As technology giant Tencent expands its international footprint, Timothy Ma ’02 keeps an eye on global privacy and data protection. He says that his Oxy education has enabled him to achieve what he has achieved today.
Founded in 1998, Tencent is one of the top 10 largest market cap companies in the world, with a market value in excess of $620 billion. Yet it remains a fairly low-profile company, reflecting the humility of its founders.
Its value has grown more than tenfold since Ma joined Tencent in 2012. At first, he was responsible for a lot of corporate tech market operations. Soon the scope of his work expanded to cover international business compliance. When WeChat (Tencent’s mobile messaging app, with more than 1.25 billion active monthly users) was launched outside of China, Ma helped the business to properly structure WeChat and prepare the terms of service and privacy policies.
Then, in 2018, the company decided that it needed a dedicated data privacy department that looks after this risk and helps the company navigate this area of law on a very specialized basis. “They saw my track record of building up an international legal team,” Ma says. “So general counsel asked me to build this team out to look at international data privacy matters.”
Ma relished the challenges of his new role. “I love to learn, and I thought it was a good chance for me to further exert my influence over the company, and bring about a positive impact over community. So I switched from the international product compliance role to a data privacy role. I’ve been doing this for over two years now. It was a steep learning curve for me, but I have gotten great job satisfaction in what I have achieved so far.”
Born and raised in Hong Kong, Ma was educated there as well, having finished year 11 of high school (the equivalent of junior year in the United States) when he enrolled at Occidental in 1998. Oxy’s low student-to-faculty ratio also was a factor, and the College’s International Programs Office helped Ma make the transition to college life in the United States, especially as a 16-year-old. “I always joke with my friends and my parents that when I graduated from Oxy, I wasn’t even at the legal age to drink,” he says with a laugh.
Compared to the education system in his homeland, Ma found the liberal arts experience to be “fun.” “In Hong Kong, it’s a sort of spoon-fed education that is very results-oriented—the goal is for you to get high marks in exams. Occidental provides a very different style of education, and I was able to explore different interests, discover what I was good at, and learn through real interactions and intellectually stimulating discussions with professors. Those are not things that were generally available in Hong Kong.”
Ma was a resident adviser in Stearns for one year and worked about two years in the Tiger Cooler—behind the grill, at the coffee stand, or wherever his help was needed.
After graduating from Oxy, Ma went to law school at City University of Hong Kong on a full scholarship. He subsequently spent two years as a trainee in the Hong Kong office of U.S. law firm Paul Hastings, followed by stints at a couple of other firms, culminating in a job at O’Melveny & Myers as an IPO lawyer. Then he got a call from a headhunter about an opening at Tencent.
“The determining factor at that time was that I wanted to join a tech firm,” he recalls. “I wanted to explore my interests quite consistent with my personality. I’m someone who doesn’t like to sit tight in a place for a long period of time. I don’t like boredom. And I always like to find new challenges for myself.”
Joining Tencent, he says, “has been one of the best decisions I’ve made. It absolutely lived up to and exceeded my expectations.” A typical workday for Ma might entail managerial responsibilities, reviewing contracts, meeting with international clients or higher-ups, staying abreast of new developments in the legal space, and managing Tencent’s international data privacy compliance program.
“On the granular level, data privacy is about compliance with the law—that’s the baseline—and how we protect user data. As a tech company, we need to use this data in a responsible and reasonable manner. And to respect the rights of our users over their personal data.
Tencent has a strong culture of respecting user privacy and delivering the best experience to its users, “and we have generally done pretty well in terms of privacy and data production,” Ma says. “We are a responsible corporate citizen in terms of data usage, but the most challenging thing of my job is to change the perception of the international community on our data privacy strategies and what we do to protect user data.”
All that said, one of the most enjoyable aspects of Ma’s job is feeling that the work he is doing actually makes a positive impact in the global community. “Now that I am focused on data privacy, I know that whatever decisions I make are helping in guarding the data that users have entrusted us with. I am ensuring that users would have peace of mind whenever they use our products. That’s why I’m still here after almost 10 years.”
Read the full profile story in Occidental Magazine