Prior to her retirement from the legal industry, InfraCo Asia Non-Executive Director Amy Lee was a consultant with Singapore boutique law firm, Tan Kok Quan Partnership, where she specialised in infrastructure developments and government advisory work. Decades of experience working on projects in the region built up her belief that right mix of people is the key element in bringing new infrastructure initiatives to life.
Ask Amy Lee about her accomplishments, and she’ll tell you about her mid-stage career change, shifting her legal practice to focus on infrastructure project work when she was starting the third decade of her working life. She might mention the multiple Habitat for Humanity teams she has led in countries like Indonesia, Mongolia, and Romania. Or she could recount stories of her Annapurna Base Camp treks, or the sections of Spain’s Camino de Santiago pilgrimage route that she’s tackled.
But it’s what Amy wasn’t able to achieve in her infrastructure-related endeavours that attracted her to InfraCo Asia.
“I had a big budget for project work, and I’d go out with teams to Indonesia, Vietnam, Thailand, Philippines, Brunei, and we’d look for projects. We’d realize there were gaps in understanding about how to put together a project, much less a project financed infrastructure project. We were teaching the building blocks.”
Even so, she experienced good traction with her work advising on infrastructure developments across Asia, including the Bandar Lampung water treatment and distribution PPP project—the first water PPP project under the Indonesia Infrastructure Guarantee Fund, and the redevelopment of the Singapore National Stadium—the world’s largest sports infrastructure PPP project.
Still, she was frustrated by the fact that she was closing what she describes as “very, very few well-structured and bankable infrastructure deals outside of Singapore.”
Then, a position on the InfraCo Asia board opened up in 2016, and she was compelled to learn more about – and learn from – the company’s track record of success. With five projects having reached financial close, and three in operation, all in countries with a high infrastructure development risk profile, Amy felt she had to know more about InfraCo Asia’s model and the people behind it.
“I said, ‘What is it that they know that I don’t know?’ I’ve got to know them. I participated. I observed. And I think they’ve got the answer.”
For Amy, InfraCo Asia’s success stems from its team dynamics, set into motion by InfraCo Asia’s top executive, Allard Nooy: “They’ve got a CEO who really knows: He’s got the experience, the market knowledge, the know-how. But just as important, he’s got the knack of finding the right people to do the right job at InfraCo Asia, he empowers them, and he gels them together very nicely.”
“They are a dynamic group. And they hit the ground running. They put on their Nikes and they go over to where the work has to be done.”
“At InfraCo Asia, the commodity of knowing how to do an infrastructure project is a given. What they’ve nailed to a T is how you apply it, the cultural sensitivity, and the approach – it’s all the soft skills that make the difference, especially in Asia.”
“InfraCo Asia is succeeding despite the environment,” Amy says, referring to the frequently changing regional policy landscapes that have the potential to put the brakes on project progress just as it starts to gain momentum.
“Kudos to the team, despite the office being situated in Singapore, they’ve managed to do deals. The structure works, and it’s a lot of elbow grease on the team.”
According to Amy, combining the team’s efforts with the ability of The Private Infrastructure Development Group (PIDG), InfraCo Asia’s parent, to open up key communication channels, creates the right environment for positive outcomes.
“Having shareholders from PIDG makes a big difference. You can always communicate at a higher level in the countries you’re working in. Projects need buy-in from the top and willing workers on the ground, and InfraCo Asia has both.”
“InfraCo Asia has all these pieces of the jigsaw that, without any of the individual pieces, may not work.”
Change Brings Career Success
Observing Amy’s career path, it’s unsurprising to hear her comment on the way multivariate factors come together to shape InfraCo Asia’s business. Her professional standing today is only possible thanks to the detours and gear changes she’s made along the way.
“As a child, I wanted to be an archaeologist. It was very Indiana Jones before the days of Indiana Jones. But back in those days, it was limited in the choices you had. Law, medicine, engineering, accounting was what was available.”
Her father, who founded the Singapore-based law firm Lee & Lee, steered her in his professional footsteps, and she stayed with the firm, working on real estate corporate leasing, for 24 years – until her Indiana Jones dreams, this time applied to career, crept up on her again.
“I did my practice area very well. I knew my approach to take, I knew how I was going to negotiate. I was totally chilled. No anxiety. Basically, I was in a comfort zone.”
“Then I convinced myself I wanted to be ahead of the curve.”
At that point, Amy joined multinational law firm Hogan Lovells, focusing on infrastructure project work.
“I went from cruising speed to doing something else. It took two years of very hard work to be able to work in a meaningful way. There’s a streak in me that says, ‘Don’t give up.’ You don’t know what you’re capable of until you’re pushed to it.”
Amy went on to become CEO of Hogan Lovells’ Singapore office, spending 10 years total at the firm before bringing her international experience back to the local context, first becoming CEO and Director at Stewart Asia Investment Singapore, then taking on the role of Consultant at Tan Kok Quan Partnership (TKQP).
“If you have international experience at a local firm, there’s nothing we can’t do for project work overseas. Most people’s career trajectory doesn’t go international to local – it goes local to international.
“Making moves like this makes a difference in how local law firms are perceived, and I like to think that, in a very small way, I made that happen.”
This spirit of dynamism and resilience is woven throughout Amy’s endeavours, whether they’re being undertaken in the board room, on one of her frequent scuba expeditions, or in her drive to make connections between people for mutual benefit.
“I wasn’t born to be a wallflower. I believe everybody’s got something they can contribute, and make a difference. No one person can do it all. If you get the right people together, you encourage one another, you’ll get there one day.”