What's it like to run Uber's Asia Pacific team?

What's it like to run Uber's Asia Pacific legal team?

Katrina Johnson works in the frenetic world of flying cars and self-driving trucks – along with data breaches and other controversies.As head of Uber’s Asia Pacific legal team, her kingdom covers Australia and New Zealand, India, South East and North Asia for the $68 billion company.

Lynn Elsey recently spent some time with Johnson in Uber’s Sydney office. 


1. Why a background in litigation is useful for commercial work

After completing a BA and LLB (Hons) in law and neuropsychology at Macquarie University in 1998, Johnson first worked as a litigator and commercial lawyer. She moved in house in 2003, when she took up a roll as general counsel with eBay.

“Having a litigation background made me a better commercial lawyer. It allows me to see the whole picture or how things may play out down the track. Seeing what can go wrong or what gets tested in court makes you more prepared to help prevent it in the first place,” Johnson says.


2. The biggest surprise about moving from Sydney to the heart of the tech world

That working for a tech company in San Francisco wasn’t all that different from working in Australia.

“Putting aside the difference in the actual law, I found there were more similarities than differences. The work ethic and pace were similar and, structurally, both operate within federal systems. The biggest difference was scale; the enormous size of some of the deals I worked on,” Johnson says.

3. Driving regulatory creation and change

A company that is constantly pushing the boundaries and treading in unchartered waters needs to know its way around regulation, often on a global scale.

“A big part of what we do is work with our public policy counterparts to move regulatory reform, including showing other governments what our learnings have been in these areas and how we can work together to develop sensible, consumer-focused regulations and protections – in ways that haven’t been done before.”

4. Work/life balance

Along with the normal demands of a high-profile global IT company, Johnson spends around two weeks of every month on the road and in the sky.

“At Uber, we have a policy of ‘sacred space’ where staff are encouraged to block time on their calendars for other commitments, whether for family, friends, sport or taking a class. I make sure I use this. I’m aware of the importance of leading by example and I encourage others to do the same. But I’m still looking for that balance.”


5. Challenges of covering Asia Pacific

“You have to deal with different legal systems and languages, so you can’t necessarily roll out a playbook or predict how something might play out in different countries," Johnson says.


6. In short …

“It’s a great place to work if you are interested in solving hard problems.”


4 December 2017