Conversations with Lanx Goh

By Clarinda Ong and Tanya Nagar

Lanx Goh is the Global Head of Privacy for Prudential and was formerly the Data Privacy & Cybersecurity Senior Counsel at TikTok and Head of Investigation at the Singapore Personal Data Protection Commission. With his vast knowledge in the privacy sector and corporate world, he strives to develop products that not only have commercial value but also respect consumer privacy rights. Additionally, he is passionate in nurturing the future generation of privacy law professionals as a way of giving back to society.  

Having joined three start-ups previously, namely Ant Financial, TikTok and Klook, working for a global insurance company such as Prudential has been a fresh and exciting experience. Despite being an insurance firm, it has a strong focus on technology and innovation which I find exciting yet familiar, due my previous experiences working with technological products. As privacy-related matters are driven by technological growth, I can incorporate my expertise in privacy and technology to make critical contributions to scale the company. Prudential is a company that makes me eager to get to work. I am amazed at how advanced their products and processes are and am particularly impressed with ‘Pulse’, our health and wealth platform. Leveraging artificial intelligence, it is designed to help people prevent, postpone, and protect against the onset of diseases, as well as make informed financial decisions to protect and grow their wealth.

I decided to join Prudential mainly because I sought stability in my career and wanted to continue utilising my expertise in the technological industry. In addition, I wanted to join an established multinational corporation to experience what it is like to not have to build privacy structures from scratch, which is what I have been doing in my previous companies. I find it refreshing to get to enhance privacy frameworks. Moreover, I had heard excellent reviews about the company’s work culture, employee benefits and policy frameworks. Upon joining, I was pleasantly surprised to find that those positive reviews were true. I enjoy the amicable work culture and stable work environment with due processes in place. I believe Prudential is a company with high growth potential and a heart for their employees. 

As the Global Head of Privacy at Prudential, I lead a global team to supervise and advise the company on privacy compliance activities in Asia, Africa, and Europe. My department plays a central role in the company as every product or service the company has or would be launching in the future needs to be vetted by us. This is to ensure that the standards of the company’s product privacy compliance are at an optimal level.

Aside from being concerned about privacy compliance matters, I am commercially sensitive to the products being launched in Prudential as well. It is crucial that I find a balance between these two factors. While it is important to ensure that services are launched with proper privacy controls in place, it is also key to focus on the commercial value of the products. Taking commercial factors such as cost and consumer sentiments into consideration is often a challenging task to do simultaneously with satisfying privacy compliance requirements.

As businesses and consumers have a reciprocal relationship, I feel that only by launching products that respect consumer privacy, can we truly gain customer trust and loyalty. This would lead consumers to believe that the business is offering products that value their rights and so they will be more inclined to patronise and purchase them. I feel that Prudential has always valued these beliefs, and this is the main reason it is a market leader in offering products that are of excellent quality and respect consumer rights. 

I believe these parameters are very different today as compared to decades ago. In the past, when thinking about critical success parameters, people often talked about the five C’s, the job title, and how much one earns. However, I personally think that the impacts you bring about to the company and your colleagues are what defines your success. How people around you perceive you is very telling of your character and influence. Most importantly, I believe that whatever products I develop for the company must benefit the society at large. This is influenced by the fact that I feel a strong sense of responsibility to give back to society as a pioneer in the privacy and data protection landscape in Singapore. I feel that I can make a difference in nurturing the next generation of privacy professionals and lawyers in developing sound privacy laws and practices locally. Hopefully, those lives that I impacted and influenced will go on to revolutionise the data protection landscape in Singapore and remember my legacy. I believe that if I can achieve this, I will have attained success. 

Personally, I believe that managing stress well comes with age. When you have accumulated enough life experiences, you will realise retrospectively that many things are of little significance. It is this way of thinking and understanding situations that help me to absorb and manage stress. To illustrate, even if I need to present my ideas to senior management or speak in a public seminar with a larger audience, I am always able to maintain a calm disposition by adapting that mentality. I believe in embracing stress and the principle of carpe diem as I am unable to undo situations. Instead of being overwhelmed by stress, I tend to trust the process and live in the moment.

With regard to challenges I faced at work, I would say that the biggest ones I faced were people related. I started working at a young age and have tried many job roles, but never found the work I engaged in tough or unenjoyable no matter the task assigned to me. To me, it is the company culture and attitudes of colleagues that can make my day unbearable. Unfortunately, I have encountered organisations that have undesirable company cultures and colleagues which made working a challenge for me. Even though work tasks can get extremely difficult, good bosses, teammates and colleagues can make completing the tasks feel effortless. With the right support and work environment, no matter the problem, any hurdles will become easy to solve. On the other hand, you can be assigned the easiest job scope and have relaxing work hours but experience toxic work culture and colleagues. This would make anything you do feel like a chore and hence you will be unmotivated to work productively. 

My normal workdays might differ from that of a typical Prudential employee as I am part of the upper management. As I become more senior in my profession, I must attend significantly more meetings. This is because the focus of my job is now mostly related to leading and managing the people working under me and I have a stake in envisioning the company’s direction globally relating to privacy and data protection.

To be specific, my job scope entails engaging in tasks such as team budgeting, products development and partnership, procurement of new services, launching of new businesses, planning the company’s privacy strategies, managing privacy regulatory relationship, and anticipating new trends in the  privacy and data protection landscape. For instance, in a day, I can be attending a lot of meetings, conducting training sessions, and approving papers. In my current position, although I do involve myself in day-to-day company operations, the scale of my involvement is very different from when I was at a lower or mid-career level. At a more junior level position, I spent much of my time engaging in tasks such as drafting policies, vetting contracts, and giving legal advice to  stakeholders. I did not engage in strategic tasks such as aligning my teams with the company’s vision, budgeting, setting privacy and data protection blueprint for the company, and analysing key trends in the privacy sector.

The Covid-19 pandemic has taught us to be more agile, which happens to be a company value at Prudential and something I find very applicable in the work I do. I believe it is the senior management’s ideology to embrace change and help employees to embrace change while providing the right support. At Prudential, there is a hybrid working model in place. To help employees cope with the mental stress and change that came about due to the pandemic, Prudential has provided certain staff benefits to mitigate the situation. As for the future, regardless of whether it is Covid-19 or an economic catalyst or another pandemic, I believe Prudential is very well-equipped to move with the times. It is a very strong and mature global MNC that can deal with any challenges that may come in the future. 

I would say that when I entered the privacy sector 8 years ago, I got to know that the whole world changes, not just Singapore. The world has a lot of laws coming out from countries that used to not have them. There are countries such as Singapore, Australia, Canada, Korea, Hong Kong, just to name a few, that have either revised their privacy laws or are looking to revise them. That is mainly because the human mentality changes. Consumers in many countries believe that their privacy needs to be respected, which ultimately becomes a business advantage that companies can capitalise on.

Likewise, technology changes: today we have NFTs, virtual properties, artificial intelligence, and big data, when in the past, it was only the internet. In today’s world, privacy is totally embedded in the technology I mentioned above. Most of the products developed have a privacy component. This raises the question of how governments need to put regulations in place to ensure privacy controls. If they are too strict, it will hamper the growth of the economy and industry. However, if they are too lenient, the consumer personal data will be exploited and misused. I see that Singapore has the ambition to be an industry leader in the data protection field. The ministers of Singapore have been saying that the country must advance in technology and aim to become a data hub, smart nation and digital economy in the future. Privacy will be everlasting. It will always be part of people’s lives and will play a very critical role in our society in terms of government strategy and business growth in the future. You cannot launch a product that disrespects privacy.

Personally, I think that academic qualifications are important as they open doors for jobs. I have come across some job descriptions that require high academic qualifications as a job criterion. Keeping that in mind, a lot of traditional companies practice that the better your results, the more doors it opens – it is a fact of life. However, I believe that it is actual relevant job experience that really distinguishes you from other candidates. There are many people without excellent academic qualifications but turn out to be extremely successful people. I have come across people who are intelligent with first class honours in their degrees from top universities but are unable to translate their academic qualifications to quality work performance or results at the end of the day. At the company, we work on complex products and are required to manage stakeholders, and that is where day-to-day working experience comes into play. It is ultimately your working experiences that make you a quality employee. 

In addition, I strongly advise fresh graduates to always be humble and grounded. It does not matter how prestigious the university you are from or how good your result , I believe that everyone gets to learn a lot from your colleagues even if they are lower than you in the company hierarchy or even less educated than you. There is always so much to learn from the people around you in your workspace, especially the senior employees. They will always have a lot to share, not just about the company but life experiences as well. 

It is my love for the areas of law that I specialised in. Eight years ago, I kickstarted my career in the privacy industry, which was driven by my education in Oxford University and University of California, Berkeley, where I studied about privacy law. I had the best in those universities, and that was then I realised my love for privacy and technology laws. The complexity of technological products I developed which involved artificial intelligence, privacy, and other technological components such as data analytics really intrigues me. Interesting issues I had to deal with came from the complexity of problems and having to apply the theories I learnt in real-life working situations. It is my passion and love to see products built with those privacy laws that makes me happy. I have worked with business, product, technology, and marketing teams so I do not merely understand the surface level of the products, but the in-depth of technologies, ideologies and policies behind product launches. I find fulfilment when I see everyone’s hard work bear fruit and consumers loving the products that I participated in creating as this shows that I have fulfilled my business goals. 

I hope to have an influence in developing privacy laws in Singapore and help nurture the next generation of privacy and technology lawyers through my teachings in the NUS Law Faculty and SMU as an Adjunct Associate Professor and Law Lecturer, and as a Research Affiliate with the SMU AI Centre. I believe that it is not just about me or my community, but it is also about helping society, companies, and government move in the right direction in terms of crafting sound privacy laws. These motivations drove my decision to work in the corporate world instead of staying in the legal practice and it is my love for data privacy that motivates me to work every day. 

In my personal life, I am a watch collector, foodie, and traveller. In relation to work-life balance, it is about being agile. You need to have a job that you love and are truly passionate about, and that also provides you with flexibility so your personal life would not be taken for granted. Work can get very busy and intense, but the company should always ensure that you have the time to take care of your mental health.

I feel that Prudential truly cares for its employees as they have various types of leaves so I can take leave when needed. The company makes sure and even encourages employees to take certain leaves to take care of matters in their personal life. For example, it provides various benefits for the employee’s families, such as complimentary medical check-ups and more. The company believes in sustainability and contributing back to society by encouraging employees to engage in volunteer work.

It is very important to find joy in your work but also remember to not let it be all of you. You need to be professional, but your identity cannot equate to just the work you do. If work is all you are concerned about, you will only equate success to titles and positions. Your work would be meaningless if you do not find joy in it and if you do not place equal importance in your personal life. For example, if your children are sick or your parents need medical attention, but the company does not give you the flexibility to manage this, you would be unable to focus wholeheartedly on your work. A good employee is someone who is happy at home, at work, and in his personal life. Only when that is achieved, can he give all of himself to the company. With that being said, I feel that Prudential’s values are commendable, and the company truly puts their employees first by providing them with such benefits, keeping everyone happy at work.