Alumni Spotlight: The Life of a General Counsel at Mercedes-Benz Malaysia
Bright and early on a Thursday morning, Vernon Samuel met us on campus, sporting a Mercedes-Benz t-shirt and a big smile on his face.
The General Manager-General Counsel for Mercedes-Benz Malaysia is an unassuming individual, exuding humility in every conversation and interaction.
As we led him to our studios on the 6th floor for his alumni video interview and photoshoot, Vernon was wide-eyed as we explained the interview process to him.
“I’ve never done anything like this before,” he laughed nervously.
The in-house counsel has just earned his Master of Business Administration from Veritas University College, a feat he successfully achieved despite his demanding schedule.
But before his exciting endeavours in litigation and then later in Mercedes-Benz Malaysia, Vernon, like many of us, was a BAC law graduate.
He learnt from the legends at BAC, made friends for life and experienced the earlier years of the college, when it was still a small campus nestled in the heart of Brickfields.
After his video interview, Vernon and I took a trip down memory lane, rehashing his days in law school, the ‘lawyer’ life and his decision to move in-house.
“I knew since I was a child that I wanted to pursue law. I loved arguing and participating in debates. The interest was always there,” Vernon said thoughtfully, as he explained his reasons for choosing to read law.
As he grew older, Vernon realised that the versatility of a law degree would allow him to traverse into pathways that were distinct from legal practice.
At the age of 18, Vernon enrolled into the University of London (UOL) 3+0 law degree programme at BAC. Curious, I asked him what law school was like at the time.
“Classes were smaller back then, we only had 15-20 people in each class but that allowed us to become a family. Everyone knew each other and our lecturers were like friends,” Vernon smiled.
The BAC alumnus was one of the youngest in his cohort - most of his classmates were working adults. But Vernon loved the diversity. His classmates would share their experiences in the workplace and in life, one of them had even lived through the Japanese occupation.
“As I was still young, their stories and experiences taught me so much.”
Vernon enjoyed studying law and attending classes. He particularly loved the Law of Evidence, Equity & Trust and Succession.
“But I have to say, my best memories from college would be just hanging out with my friends, in between classes, at nearby mamaks,” he grinned.
After graduation, Vernon completed his CLP and went on to practice law. Before he joined Mercedes-Benz Malaysia, the legal counsel was a litigation lawyer at Shui-Tai Advocates & Solicitors.
I asked him why he chose to move in-house after spending a decade in practice.
“Well, it wasn’t a decision I made overnight. I thought about it long and hard. But one of the main reasons I left was because I wanted a more flexible schedule. The hours were sometimes endless in litigation,” Vernon said.
He was also looking for something different and coincidentally, a recruiter approached him to enquire if he’d like to work for Mercedes-Benz Malaysia.
Vernon liked the company but more importantly, he wanted to do something that would add value.
“I needed to see how my work could directly impact society. Especially now, after the pandemic, I am a part of the changes being implemented and I get to take proactive steps to develop these processes,” Vernon added.
In 2020, two years into working with Mercedes-Benz, Vernon received exciting news - he made it into Asia Legal Business’s 40 under 40 list!
His intention when trying out for the award was to assess his positionality within the in-house legal fraternity.
The General Counsel described it as a humbling experience – to be in the ranks of Asia’s leading legal minds.
There is never a dull moment in the life of a General-Counsel at Mercedes-Benz. Vernon’s days are packed with meetings and calls with people from all around the world, such as Germany, Netherlands, Singapore, Thailand, Indonesia and more. This allows him to meet with individuals from all walks of life.
Vernon loves cars and he has always been a huge Mercedes-Benz fan.
“So, it’s really a win-win as I get to do what I love, and I love what I do.”
Vernon also went on to debunk the misconceptions surrounding in-house legal positions. He explained how the role has evolved over time and it is no longer accurate to say that the ‘challenge factor’ is absent.
“In my case, I get to deal with a variety of global issues on a day-to-day basis. This constantly keeps me on my toes.”
The General Counsel excitedly discussed their latest launch in Johor Bahru – a regional logistics centre, which will be the biggest automotive warehouse in the country. This new project will generate hundreds of jobs and business opportunities.
“Although your name may not be splashed across newspaper headlines, you know that you’ve played a significant role in these ventures and the impact is felt,” Vernon smiled in contentment.
At the end of the interview, I asked Vernon if he had any advice for law students and aspiring lawyers.
“At the end of the day, you need to love what you do. While the title ‘lawyer’ may be quite glamorous, it involves tons of hard work. So, you need to be passionate about what you do. If you have passion, everything else will fall into place.
You should also always look to diversify your skills beyond law. As Mr Raja Singham always says – lifelong learning!”
Vernon Samuel is proof that legal practice need not be the ONLY pathway. By choosing to explore his interests by moving in-house and pursuing his MBA, Vernon forged his own trajectory and is now making a real difference to the livelihoods of Malaysians all over.
And he is just getting started...