Cover story - Leading by Example


As Tara Joseph takes over as President of the American Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong, we look at the important contribution made by the chamber’s women members

By Paula Sailes

A quick chat with Jennifer Van Dale, Head of Employment Law and Partner at Eversheds, is all it takes to see how enthusiastic she is about her involvement with AmCham. “It’s fun,” she says. “and it is probably the best thing I have ever done for my career.”

For Jennifer, there’s no question about the highlights of her participation: opportunities to meet, mix, and work alongside fellow professionals who bring experience from far and wide. “One thing is the diversity of perspectives that comes from having people of different backgrounds, and the other is diversity of networks.”

“Networks are resources, so if you have these diverse people coming to the board, then you have a much richer set of resources,” she adds. It is a part of working life that Jennifer has long been passionate about. She spent three years chairing the Women of Influence Committee before joining the board in 2014. Now, she’s helping lead the group through an important landmark year.

An open, diverse platform 

In February AmCham welcomed new President Tara Joseph, who brings a wealth of experience after 22 years in journalism and more than 15 years in Asia. Adding to her storied career at Reuters, most recently serving as Chief Asia Correspondent for Reuters TV, Tara is also the first female leader to take the reins at AmCham Hong Kong, joining a board of governors with the highest ever percentage of women.

Roughly one-third of the organization’s governing body is now female, something Tara sees as a very encouraging signal of times ahead. “I think the environment has become a lot more open, and that’s great for the chamber. It’s great for involvement, and it’s great for the next generation, because female executives are a hugely important part of the future.”

As an “American chamber with international characteristics,” AmCham has a strong track record of bringing leaders together from different backgrounds. As former chairman Peter Levesque explains: in a fast-paced, international city like Hong Kong, the board is spoiled for choice when it comes to qualified candidates.

“The talent pool in Hong Kong is full to the brim with Type ‘A’ over-achievers, who are at the very top of their game,” he says. That provides us with a lot of opportunity and variety when selecting board members. While we always look to add balance to our board, our diversity is really a product of the dynamic city in which we live and work.”

From media, finance to executive education, AmCham’s women leaders currently serving on the board represent the full spectrum of professional opportunity in Hong Kong. Catherine Simmons is Managing Director and Head of Government Affairs at Citi; Jenny Wong is Executive Director of Public Policy at Time Warner; and Elaine Cheung is Group CFO at Regal Springs.

Diana David, Regional Director of Corporate Development for the Financial Times, recalls the moment she was asked to be part of the AmCham family two years ago. “When I called a few of the people I knew to do due diligence on the opportunity, they all felt they did great work that mattered and made lasting friendships. That sounded like a pretty solid recommendation to me.”

Women leaders on AmCham Board: (from left) Clara Ingen-Housz, Elaine Cheung, Jenny Wong, Jennifer Van Dale, Tara Joseph, Diana David, Catherine Simmons and Anna-Marie Slot

The impact of inclusiveness

Of the eight women on the board, three are practicing lawyers. Among them are Anna-Marie Slot and Clara Ingen-Housz, partners at Ashurst and Linklaters, respectively. “I find the role very enriching in terms of knowledge and friendships,” says Ingen-Housz, who joined the board in 2016. “I also enjoy contributing to the mission of the chamber. Without making undue generalizations, I think a more gender-balanced board leads to better discussions overall.”

And Anna-Marie agrees. “The research is pretty unequivocal. Having people from different backgrounds with different experiences benefits every organization. Given that women make up 50 percent of the population, it seems to be a ‘no brainer’ that you would want to incorporate all of those views on your board.”

The statistics support their views. In 2016, Bloomberg Markets tracked the performance of S&P 500 companies with the most women working as managers or on the board. The result: investing in those firms over a ten-year period would yield a 238 percent return, compared to 141 percent for the rest of the index.

While some governments and private organizations strive for diversity by edict, AmCham’s high level of female participation has evolved organically. Representing more than 700 companies and 40 different nationalities,

President Tara Joseph believes diversity is ingrained in AmCham’s DNA. “I think that’s the most powerful thing about diversity.” “When you increase the number and the variety of people, you are opening up a huge talent pool of people who can contribute, who are smart and have things to bring into play,” she says.

Looking to the future, she is confident the chamber’s values of inclusiveness, fair play and good governance, will continue to attract Hong Kong’s best and brightest.

Past and current female board members, (from left, front row) Andrea Richey, Elizabeth L Thomson, Anita Leung and Belinda Lui, (back row) Diana David, Catherine Simmons, Tara Joseph, Jenny Wong and Elaine Cheung, gather for a recent lunch event.

An Experienced Perspective

Anita Leung is a Consultant at David Lo and Partners. She served as chair of the Intellectual Property Committee before joining AmCham’s Board of Governors in 2008, a position she held for six years

How did you first become involved with AmCham?

As a young partner, I was looking for a platform where I could strengthen my knowledge base and expand my network. AmCham, being “an American Chamber with international characteristics,” was a natural choice for me.

What drove you to take such an active role?

Advocacy has always been the strength of AmCham. As an intellectual property lawyer, I found it to be an ideal platform to advocate for – and make – changes on IP-related laws and government policies. The more I got involved, the more influence I could assert through AmCham as a collective unit on legislation bound to have an impact on my practice, my clients and the public at large.

What have you enjoyed most about your experiences at AmCham? 

The progression from being a member to serving on the Board has been a very privileged, memorable and enjoyable experience for me. As a panel judge for the Women of Influence awards, I came across a number of amazing and empowering men and women. Their commitment and perseverance have been an inspiration to me for my own personal development.

What would be your advice to members who want to become more involved in the organisation?

Be yourself, be open-minded, and dive into whatever role that attracts you. The experience can be as fruitful as you want it to be.

A new member’s outlook

Julie Brandt is Managing Director at Otis Elevator Company. She moved to Hong Kong in January 2016 and has found AmCham to be a useful resource as she adapts to life here

What attracted you to AmCham?

I lead a team of more than 2,200 employees and am the only expatriate. I felt like this would be a good opportunity to network with fellow Americans and learn from their experience of doing business in Hong Kong. I fully support AmCham’s objectives, especially this year’s focus on education for a global, forward-looking, multi-talented workforce. At Otis, employees are very important and we work to develop a diversified skill base in our team.

What do you enjoy most about the experience?

Personal and professional development, networking with the vibrant U.S. business community in Hong Kong, and, ultimately, integrating into the fabric of the Hong Kong business community.

What benefits does greater diversity bring?

The female presence at the chamber is an asset to the organization and supports the fact that workforce diversity and inclusion are important. The labor market needs a wide range of diverse talent and if we can effectively recruit more females to enter the construction industry, some of the challenges can be alleviated. The rise of women is not a gender topic alone, but a phenomenon that will help diversify team membership and broaden the decision-making base.

What are the benefits of participation in AmCham events?

The more time I invest in the organization, the more I benefit from it. Though we are all extremely busy and juggle many priorities both personally and professionally, events offered by AmCham are really flexible and work within my schedule. The professionals that I meet at these events expands my network and expose new perspectives.

Julie Brandt