ANZ Hong Kong's chief executive Susan Yuen is banking on equality

ANZ Hong Kong's chief executive says the days of dominant men in suits are over. Now her ideal team has a good gender and cultural balance

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 20 April, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 20 April, 2013, 5:46am

When Susan Yuen Su-min first started out in banking in the 1980s, there were only a handful of women at the top in a world crawling with men in suits.

Twenty years on, Yuen is the chief executive of the 1,100-staff ANZ Hong Kong. Looking back, she says male dominance in banking was linked to traditional reasons. Now, with women receiving the same level of education and opportunities, she believes there will be more female bankers in the future.

Yuen, a Malaysian-Chinese born in Ipoh, was educated in Britain and graduated from the University of London. On her return to Malaysia, she joined Maybank, the largest bank in Malaysia.

After taking on various roles at Maybank, mainly in the corporate banking area, she joined HSBC in Malaysia in 1999 as head of corporate and institutional banking.

She joined ANZ Melbourne in 2008 as chief of staff to the Asian head of the bank, before moving to become Hong Kong chief executive of ANZ in June 2009.

Yuen tells the South China Morning Post what it means to be a female team leader and why a team with a balanced gender and cultural mix is important in the modern banking world.


As a woman, do you think it is more difficult to be a top banker? Why are most banks still headed by men?

When I first joined the industry in the mid-1980s, there were few women in senior positions. The banking world used to be dominated by men. This was because in those days women were more home-oriented, focused on building and supporting families.

That has changed in recent years and we have seen some banks such as Hang Seng Bank and ABN Amro as well as ANZ appointing female CEOs.


Does ANZ have a policy to achieve more gender equality?

Our global CEO Mike Smith is a champion in promoting gender equality. This is why ANZ could attain a good mixture of gender and ethnic backgrounds for our senior management roles. In Hong Kong, 51 per cent of our 1,100 staff are women while 40 per cent of middle-management positions are occupied by women.

Globally, 27 per cent of ANZ's board members and five of our country CEOs out of our 25 markets are women.


What is the benefit of having more women in the senior management team?

Women can bring a different perspective to the way business is managed. As a woman, I believe I use more empathy to lead the team. I believe the bank benefits a lot by using more female staff.

Women comprise half the world population. An increasing proportion of them who receive higher education and have successful careers could be our customers. And, with a policy of hiring both men and women, we can access a bigger talent pool.

About 50 per cent of the participants in our "Generalist Banker" accelerated development programme are women. When we hire for senior positions, about half the CVs we receive are from women. This shows women are also ambitious and want to compete for senior positions.


Do you find any difference between leading a male-dominated team and a female-dominated department?

Our human resources and marketing teams have more women while the IT and global market trading teams are predominantly male. Other departments such as corporate banking, retail and commercial banking have a good gender mix.

As a CEO, I wouldn't use a one-size-fits-all approach for all teams, I would need to address different teams with a different approach according to the character traits of the team members.

However, I think we cannot stereotype. While some may think men are more ambitious, there are women who are equally ambitious.

As such, we should not use a different approach to different genders, we have to treat them both equally and give them opportunities to develop their leadership skills.


What would be your dream team? Do you think all teams should have a good gender mix or would that depend on the nature of the department?

A good team should have a good diversity in terms of gender, age, culture, and knowledge. This is because our customers are also a diverse lot. We have hired mainland Chinese to address the needs of our mainland customers. Likewise, we need both male and female staff who understand the needs of clients of different genders. This is why my team has men and women, Indian, Chinese, Australian, English, Malaysian, American, etc. It is very important in any organisation to have a good mixture of team members to bring in different perspectives and connections.


What is your management style? How do you reward the best performers and deal with the laggards?

I am not a micro-manager as I like to give people space to do their own jobs. But for good performers, we offer rewards and promotion opportunities. We promote them to let them develop as leaders.

For poor performers, we offer performance plans to help them show improvement over a period of time. Sometimes people don't perform just because they are in the wrong job. In some cases, when people like them are given the opportunity to try out a different position, we've seen their performance improve significantly and some even excel in their new roles. If that does not work out, we have to let them go.


What do you do to relax?

I like oil painting. I do a lot of painting to relax. I like both Vincent Van Gogh and Claude Monet. I think Van Gogh was a very misunderstood man and his painting has a strong passion. Monet was very good at capturing atmosphere. I like them both for different reasons.


Which woman has had the greatest impact on your life?

My mother. She was a nurse. I learned from her all the values and integrity. She was the woman behind my father's successful career.