eBay associate GC leaves to launch boutique consultancy firm in Singapore

eBay’s Singapore-based associate general counsel Steven Liew has left the online shopping giant to set up a boutique consultancy firm aiming at problems solving for technology companies.

Liew left eBay’s Singapore base last week, where he served as Asia Pacific associate general counsel and head of government relations for eight years. He is in the process of setting up a boutique consultancy firm under the banner of Steven Liew & Associates.

Steven Liew

The new firm, according to Liew who is trained as a lawyer and started his career with Baker & McKenzie, is not a law firm but a consulting business that focused on government relations, public policy and crisis management.

“What prompted me to set up a new firm is my experience that it’s not easy to get help as an in-house counsel,” said Liew. “Many times when I have a problem, it doesn’t fit into a specific category, for example, it is not purely a government relations or legal problem. Increasingly, clients do need multidisciplinary services and can’t go to conventional law firms.”

Given Liew’s background working in the internet and technology sector, his new firm aims to focus on servicing clients from the same industry.

“In the internet and technology sector, the legal and regulatory environment is getting more complex as governments become more interventionist. A lot of business activities today have an important government facet to it. My thought is that I want to provide general consultant services to help them navigate through the complex legal environment,” said Liew.

He gave an example of a recent transaction he was involved in while still at eBay. It was a proposed $2bn acquisition of a company in Korea by eBay that failed to close due to the rejection by the country’s merger control authority the Korean Fair Trade Commission.

Liew said that at the time the company’s external legal advisor suggested launching a legal action to challenge the regulator’s decision. However, it decided that it was a long and costly way to solve the problem. Instead, Liew formed a special project management team internally and hired a number of external advisers for a lobbying campaign, exploring different way to solve the problem beyond law.

For that campaign, he brought various services providers to the table, including a law firm, a public relation firm, an economy research firm and a non-government organisation. Through the campaign, eBay hoped to persuade the government that the deal makes good sense to Korean economy and to create thought leadership and momentum to cause the government to change its thinking.

“Running a complicated program and working with a wide range of external advisers who each only work on one part of a project can be tough on clients,” said Liew. “My gut feeling is that there is a gap in the market and a general consulting firm that can offer a comprehensive solution by bringing all the elements together will have good business prospects in the region.”

At eBay, the search is still ongoing for a successor for Liew’s position. eBay has around 200 lawyers and staff globally in its in-house legal department. 

As the general counsel and head of head of government relations for Asia Pacific, Liew led a team of 16 lawyers and public policy professionals located across eight offices in Beijing, Shanghai, Tokyo, Seoul, Delhi, Mumbai, Singapore and Sydney.