Meet KJ Chong, CCCA Treasurer

  • March 25, 2022
  • KJ Chong

Meet KJ Chong, CCCA Treasurer

The in-house counsel role appeals to those with a passion for learning and who thrive on challenge and change. It is the ideal profession for ambitious individuals like KJ (Ke-Jia) Chong, the current Treasurer on the CCCA Executive Committee.

We spoke with KJ about her career, her motivations and her lifelong commitment to learning.

Let’s start with your current role and how you got here.

I am General Counsel at BroadGrain Commodities Inc. I have been here for nearly five years now as the sole in-house counsel. My responsibilities involve everything from drafting purchase/sale contracts of goods, managing litigation/arbitration disputes, creating and overseeing compliance programs, communicating with regulators, and advising on employment law to reviewing our financing agreements.

Before working at BroadGrain, I summered and articled at a national law firm, after which I practiced in civil litigation at a mid-sized firm and then a small firm. I then moved in-house to BroadGrain.

Can you give us a picture of your current life?

Lately, my day starts off sometime around 7 AM when I’ll work out, either with resistance bands or with a fitness game on the Nintendo Switch. My workday starts at 8 AM with checking overnight emails, usually from our international subsidiaries, and my calendar for reminders of upcoming deadlines. I keep an urgent and important matrix on matters and index my emails based on corresponding codes.

Work varies every week. If there is a dispute brewing or a financing credit facility that needs to close, that will take over the day, as they may be urgent matters. Long-term projects tend to be compliance or HR projects to keep up to date on legislative changes or industry requirements.

In terms of hobbies outside of work, I enjoy hiking and running outdoors, and occasionally making recordings on the guitar and piano.

How has your family helped shape you, making the person you are today?

I am the first lawyer in our family history. I was born in Singapore, and when I was 8 months old, we moved to Canada. My parents usually worked two or three jobs each with little to no family support. This helped me become self-reliant and resourceful.

My father was an early adopter of computers and that encouraged us as a family to use technology to improve our everyday lives (and probably led to countless hours of video games). In a reversed role of parent and child, he also made me read to him before he went to bed, although I can see it may have influenced my current appetite for books, particularly non-fiction.

My mother encouraged my entrepreneurial and creative side when I was in high school. I worked on getting business sponsorships in the local community and fundraised by selling Christmas centerpieces, which we made by hand.

Tell us about being at BroadGrain Commodities Inc.

Recently, when I’ve faced roadblocks in my work, whether it be in bureaucracy or with disputes with counterparties, the solution might be found by stepping away from the problem and revisiting it later. This helps me come up with a creative way of looking at a situation with fresh eyes. It also makes me take time to approach the situation more strategically – whether it be altering my tone to listen to an aggrieved party or finding a new angle to come up with a stronger defence or negotiation tactic.

One of my favourite parts of BroadGrain is working with the trade side, since as in-house counsel, I support the whole business. I enjoy getting to learn about the practical side of exports and the market, and I also see the direct impact of my decisions.

BroadGrain also has international subsidiaries, so I get to use my language skills, usually in French or sometimes in Mandarin. This also means that studying the dual common law and civil law degree at McGill law school turned out to be not only an academically stimulating endeavour but also one with practical use.

What are your thoughts on the future of the in-house profession?

More lawyers are going in-house earlier in their careers. This means they may need to upgrade their skills in an environment where there may be little time for mentorship or training. Managers of legal departments may face more challenges to learn how to work with newer calls. That said, this may also be beneficial for the organization given that new lawyers may be more adept at finding practical solutions, rather than providing an answer that is legally sound but unsuitable to the risk tolerance that the business is willing to accept.

What is one of the best or most worthwhile career investments you’ve ever made?

Asking for and getting feedback from those in the legal profession, those with whom I work and even an outsider who can provide a new perspective. Having a network of people to go to when I have a problem has been crucial to me; investing the time to build those relationships has been very important.

Where do you see yourself in the future?

I am hoping to continue contributing to the improvement of the food/agricultural industry and perhaps also do more work related to international or logistics issues. To do this, I have been keeping up to date on our industry trends.

What advice would you give to other in-house counsel?

  1. Seek out experiences with a broad range of potential skillsets you can work on.
  2. Adopt a growth mindset and catch yourself if you fall into the trap that you are not good at something and will never be good at it.
  3. If you have a problem with someone, address it directly with that person. You will be respected for calling out what you do not accept and you might find a solution to your issue.
  4. Rather than flout your accomplishments, accept your vulnerabilities. It makes you more human to others, which makes you more likeable. Accepting does not mean approving of your weaknesses but rather acknowledging those areas exist. This gives you the ability to work on them without another layer of challenges to manage.