The life story of Yeo Shi Yuan, a former police officer turned corporate legal counsel, is a tale of improbable success. Shi Yuan’s father left him when he was barely 1 year old, and he grew up as an extremely defiant and rebellious child. Fast forward to today, Shi Yuan has done reasonably well in his careers in Singapore, thanks to his never-say-die attitude, and the support given by his late mother. With more than two decades of experience under his belt, Shi Yuan possesses diverse experience as a counsel and has held several senior management positions (including three stints as General Counsel), assisting companies with complex legal matters, commercial contracts, and regional corporate secretarial work, including regulatory compliance and pan-regional business expansion activities. Shi Yuan holds a Bachelor of Laws degree and a Master of Laws degree from the University of London and an MBA degree from Murdoch University. Further, he was accepted and attended the Behavioural Economics program under the Executive Education of Harvard Business School, a virtual “live” program in October 2020. And, he will be attending the Program On Negotiation (PON) Global with Harvard Law School in February 2021.
Today, I had the chance to take a deeper look into Shi Yuan’s life story, and discuss his humble past, present career, and future plans.
Qn: Your father left you when you were barely 1 year old. Do you remember how life was then?
Ans: Life growing up was always a challenge and even to become an adult. Money is only one of the items. My late mum became my only next of kin. My maternal grandmother started taking care of me while my mum worked hard to put food on the table and give me a decent education.
Qn: Tell us more about your childhood and growing up.
Ans: Growing up, I made a lot of mistakes such as cheating in school (I got public caning for that), lying, stealing, etc., and met with accidents. Once, I accidentally fractured my arm in school and the school mishandled the situation. The other was a “ballbusting” accident at a playground which affected me subsequently. Academically, I was a “late bloomer”, and I had to attend tuition since Primary 2 in order to keep up with my studies. Back then, I was a constant worry for my late mum.
Qn: Tell us more about your job history. What was your first ever job?
Ans: My first job was a storeman, where I worked long hours and I was constantly bullied. My second job was at a 7-Eleven store. It was a colourful experience, as money always went missing and I was the scapegoat. Thankfully I was vindicated years later as a police officer when I went back to the same 7-Eleven store and apprehended the real culprits.
Qn: You later signed on as a full-time police officer. What lessons did you learn from that experience, which have deeply impacted your life?
Ans: I was exposed to the dark side of society and picked up a lot of life lessons that normal people wouldn’t and couldn’t appreciate and know. I was fortunate to have been assigned with good mentors who coached me to become an ethically sound police officer. In 1998, after a year of my service with the Singapore Police Force, I was conferred with the prestigious Singapore Police Force Commissioner of Police Commendation Award for my excellent performance and contributions to the organization. I also won the Singapore Police Force Ang Mo Kio Police Division Commander’s Award too in 2001 for exemplary service.
Qn: What motivated you to pursue a career as a legal counsel after your career in the Police force? What were some challenges you faced during the transition?
Ans: It is the transition of mindset from one of regulatory mindset to one that can add value and be a business partner and trusted advisor to companies. After all, companies exist to make profits and time is precious for organizations. We have to comply with law but at the same time we apply the law to help businesses grow and succeed.
Qn: Can you share with us the pros and cons of being a corporate legal counsel? Would you recommend others to pursue such a career?
Ans: You got to have passion to do the job. Studying law is one thing. Applying the law and loving your job as a lawyer or counsel is a separate topic. I am passionate about helping organizations grow which in turn grow the communities around them. That is how I view my job from a wider perspective and it keep me going for the last 15 years and still on-going.
Qn: You’re constantly signing up for new courses and programs, and invest heavily in continuously upgrading yourself. Where did you get the drive from? How do you manage it despite having a full-time career and two young boys at home?
Ans: Change is constant and the only way to address it is to improve ourselves and keep on going. This is especially so with the technology and digital age and the so called fourth industrial revolution. We have to keep pace and learn so that we can continue to apply the law to new areas and provide value added value to clients and employers. I manage to do it with the support of my wife and some personal boundaries that I set for myself.
Qn: You met your father for the first time after more than 30 years. How significant was that moment, and how did you feel about it?
Ans: It was a “wow” moment for me, to get to meet the person who left me. However, I bore no grudges, unforgiveness, hatred or negative feelings towards him as I’m a Christian. I felt that it was time to close that chapter, and we do keep in touch.
Qn: What is one piece of life advice you want to give to readers out there?
Ans: Never give up. Keep on trying. Yes, it may be tough and impossible. But remember no one owe you a living in this world.
Qn: Lastly, what’s next for you?
Ans: Spend more time with my family, especially my wife and my boys.