Lucky break brings benefits

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 15 May, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 15 May, 2010, 12:00am

With a touch of self-deprecation, Elaine Hwang might claim to be still in her 'first job', but that is simply to emphasise a point. Unlike others whose careers are marked by false starts and unrealised ambitions, she found her professional niche early in life and enjoys the challenges and satisfaction that it brings.

'This is exactly what I want to do. I never thought of moving on,' says the head of benefits in Hong Kong for consultancy Towers Watson. 'Over the last 20 years, I have worked hard, but have had a lot of opportunities, so I feel very lucky to be in this field.'

What she most enjoys about her role are its two distinct aspects. One is more technical and involves giving advice and opinions to clients about their employee benefits programmes. The other is to lead and manage a team of more than 50 staff, making sure they deliver high-quality services.

'It is my dream job,' Hwang says. 'I'm in a very respected profession. We have quite a dominant market position, so we are quite influential in advising many of the benefits providers.'

Born in Shanghai, Hwang completed secondary school in Hong Kong before opting to study actuarial sciences at the University of Manitoba in Canada. It was a practical decision, based on a proven talent for maths and a desire to apply that in business.

After graduation, finding a job proved no problem at all. The university's reputation as a centre for excellence in the subject opened doors, so Hwang simply had to choose between joining an insurance company or a consulting firm.

Believing that working with a wide range of employers and providers presented a greater challenge, she took the latter route and stayed with Watson Wyatt in Toronto for nine years.

'As a Chinese associate, the work I did over there was very technical,' Hwang says. 'It is a bit of a culture thing - still true now - that Asians [are assumed] to be better at the technical aspects, so it is relatively less easy to do the consulting and meet clients. It is not discrimination, just a matter of fact.'

Looking for more exposure and a shift of emphasis, she applied for an internal transfer and, in 1998, returned to Hong Kong. With the launch of the MPF fast approaching, the timing couldn't have been better. Hwang soon found herself on the fast track from consultant to principal consultant and, after a corporate merger, to her present post.

Married with two sons aged 16 and 13, Hwang says her husband has always been ready to share domestic responsibilities. Her personal rule was to start work early and, if necessary, leave late during the week, but to keep weekends strictly for the family. She also makes it a point of balancing the demands and pressures of consulting by playing badminton at a competitive level.