Leadership, professionalism – two vital talents
Trained to think creatively by her MBA, Louise Ho, who works for a global financial services firm, also shows she can tackle career challenges calmly. In this interview in our Leaders of Tomorrow series, she explains how she climbed the career ladder and found a work-life balance.
A change management expert must carefully plan and execute each move towards a desired outcome. Mastering the role, with its constant challenges and unexpected obstacles, is no easy task, but it is something Louise Ho was able to take in her stride.
What helped, no doubt, was a degree in industrial engineering from the University of Toronto, which Ho completed before moving back to Hong Kong and joining the HSBC management programme. The subsequent 12 years, rising through the ranks to oversee projects for the change management team, provided a wealth of experience and convinced Ho that she had made the right choice of career.
From the ground up
“HSBC has a lot of business lines, so I was able to try different jobs within the company,” she says. “There was a good training scheme and room to grow, and we were encouraged to consider our careers from early on.”
A well organised executive, Ho knows her own mind, and communicates her views clearly, which meant that project management was always likely to be a good match.
Working in a department with regional responsibilities enabled Ho to travel around Asia and meet a number of the bank’s most senior executives, presenting proposals, and learning what it took to effect change.
Ho started her career at HSBC as a management trainee.
“In places like South Korea, they thought I was an odd fit in the team because I’m a woman,” she says. “But I didn’t consider that a factor and just focused on proving myself. They quickly saw I was capable of doing the job.”
After about six years, Ho decided that an MBA would be a logical next step. Having worked for just one organisation, she wanted a better understanding of the “outside world” and how other businesses actually worked. She also wanted to develop her creative thinking, so enrolled with Manchester Business School.
MBA for creativity
Being in areas like engineering and change management, I have to be very creative,” Ho says. “I wanted to find new approaches and knew that only working at HSBC might limit that.” She also knew the MBA would introduce her to people from many other industries, giving the chance to learn about different corporate cultures and management styles. “In fact, I learned how to tackle strategy, business culture and much else,” she says. “The programme shed new light on things I’d already been through and helped me see why people don’t always agree with my ideas. As an MBA student, you soon realise there is a lot more to learn. For me, a key thing was seeing how to be more efficient.”
Ho said, "The programme shed new light on things I'd already been through and helpled me see why people don't always agree with my ideas."
When it comes to project and change management, Ho believes that thinking ahead and being organised are the most important factors. “I have to present my ideas well, so I need to be subjective in looking for improvements and must think outside the box,” she says. “The MBA really helped my creativity and gave me a much better understanding of other industries.”
There is never reason to regret your decisions. If something doesn’t work, just move on to the next
Work, health balance
Now vice president of the private banking division at another global financial services firm, Ho has already achieved most of her initial career goals, something she attributes to being a positive person who doesn’t panic easily and who knows how to use her strengths. Yet one of her biggest lessons in life came quite unexpectedly. “I had some health issues with my heart, combined with a lot of pressure at work,” she says. “I had been used to overcoming obstacles, but this was different.
“To help myself, I realised I had to stop and look at what to do next,” she says. “I had never really taken a break, so I asked for a sabbatical. I was lucky to take a few months away to relax and recoup and be with my family. I realised my health was really important.”
The sabbatical also helped her to see just how little she could actually control. “Before that, I had always initiated moves within the company and to do my MBA — it was my choice,” she says. “Now, I had to think about how to reduce pressure – not take on more. I had to tone things down, be a bit less aggressive in going after what I wanted, and strike a better work-life balance. Happiness is the most important thing. Work is work, not 100 per cent of who I am.”
Ho now has to think about ways to reduce her pressure.
In general, Ho says the most important thing is to believe in yourself. It is also essential not to shy away from new things, otherwise you are limiting opportunities for possible success.
“There is never reason to regret your decisions. If something doesn’t work, just move on to the next.”