Now Reading
Bob Ward On His Day-to-Day at DBS Bank

 Special Series: 

Bob Ward On His Day-to-Day at DBS Bank

Bob Ward discusses his many hats at DBS Bank and beyond

Photo by Kem West
Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

Robert (Bob) Ward, senior vice president and general counsel of DBS Bank, wears many hats. As a lawyer, a former judge, and an adjunct law professor, he has had the ability to shape not only his company’s future in both Asia and the US, but also the careers of future lawyers. His combination of different experiences and meaningful prior work prepared him for his current position as general counsel and has provided a guide for how he handles his responsibilities as the sole in-house attorney for the US operations for DBS Bank.  

He shares his journey to his role at DBS Bank, how he handles his caseload, and his experience working for a global company.

Can you elaborate on your approach to day-to-day oversight of the legal function?

About 80 percent of my legal work is related to loan transactions for the various business units covering financial products for domestic and international corporations. The focus on syndicated or bilateral loan transactions sets the priority of whether I focus on review, negotiation, or some other aspect of the documentation process. As general counsel, it is critical to be available to provide advice, assistance, and counsel to senior officers on any number of initiatives.

I provide leadership, mentoring, and training to staff on important legal developments and industry trends. I host a series of “Lunch and Learn” sessions with external counsel, and in-house learning and training opportunities for junior officers each quarter. The goal is to provide periodic review of current trends in the banking industry and to enhance junior officers’ understanding of legal terminology and concepts.

Bob Ward DBS Bank Ltd
Photo by Kem West

Without an internal team of attorneys to assist you, how do you use external counsel to provide legal support?

The bulk of what’s required on a day-to-day basis can be covered by myself. When there is a need for special counsel, we have two external law firms to assist us. For the most part this involves areas such as real estate, bankruptcy, employment and human relations, securities law, or areas that might require special expertise.

As for my internal caseload, I am part of a team of global attorneys. Depending on the subject matter, I can request assistance from DBS Group legal team of attorneys. I have internal legal support as well as external law firms.

As general counsel in a small office, how are you able to shift and adapt to the changing needs of the business?

It requires flexibility and knowing how to use your unique set of skills. I have experience practicing law in house at various corporations. I know how to quickly assess what is important and requires immediate attention and what does not. I also know when I need to ask for assistance because of a heavy workload. The truth is this requires experience working with different businesses and managers.

I think the key is knowing how to discern the difference between something that carries high priority and something that is merely important. With experience and knowledge of the industry and an ongoing relationship with other business leaders, I have been able to develop skills to help me make the right decision with the proper frame of reference and perspective.

How do you handle larger strategic projects inside a small legal department?

Large strategic projects will usually involve the entire organization, so many of these projects are global in nature. I am not acting alone on larger strategic projects but part of a team. The global DBS legal and compliance team consists of over 750 professionals worldwide. In some cases, a special project, such as a regulatory matter, will require the expertise of both internal staff as well as the use of a specialist at a law firm.

Most strategic projects are rolled out across the bank. Local strategic initiatives are coordinated with the senior management team and stakeholders. While attorneys are located at a particular geographic location, we remain a part of the larger global legal team.

How do you support the headquarters or global staff in your work?

I provide subject-matter expertise on US law for members of the legal and compliance department, not just in Singapore but for DBS colleagues around the world. I provide assistance on USA laws with special emphasis on California, New York, and Delaware. Where subsidiaries of global companies are incorporated in Delaware, I assist with a review of constitutional agreements based on local Delaware law and assist in hiring the appropriate law firm where external counsel is needed. Over the years, I have assisted colleagues in Singapore, China, Taiwan, India, South Korea, Hong Kong, Australia, Japan, United Kingdom, and Vietnam.

What do you do to relax?

A large part of my focus away from work is determined by my family and volunteer activities.

To relax, I enjoy gardening and exercising. Hiking in the hills and canyons of Los Angeles has become a part-time favorite pastime. Travel is also a special hobby. I’ve traveled to South America, Europe, Asia, Africa, Canada, Australia, and the Caribbean. I enjoy learning about different cultures and the cuisines of different places.

I enjoy exploring different food and dining out with friends. Five years ago, I became a wine collector and I enjoy hosting garden parties at my home in Los Feliz, Los Angeles, with family and friends.

What is it like working at the intersection of Asia and USA finance markets?

Singapore is recognized as a global finance center. Asia continues to be a key global player in the finance space by virtue of its innovative role in global finance markets. On the finance side of the intersection of USA and Asia, there are many exciting developments. Companies are finding new ways to finance their projects and are looking for financial institutions to deliver the right finance solution in an efficient manner.

There’s increased connection of the business world to greater Asia. For the DBS Bank Los Angeles business, each transaction must have a connection to Asia and with corporate and customer ties to Asia. Because of the growth in global companies doing business in Asia, the growth in the DBS Bank business has been steady.

Can you elaborate on how your leadership style developed or changed throughout your career?

From the inception of my career, there has been a great deal of training around leadership, teamwork, and effective communication. It was clear early on that without a collaborative, teamwork approach, my effectiveness in delivering timely legal support would suffer. I had to quickly learn that most business leaders want their lawyer to get to the bottom line as clearly and efficiently as possible.

With the development of new techniques and different ways of providing legal advice and support, I learned to be flexible and willing to adapt to change in order to provide meaningful, efficient, and effective legal support.

Mayer Brown:

“As General Counsel, Bob Ward has been a pillar of professionalism at DBS Bank. His meticulous attention to detail and dedication to upholding the highest legal standards have been instrumental in the bank’s success and reputation for corporate governance.”

–Maria Alevras-Chen, Partner

© 2021 Guerrero LLC – All rights reserved.

Modern Counsel is a registered trademark of Guerrero LLC

1500 W Carroll Suite 200
Chicago, IL 60607