Adam Hornung Finds a Home at Hillhouse Capital

Adam Hornung speaks to the importance of fostering innovation, encouraging thoughtfulness, and empowering others at Hillhouse Capital

Adam Hornung, General Counsel and Chief Compliance Officer, Hillhouse CapitalPhoto Courtesy of Hillhouse Capital

The journey from a small town in central Nebraska to working as general counsel and chief compliance officer of the largest asset management firm in Asia may seem like an intimidating career path. But Adam Hornung was more than ready for the challenge.

Hornung saw law school as a ticket to success and felt drawn toward a legal career—all he needed to do was push himself to work hard. He knew that career path would be difficult, but he believed that if he was willing to put in the work in both undergrad and law school, he could graduate with a full-time job at a law firm.

Once Hornung fulfilled all those goals and secured a coveted position as an attorney at O’Melveny & Myers, he had to ask himself: “What’s the best outcome for me? What’s the life that I want to live? What’s the kind of mentality that I want to have with the organization that I want to be a part of?”

For Hornung, the answer to all these questions was Hillhouse Capital. The company has led him to his best outcome, provided him with the life he wants to lead, and aligned perfectly with his own work mentality and values.

The Move to Hillhouse

In 2013, after serving Hillhouse as outside counsel for nine years, Hornung decided to move with his wife and two daughters to Hillhouse Capital in Hong Kong.

To most, transitioning to a life in Hong Kong would be quite an adjustment. But Hornung’s two daughters were still young enough that they transitioned easily to an American school. His wife was happy to make the move, and the company felt that he was already such an integral player from afar that the move was the perfect fit.

Hillhouse Capital was founded with the goal of developing a research-based organization known for being patient with its deals and invested in the Asian market. Despite Asia’s fast-paced nature, Hillhouse Capital is focused on long-term projects and ensuring that its investments withstand the test of time.

“You want people to feel like what they’re building is something that they own and something that they believe in—something that they hope to maintain and continue to build.”

Hornung had been working with Hillhouse Capital since its inception, originally assisting with the company’s fund formation. He now serves in legal, strategic, and other management roles. A lot of his day is spent thinking about the direction of the organization, the deals they are working on, and how to add value to them.

“Adam operates a mile wide and a mile deep,” says Goodwin Procter Partner and Asia Chairman Yash Rana. “He has the rare skill to disregard the noise and laser in on the key points in any transaction, generating significant value for Hillhouse and their investors.”

Despite the sacrifices he made and challenges that he faced, Hornung doesn’t regret any of it. “I found the best job in the world for me,” Hornung says. “I’m so happy about what I’m doing, and it’s so fulfilling.”

Hornung even goes as far as to say that his happiness is directly linked to Hillhouse Capital. “Who I am today is quite intertwined with this organization and this job,” he admits.

Setting the Right Culture

With a such a long-term relationship with the company, Hornung feels responsibility for Hillhouse Capital’s culture and sees it as vital to the company’s success. “I firmly believe that the path to success in management and success in an organizational culture is inspiring a sense of ownership,” he says. “You want people to feel like what they’re building is something that they own and something that they believe in—something that they hope to maintain and continue to build.”

According to the GC, a company’s culture is successful if it follows one simple idea: thoughtfulness, innovation, and empowerment lead to a sense of ownership.

“Hire experts, mentor to excellence.”

The legal industry as a whole is rooted in precedent and tradition, Hornung admits. But as he explains, “If you have highly capable people who are in an environment where they’re given an opportunity to be curious and innovative—and they also have the ability to be thoughtful and forward-thinking—what you get is people starting to feel empowered, because they’re being encouraged to go do new things and to do them in the right way.”

As important as adding value and being innovative is to the legal team, it does not necessarily come easily. Hornung actively works to encourage this culture of empowerment. When working through different problems, he frequently stops to ask his team, “How can we do this better?” This allows the team to take a step back and ensure that they are attacking the problem in the best way possible.

When the legal team feels empowered, Hornung points out, it impacts other teams as well. He sees the legal team as a cultural hub for the company because of the opportunities they have to interact with all the other departments in a meaningful way.

“I want the legal team to perpetuate and exemplify that culture [of empowerment],” Hornung says. “I want our interactions with our colleagues to help express our culture and help them understand how the organization works. I want to help them feel that they are empowered and have that sense of ownership while thinking about the long term.”

The GC’s strategy for perpetuating this culture is simple: “Hire experts, mentor to excellence.”

He believes unreservedly in the capabilities of his team and asserts that thoughtful, value-add mindsets—while integral to the culture of the company—are teachable and can develop over time.

Hornung’s colleagues attest to the integral role he has played in fostering and perpetuating Hillhouse Capital’s culture. “Adam is an exceptional leader and a wonderful ambassador for Hillhouse’s culture of entrepreneurship and excellence,” notes Cleary Gottlieb Managing Partner Michael Gerstenzang. “He’s a highly valued thought partner to me and all my colleagues, and we feel privileged to work with him.”

“Adam shows that culture, diversity, and inclusiveness are key to building successful and lasting organizations,” adds Goodwin Procter’s Rana. “He has focused on building an exceptional team of dedicated and diverse lawyers, all of whom share and add to the culture of Hillhouse.”

“I found the best job in the world for me. I’m so happy about what I’m doing, and it’s so fulfilling.”

The Power of Reflection

Looking back and reflecting on his career in private practice, Hornung encourages young attorneys to take a step back and really think about what they’re doing—and why.

“That’s hard, when you’re coming up and there’s tangible benefits that you’re trying to realize,” he said. “Young lawyers often say to themselves, ‘This is what I’m trying to achieve because that’s what lawyers achieve, and this is what I know.’ Hopefully you can get to the point where you’re really investing in yourself and what you want to do.”

More than anything, Hornung wants young lawyers to recognize when they are at a point in their careers where they can evaluate their futures. Cross off the milestones first­—but then don’t be afraid to think about how you want to express yourself and make an impact on the world. When you dedicate yourself to your work, he emphasizes, you begin to own your work, and that is valuable in itself.

“You’re not just an employee anymore—you’re an owner of the concept. You’re an owner of the culture. You’re an owner of the outcome. And that is the most powerful thing that you can do, the most powerful realization that people can come to,” Hornung says.

Hornung takes his own advice. From time to time, he thinks back to the questions he asked himself and reflects on his own frame of mind as well as his motivation to continue innovating. This kind of self-reflection is important for any leader, he points out. As Warren Buffet—a fellow Nebraska native—has said, “The best investment you can make is in yourself.”

While it took years to reach this point, Hornung is certain of his path, his place, and his purpose—and it all comes back to Hillhouse.

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Linklaters LLP:

“Linklaters is proud to work with Hillhouse and we congratulate Adam Hornung and his exceptional legal team on their recognition.”

—David Irvine, Partner & Co-head of Linklaters’ Leveraged Finance Practice