the years, become a friend. Business development isn’t a KPI but a pleasure because I have a voracious appetite for understanding what’s going on in the world and getting to know the people who are making it happen. I like to write because an elegantly turned phrase is the closest I will ever come to creating beauty.
Even more beautiful than the cases that you close? You are known to be a perfectionist.
Legal practice is a jealous mistress; she’s all-consuming. And maybe it’s a little masochistic but I love the all-nighters when we’re racing to get the terms bedded down before the sun rises. TSMP is known for our high partner engagement and that’s because we love getting into the thick of the action with the client. I’m not a legal technician; I’m a deal closer, so I’m involved in structuring at the early stages of a transaction when it is still only an idea. I can’t tell you how many project code words are based on the names of the café where I would meet with the client to hammer out the deal terms, often on a beer napkin.
Do you expect your lawyers to work as hard as you do?
What I want for my lawyers is this: the same sense of joy and fulfilment from their work as I get. Lawyering is not about the paycheck. It’s the ability to use your knowledge and influence to do some good. Being a lawyer opens a lot of doors and that allows you to make a difference.
Of course, if, along the way, you become a partner earlier than your cohort at TSMP and can afford a glamping trip to the Serengeti, well, that doesn’t hurt.
If you had to prioritise one thing though, which would it be?
Giving a damn.
Handling billion dollar deals under extreme time pressure demands absolute focus. It doesn’t give you a whole lot of time to be a good person. I’ve recently started asking myself: “If you had to judge your performance today by how much good you did, whether you meted out kindness or compassion or just some understanding, how would you have fared?” I would have had a lot of days when I failed. I’m trying to change that.
How so? Is that why TSMP focuses so much on its community programmes?
The focus on giving back was started by our founder, Dr Thio Su Mien, who felt that we have been very blessed and have an obligation to give back. That’s when we started giving 10% of our partnership profits to charities nominated by staff every year. The pro bono initiatives were started by Shen Yi, who has always had a strong sense that to be a lawyer is a privilege and we need to use our skills to do some good. We are also continually inspired by our associates, many of whom already volunteer their time in charitable causes. Their endeavour demands an equal effort. TSMP’s community programmes are not a “top down” initiative; they are a peer imperative, if you will.