Maggy Chan is the Head of Human Resources, Asia for Brown Brothers Harriman. Read about her motivations and her advice for her younger self in her 2021 WiFA Spotlight Series Interview.
1. Tell us a little bit about yourself?
I grew up in a very traditional Chinese family in HK. This meant that phrases like “a closed mouth catches no flies” or “a woman who lacks talent is virtuous” were thrown around the house far too frequently. Consequently, my disdain for some of these conservative values had me shipped to an all girls’ boarding school in the U.K. when I was eleven. At the time, I was convinced that my parents had done so because they thought I needed to be tamed! I came to realize that this was the best decision my parents had ever made for me.
I ended up spending the next ten years getting a good education, going to more field trips, and asking more questions than I would have ever been allowed at home. Perhaps the most valuable part was that I learned so much about interacting and connecting with different people from all diverse beliefs and cultures. I knew that influencing change and adaptability in people would be what I would enjoy doing after completing my higher education in the U.K. I returned to Hong Kong and started out in the people business and now, after 30 years, I am glad that I’m still in the people business.
2. What drew you to a career in finance? What has motivated you to stay?
My two year old son (who is now 23!) was the reason that I joined the financial services industry. Prior to joining the financial sector, I worked for a FMCG company. I was struggling between a role that required frequent business travels and a young family. One day, I was approached by a head-hunter for a role as a Regional HR Business Partner with a global investment bank. I was very doubtful about the work life balance in the financial sector, but my curiosity led me to do research about the industry and attend the interview. I was, and still am captivated by the industry’s dynamism, forward-thinking and wealth of talent…and managed to have and raise a second child along the way!
Though I came into the industry almost by accident, I could tell from the first instant that this was where I wanted to be. My career, from start and hopefully to finish, has always been about people, and there is no other industry which so consistently draws such intelligent, talented, and diverse people and perspectives together into one space. Indeed, it is the people that I encounter and look forward to encountering from this resilient, vibrant industry who inspired me and have bestowed upon me the great fortune of being able to view the world and its workings through a myriad of innovative and diverse perspectives.
3. How do you stay on top of your professional game? Any tips on how to keep your competitive edge?
The key to staying on top is to convince yourself you have yet to reach it. Be humble and stay committed to learning. The pace of progress is only moving faster, and the world won’t wait for you, so the moment you put inquisition aside, you will be left by the wayside!
There are three rules I have always stuck to which have served me well. First, always be on the lookout for ways to improve the way you do things – and then try them out! Second, listen to those around you, as there is always something to be learned from everyone, regardless of what field they’re in or the position they hold. Third, in order to stay interesting, you’ve got to stay interested – pay attention to new developments across all different fields, because if you want to succeed in this industry you must show not only immense adaptability, but curiosity as well.
4. Think back to when you were starting your career. What advice would you give your younger self?
If I could go back in time to mentor myself, I’d tell a fresh-faced Maggy five things. First, go with your gut. This is more than just to say that if something feels right it usually is, it is to urge you to have unshakeable faith in yourself, in your capabilities, and in your instincts – do what feels right for you and things will turn out okay. Second, you must stand up for yourself. To stand up, speak up, and strive for whatever your convictions point you towards is to know what you’re worth, to be confident that your ideas are valuable, and to be aware of what you bring to the table. The third piece of advice is to surround yourself with talented people. I cannot possibly stress enough, that I am where I am because of the people I have met, worked with, and learned from. If you’re the most accomplished, knowledgeable, and intelligent person in the room – find another room! The fourth piece of advice is to do what makes you happy. The happier you are, the more effort you will put into what you do and the more you’ll want to do it better. Continuous improvement through a lifetime of learning is the name of the game, and if what you do doesn’t get you up and going in the morning, you’ll be directing your effort and intelligence into getting out of doing it! Last, but certainly not least, be kind and fair – people won’t forget it.