Law expert Chris Lee on Tesla, mistakes & respect

Chris Lee is our SME law expert. He spends much of his day as partner at law firm Hesketh Henry helping SME owners deal with significant transactions (sale and purchase of businesses, commercial contracts and protecting IP), shareholding arrangements and disputes, and complying with directors’ duties. 

At the Nurture Change Business Retreat (November 2-6 at the InterContinental Golf Resort & Spa in Fiji) Chris will be sharing legal learnings that will help you do better business.

Q. Who is a leader that you learnt something incredibly valuable from and what was the lesson you learnt from them? 

A. I was incredibly lucky to be born into a wider family that continues to “live” its values. My parents in particular taught me about integrity, honesty, respect, compassion and to address challenging situations patiently, logically and with cogent arguments. They also passed on a passion for our wonderful country, our indigenous and inherited cultures, the outdoors, and for sport, music and food. Most importantly, I didn’t just “hear” these lessons, I saw them in action every day and didn’t think anything of it. 

I’ll also mention three teachers who had a profound impact on me: my 7th form Dean Barry Cross is an inspirational man who made us believe we could do anything, but also that there were no shortcuts. My Horowhenua College principal Gavin Kerr was like a dusty old French General who set the tone at school by imparting a sense of history, tradition and – there’s no other word for it – honour. He did it without demand or command – he led by example and, like many others, I tried very hard to make his grade. Lastly, being in the Contract Law class of Professor David McLauchlan was terrifying and electrifying in equal measures. Even though I was VERY far from being one of his star pupils, when I gave it my absolute best, he respected my effort. When I reached out to him recently for some guidance, 24 years after he last taught me, he was quick to respond. Legend.

Q. What lesson in business do you try to pass on to others and what does it mean to you?

A. Be brave and aim high but temper ambition with respect. Aggression/ambition is vital, but it’s better to earn respect than acquire enemies. I’ve learnt, sometimes the hard way, that the NZ business community is a vital support network. Its long memory pales into insignificance when measured against the world wide web’s…

Q. Who do you think is a great innovator and why?

A. Tesla. When they appeared at the end of the noughties, they were noticed but not taken very seriously – Lotus-look-a-likes with batteries. Now, all the big car manufacturers are racing to get the initiative back. If Tesla’s “Model 3” lives up to its promises, it will be a serious challenger for the smaller “premium” petrol and diesels too. 

Q. What has been your biggest learning in business to date and why? How has it affected you going forward?

A. I was involved in a case where the client alerted its customers and regulators to a mistake it had made and then worked with them to deliver solutions in a manner that minimised harm, business disruptions and losses. Not only were there no lawsuits, or penalties, the behaviour sent a massive message (externally and internally) about the business’ values and aspirations.


Q. If you were 21 years old again and could do any career you wanted, what would you be and why?

A. I think I’ve been extremely lucky so if 21-year-old Chris Lee was offered a chance at the life I’ve had for the last 23.75 years, I’d be bloody annoyed if he turned it down. Knowing him then, he probably would! As I was turning 21, I was studying for two degrees that I found very challenging and interesting whilst being on the fringes of a regional sports team. My working life has taken me to London, NY, Washington DC, San Francisco, Shanghai and most of Europe. I’ve worked with the lawyer who protected the winged keel on Allan Bond’s victorious America’s Cup Challenge in 1983 and negotiated contracts in all sorts of places, from a military contractor’s enormous campus in Haifa Israel to a huge micronized diamond factory in Nanyang, PRC. I’ve played cricket for the Duke of York at Windsor Castle and acted in a NZ Film. I have made a load of mistakes and learnt from most of them. Best of all, my career has introduced me to my wife and has enabled us and our wonderful girls to travel across the globe to almost all of the significant events in our friends’ and family’s lives in the last 16 years. I still have some chunky challenges to address with my work and career but it’s great fun and I’m fortunate to work with some very intelligent and humorous people and for some fantastic clients. I’m all good, thanks.


Q. What are you most excited about in attending the Nurture Change Business Retreat in Fiji?   

A. Getting the buzz and lift from all the energy radiating out of such an inspired and inspirational group. It’s 4 days of soaking up turbo-powered positivity. 

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