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Ryan Mark - Associate General Counsel and Vice President, DFS Group

Alumni spotlight

Ryan Mark

Associate General Counsel and Vice President at DFS Group

Ryan was a commercial disputes lawyer in our Hong Kong office before moving in-house in 2014. Today, he’s a lead legal adviser for DFS Group, a travel retailer of luxury products with duty-free stores in 23 downtown gallerias and 13 major airport stores on four continents.

He explains how the company survived the pandemic and why Eversheds Sutherland will always remain in his heart.

Before entering the law, you studied in three countries. How did that come about?

Yes, that’s right. I was born in Hong Kong but spent most of my formative years in Canada, including elementary school, high school and university in Vancouver. I also went to a Hong Kong university, and then at the suggestion of my late grandfather, had a year in London at the London School of Economics.

Was law always the ambition or did that come later in life?

I studied political science for my undergraduate, which gave me an understanding of the constitution and how governments work. That was a foundation for studying law.

What can you tell us about DFS and your role there?

DFS Group is a majority-owned subsidiary of the luxury conglomerate Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton (LVMH), and minority-owned by the founders who started the company in Hong Kong in 1960.

I’m a lead legal adviser to DFS's businesses around the world, advising on major commercial transactions, disputes and corporate governance. My focus is really on the day-to-day aspects of the legal service: whatever’s happening now within the store is under my remit.

How have you managed during the pandemic, given your industry is so closely tied to aviation and travel?

Our CEO also maintained very open communications both up and downstream. It helped erase doubt in people’s minds by letting them know the company was still alive and well.

It has been particularly challenging but we took advantage of the slowdown to ramp up some transformative projects for when borders reopen and travel resumes. In fact, we opened two new landmark stores during this time; one in Hainan, China, and our biggest store yet in the heart of Paris.

Our CEO also maintained very open communications both up and downstream. It helped erase doubt in people’s minds by letting them know the company was still alive and well.

And on the costs front, we actually used Konexo, Eversheds Sutherland’s alternative legal and compliance arm, to help us put a contract lifecycle management system in place.

What do you value most from external counsel when you work with them?

The very fact that private practice lawyers have many clients is an advantage – they see the industry or sector as a whole, so, to be frank, I can draw on their work with other businesses to develop best practice that might not be possible otherwise.

Thinking back to your private practice days, what memories stand out for you?

I qualified at DLA Piper but moved soon after to the Eversheds Sutherland Hong Kong office in 2010. At the time it had only been open for a year and, honestly, there were some chaotic moments!

But quickly we began to build our profile and grow into a cohesive team. A turning point came when Stephen Kitts, currently Asia Managing Partner, joined us. He’s a wonderful M&A lawyer but an even better human being, and was incredibly helpful at a critical point in my life.

What was the critical issue?

When my mother was diagnosed with cancer, Stephen didn’t hesitate in allowing me to go back and forth to Canada for about a year, working three weeks there and three weeks in Hong Kong. It meant I had the fortune of spending precious time with my mother during her illness while I worked remotely – when remote working wasn’t even a thing.

That’s why I’ll always have a special affinity with Stephen, because he cared, and to the firm for that support.

It’s also important for another reason: it shows that if the firm cares about what you might call the ‘inputs’, then it will deliver good outputs. And it’s why I use Konexo as I’ve been at the receiving end of these good outputs.

I’ll always have a special affinity with Stephen, because he cared, and to the firm for that support.

What was your proudest moment with us?

When I was entrusted to handle a multimillion-dollar deal as a three-year PQE lawyer. I was advising the company that I eventually got seconded to, Li & Fung, in connection with a negotiation they had with Abercrombie & Fitch. Of course, I didn’t do it alone but it was a hugely formative experience in my development as a lawyer.

You’re a member of our Asia Alumni Committee. Why do you think it was a good idea for us to launch the Alumni Network?

I come out of myself when I reconnect with the firm’s alumni. You’ve got that shared background of having worked for the same law firm.

Hong Kong is a small place, and I think some people have a natural tendency to keep to themselves. Networking is maybe not such a big deal in Asia. So bringing Eversheds Sutherland alumni together for a purpose will put people at ease when it comes to socialising and sharing knowledge.

In my case, I can be quite reserved, but I come out of myself when I reconnect with the firm’s alumni. You’ve got that shared background of having worked for the same law firm and you’ve been through the same channels. That helps create a sense of comfort and trust.