There is no doubt that Alexis is not your average lawyer. She wakes up to “Break Up the Concrete” by The Pretenders, and relies on The Kills, Arcade Fire, and Haim for an extra push if she needs it. Even her outfit of choice — oversized blazer, slouchy peg trousers — doesn’t explicitly hint at what she does for a living. And yet Alexis is very much the competent professional. “My favourite part of my job is being able to help people,” she says. “I love getting out there and knowing that I’m fighting hard and standing up for my client.” Her least favourite? “Inefficiency, and the fax machine,” she says. “How can the fax machine still be a thing in 2014?!” This candidness that peppers her speech makes Alexis entirely approachable, and has us rooting for her as she shares about her personal projects when we speak to her.
1. Describe a typical day at work.
Much like everyone else’s really: email. meetings, putting out fires, and as a lawyer, a lot of reading (documents, research, correspondences). I make it a point to punctuate my day with time for learning, exercise, and meditation. It lifts me out of the daily grind and keeps my mind curious, stretched, and synergistic.
2. If you could start your own business or company, what would it deal with, and why?
Technology and/or education, definitely. Just look at how much technology has transformed the world! Think about how our lives have been so quickly and dramatically changed with Google, with the iPhone (released only 7 years ago) and now, self-driving cars is a thing! Isn’t that amazing?! There is so much capacity for growth, change, and betterment. I think it’s just incredible, and I want to be part of that. And education, because of how profound and immediate the impact of high-quality learning can be.
3. What do you like the most about your company, and why?
I love how much my firm tries to show that we care about our people. Free breakfasts, Wednesday lunches and Friday drinks are great for bonding and morale, and when we have fun, we really have fun. The hierarchy breaks down, and people connect without baggage. I think that’s wonderful.
4. What challenges do you face at work on a day-to-day basis? What challenges do you foresee in the long run?
Incompetence and resistance to change. Every organisation is only as good as its weakest link. You want to hire exceptional people who are trainable, willing to learn, and adaptable; people who take pride in their work. My personal work project right now is the creation of an operations manual for my new assistant. I think it’s silly for me to expect that she’d pick up processes and skills as and when she does her job and just leave it at that. That’s a given, surely, but there are set processes, protocols and recurring tasks that can be automated and streamlined. A consolidated and comprehensive operations manual is that cheat sheet! It immediately flattens the process, helps her get better at her job (which helps me with my job), eliminates micro management, and saves time (re-training, fixing screw-ups). I believe that having a good search-able system, setting out the step-by-steps, key information, points of contact and references, FAQs and common problems that occur will at least ensure consistency and quality, and sieve out incompetence that might take years and months to be confirmed amidst the noise.
7. What do you think about entrepreneurship in Singapore? Eg. Are there more opportunities for entrepreneurs? Is it becoming easier or more difficult for people to start their own businesses?
My personal observation in Singapore is that people are generally very risk averse and stuck in their ways. New initiatives are always prescribed. Here, we want this result (creativity, innovation, entrepreneurship, etc.) and here’s how we want you to do it. Wrong! That kind of mentality only attracts linear thinkers who are always waiting on someone to tell him what to do next, what envelopes can be or ought to be pushed, and all the things that could possibly go wrong. I’m not saying that you don’t make provisions for eventualities, but the way to go about creating an ecosystem for ideas, for breaking new grounds, for challenging the convention, is not through normative prescription. Instead, we should create the environment for the ecosystem to thrive, for cross-pollination to occur, then sit back. Plan like a pessimist, but dare to think like an optimist and not close your mind to fresh opportunities and novel ideas.
8. If there’s one piece of advice you would like to give anyone who is just starting his/her career, or his/her own business, what would it be? Or, what is the one most important thing you’ve learnt in your years at work?
Be brave and don’t make excuses for yourself. It’s very rare that we will feel like we are completely competent to make something happen, but don’t let that stop you. Do everything you need to make it happen, never stop learning, questioning, and thinking how different things can be. Strive for excellence, but don’t wait around until you’re ready.
9. Tell us something interesting about yourself. What do you do in your spare time? Any unusual hobbies? A childhood pastime? Favourite book/movie/music genre? Role model in life? Anything that you can come up with at the top of your head.
I’m working on a personal project right now, aimed at bringing a group of pre-university girls to the Silicon Valley some time next year. The aim is to provide exposure as to the opportunities and options available, encourage a change in perspective, and challenge pre-conceived notions. These girls are pressured to make a decision about what career path they want to take, and what university degree they want to pursue right after their A’levels. Yes, there are set conventional paths like law, accounting, and medicine that are well and good, but there is so much out there. I am setting up fireside chats, talks, and tours in the biggest firms and most exciting startups in the Valley, with men and women in both technical and non-technical roles. I don’t think it’s fair to think that we can guarantee or determine outcomes, but we can analyse and change the conditions that affect decision making. So what I can do, with whatever resources and connections I have, is to offer opportunities to challenge set assumptions, offer alternative perspectives, and let these get factored into these girls’ range of consideration and plate of options. What they choose to do with that information and exposure, I can’t (and do not purport) to determine. But I’m saying, here, this is a slither of what is out there — did you know? ‘Cause I would have appreciated that myself.
10. Do you have any philosophies, mottoes or quotes that you’re living by right now?
Stop complaining if you’re not going to do something about it. Get out there and do something.