While working on cases involving Japanese pharmaceuticals from London, Nick Beckett developed an affection for Asia that eventually led him to start up a specialist legal team there. Seven years later, he leads a thriving team in Beijing and Hong Kong recently added to his portfolio. This is a success story driven by foresight and an understanding that people are most important.
If something you want doesn’t yet exist, build it. That is exactly what Nick Beckett did to kickstart his career in Asia. With his appreciation of Asia and a deep understanding of the biotech, pharmaceutical and medical device industries, Nick convinced his bosses he was the ideal candidate to create the specialist team for that sector in a burgeoning market.
“Those industries have been booming in Greater China – we’ve been very lucky to be in these areas of high growth and our services are very much in demand,” says Nick.
Calling all specialists
He believes, like in the Western hemisphere, that specialist legal practices will gain traction over generalist firms: “It is what clients want these days.”
Staffing a specialist legal firm with sector experts required a different tack and thinking outside the box. Instead of looking to law schools to provide new hires for the team, Nick scouted out pharmaceutical students instead. “We forged strategic partnerships with China Pharmaceutical University and got 12 to 14 interns to spend six months with us, after having had six years of studying the industry,” he reveals.
"We ended up with a more diverse group of people with different backgrounds who were not just from law, but also science"
“We ended up with a more diverse group of people with different backgrounds who were not just from law, but also science.”
He recalls back in London, CMS, while handling a heavy load of technical scientific patent cases for pharmaceutical companies, hired a cardiologist and a PhD-endowed biochemist for the team.
"I wanted a culture where people felt safe making mistakes – I had to make them understand that I want them to question and challenge me"
“They initially joined as technical support for these patent cases, but both had the aptitude and interest in becoming lawyers, so while they were working with us, they completed their law studies,” he recounts.
“I think this is a very powerful model. You end up with people thinking in slightly different ways, and that creates a healthy environment,” says Nick.
Shifting cultures, learning for all
Operating in Asia also presented other challenges for Nick, one of which was adapting to the local culture. “In China, often there can be cultural and other challenges to the innovation process, and people may be less comfortable in thinking differently,” he shares. To counter that, Nick had to make his own adjustments to accommodate the prevailing culture, but he was also interested in encouraging positive change.
“I wanted a culture where people felt safe making mistakes – I had to make them understand that I want them to question and challenge me,” he explains. “It’s an environment where we are all learning.”
“I subscribe to the coaching mindset of not telling people the answer but helping them come to it themselves. It is about helping them to work it out, to identify the barriers, and then clearing the path so they can see where they should be going.”
Underpinning Nick’s career successes is the importance he places on people. “The most important thing for me is people. I try to always be available, and not just to those who may be perceived as important in the room, but to everyone.”