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RHT Law Asia’s Erwan Barre joins panel of judges in the Asian Technology Excellence Awards 2021

To remain competitive, he believes that business leaders should capitalise on the pandemic’s momentum and continue with innovation.  

Erwan Barre is a Partner (Foreign Lawyer) at RHT Law Asia and the Co-Head of the firm's Corporate and Capital Markets Practice. He joined RHTLaw Asia in 2015 after practicing for 16 years with Sullivan & Cromwell and Paul Hastings, two leading US law firms based in Paris and New York. Focused on corporate transactions, Erwan has extensive experience representing clients across many industries, with an emphasis in the Technology and Life Science industries.

He also has management experience, being a co-founder of Vaximax, a biotech company.

Erwan has been involved in many M&A, joint venture, capital markets and financing projects in Asia, Europe and the US—including some game-changing transactions. Most of these deals were cross-border. His transactional expertise is based on leading over 100 deals, representing in the aggregate more than US$20 billion. Fifteen of his deals exceeded US$ 500 million in value, and 60% of his transactions involved TMC (telecommunications, media and communications) and life science companies. He has also represented clients in other industries, including aerospace, real estate, hospitality, and energy.

Erwan has been recognised as a leading practitioner in his field by professional publications, such as Chambers and Legal 500, and he is a much sought-after speaker at numerous industry conferences in Asia and Europe.

Erwan sat down with us to share some of his thoughts about technology, the COVID-19 pandemic, digital innovation in business, opportunities during the pandemic, and the “human aspect” involved in technology.

Can you share with us your previous work experience or backstory that contributed to your current expertise in the technology industry?

I have always been fascinated with the potential of technology and its ability to solve problems or provide better solutions to a given problem. A significant experience that contributed to my current expertise would be when I co-founded a biotechnology company, Vaximax in 2012. At the time, I had already been in private practice as a corporate lawyer for over 15 years and had worked with a myriad of companies in sectors such as technology and finance. In those 15 years, I realised that the companies that I enjoyed working with the most are technology companies, as I was able to learn about these companies and their technologies whilst working closely together with them. 

Being cognisant of my interests in the technology sector, I decided that I was ready to utilise the experience that I had accumulated as a lawyer to become part of the founders’ team of a biotechnology company. The experience I have then gathered provided me with a fresh perspective of the issues that plague technology companies, which in turn helped me appreciate the nuances of the sector even better and strengthened my abilities to advise such companies.

Crisis presents opportunities for businesses, even during the COVID-19 pandemic. What do you think are these opportunities, and how will they shape technology and/or digitisation in the future?

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, most businesses already recognised technology as an important corporate strategy and were integrating new technologies into their businesses. However, as the COVID-19 pandemic wreaked havoc across the world, the impetus for integrating new technologies for businesses accelerated at an unprecedented pace. It is almost impossible for businesses to rely on their previous business models to succeed (or even survive) in this new paradigm. 

With this, many business leaders are forced to take more calculated risks and innovate rapidly to adapt to this new environment. It is evident that increasingly, more companies are allocating more of their budget to drive for greater technological integration. Many of the changes that have taken place through this period will be here to stay. 

A report from McKinsey found that the pace of business innovation in digital or digitally enhanced offerings of products and services has dramatically increased, such that the acceleration in adoption of digital solutions since the pandemic started represents four to seven years of technology adoption pre-COVID. While I do not hope that it will take another crisis for us to find an impetus to push ourselves to innovate, what this crisis has shown us is how adaptable we are. I believe that business leaders will capitalise on this momentum to continue innovating and setting higher standards for their businesses to remain competitive in this current environment.

Transitioning to a digitised company is challenging, especially during this time. What would your advice be to companies that are just starting their digital transformation journey?

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, many companies viewed digitisation as a way to improve efficiencies of their business. Now, more companies are starting to acknowledge that technology and digitisation are crucial components of corporate strategy. With that in mind, my first advice would be to adopt the mindset that the adoption of technology is not just for cost efficiencies, but, more importantly, that it has boundless potential and opportunities that may or may not have been discovered yet. 

Additionally, I understand that technology is advancing in leaps and bounds and it may be difficult for business leaders starting in their digital transformation journey to understand the technologies well enough to effectively integrate them into their business models. As such, my second advice would be to keep your mind open and to draw lessons from many of your peers that have been through or are going through the same journey.

Which do you think is more important when it comes to introducing new technology in a company? Is it the hardware or software? Or human beings who can easily adapt--and have the necessary skills or talents--to go with these changes?

Hardware and software are of course key when introducing new technologies. However, I think that one of the most important aspects of consideration for business leaders in introducing new technology for the company is the human aspect. At the end of the day, human beings are the ones that apply these technologies. A company can introduce the most cutting-edge and state-of-the-art technology to its business, but if the employees are resistant to it or find it difficult to adapt, then the supposed benefits of technology would not be realised. Hence, I find that the most important aspect is the human aspect that applies to the adoption of these new technologies and that each technology investment should be paired with a training and upskilling investment.

What are your expectations about this year's entries in the Asian Technology Excellence Awards?

In recent years, more and more cutting-edge and innovative technologies are being researched and developed. I believe that how a piece of technology can set itself apart from the rest is its ability to make a difference and impact our world.

Hence, other than showcasing its innovative and state-of-the-art nature, one way to truly impress is its applicability and ability to demonstrate the positive impacts it would bring about – e.g. whether this technology aims to promote a more sustainable way of consuming electricity and tackling climate change or aims to improve the efficacy and accessibility of financial infrastructure, especially for the most vulnerable communities. What truly impresses me is that technology is impactful and how it can make our world a better place.

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