Crises come crises go

Back in the day while at work in KL, as the Legal person in a banking and securities group, I was in the thick of various interesting episodes. The automation of stock price feed and stock trading introduced by my employer in 1995, which challenged the KL stock exchange establishment, saw legal proceedings between the stock exchange and my employer. At stake was its financial services license and its very survival. We survived.

Not long after, the political assassination of the then rising star of Malaysian politics (Anwar Ibrahim) led to a corporate witch hunt which was all undertaken against the backdrop of the Asian financial crisis. Documentation for scores of corporate deals were demanded to be brought into various compromised regulators – used unashamedly by their political masters. Interrogations and barely disguised threats emanated from those possessed regulators to poison and torment. All of that entailed crises management. It made for interesting workdays but it was all very stressful. In between these two epic bouts there were battles galore including corporate hijacking of listed vehicles under the guise of financial rescues and plugging of state run cooperative banks. They were all politically infested fights and vicious too. Political and financial heavyweights of Malaysiana such as Daim, Dr M, Vincent Tan etc left their footprints across what could easily be crime scenes without nary a care – they had the means to take care of business in more sense than one. Somehow, I survived.

Then we – Tress, Kiddo and I – moved to Australia. Things were quiet and peaceful and I enjoyed, for a little while, the serenity of suburbia and its corner-shop legal practice.

I was soon back in the city however and while heavily involved in an underwriting automation project of a large life insurer, the sub-prime mortgage crisis broke and AIG took a body blow which left a picture of Cristiano Ronaldo, then a superstar of Manchester United, sprawled and lying prostrate on the turf to grace the financial front page, depicting the fallen sponsor of the all-conquering red devils under Sir Alex Ferguson. AIG was broken up, the failed takeover of Prudential by Thiam saw AIA parcelled up for listing in HK. All that meant loads of crisis styled work for the legal teams across the AIA markets in Asia. We were in constant conference calls with the mothership and our HK legal colleagues lorded us through the storm as we reviewed, extracted, provided opinion after opinion and compiled report after report. I sort of survived.

Fast forward to 2017 – in a corner of peripheral Melbourne just 5-10 minutes’ tram ride out of the CBD and where the streets often ooze some raw, hip and unpretentious vivre I now sit at a desk on the first floor of a semi-industrial building, reviewing, drafting and discussing commercial legal documents and performing risk and compliance tasks. Across a little side street on the west side a well-known café adjoins a well-known brothel. We produce intelligent traffic systems. Our customers are mainly state governments. Notorious in recent years for our bouts with city halls and the department of justice in the US for corrupt practices, our wounds have barely had time to form ugly scars when a humble USB stick gets shoved into a speed camera somewhere on the Hume and starts its infectious journey across dozens of cameras. A radio shock jock stumbles over and jumbles facts and broadcasts missives against this humble fringe tech firm and I find myself again in the midst of a corporation battling a crisis of sorts. A sense of dejavu rises – this time I have the presence of mind to almost rise above the fracas to find a spot in an imaginary balcony and witness the frenetic dance below.

The music plays on as I write, my boss pecking away on his keyboard across from me. He turns around every few minutes to consult with the CEO. I pretend to draft a document as I typed this. I wanted to type this – it is a moment I wanted to capture, even as I reminisce. The sense of having been here before, the familiar sense of crises – it can be intoxicating. It invites one to stop and burnish a mental image. Who knows what the future holds – ravage the now.