Laura Cha - Executive councillor

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 11 October, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 11 October, 2011, 12:00am

Wives and mothers are often likened to being the CEO of a family. In Laura Cha Shih May-lung's case, she has been a successful CEO at home and in the workplace.

Juggling priorities has been part and parcel of Cha's career, which has taken her from practising law in the United States to a position as a top securities regulator in Hong Kong and an appointment as vice-chairman of the China Securities Regulatory Commission from 2001 to 2004.

That made Cha the first person from outside the mainland to join the central government at vice-ministerial rank.

Cha is a member of the Executive Council and is the immediate past chair of the University Grants Committee, among other public service roles.

She is also non-executive deputy chairman of The Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation, and a director of several leading companies in the region.

Cha says she has been guided by the principle that integrity is of utmost importance, no matter how difficult the situation. 'We must do the right thing and do it right and this applies to everything we do in life,' she stresses.

Family support has been another vital factor in her working life. 'I didn't start my career until my children started going to elementary school, when they were six and nine years old. And then I was lucky enough that my parents emigrated to California and helped to look after my children for two to three years,' she explains.

Her inspiration and strength were drawn from her desire to not be left behind, she says, a feeling that stemmed from the early years when she put her career on hold to raise her young family.

Her toughest challenge, she recalls, came some 20 years ago, when she faced chronic health issues. 'It was very difficult for me at that time because besides having to cope with the health issue, I also had to manage my very demanding job.'

She says her husband and family gave her a lot of support to survive the rough time.

'That experience gave me a different perspective in life, reminding me not to work too hard, and [becoming] a lever to pull me back when I overstretch myself,' she adds.

Looking back, Cha counts her blessings and believes nothing should be taken for granted. 'I never set out to be successful and am so very grateful and feel fortunate for having been given so many opportunities,' she says.

To her, the ultimate success is being able to feel content. Cha says young people should set their goals and priorities, and give them their best shot. They should also be broad-minded, interested in things and show concern about various issues in society.

To succeed, she adds, women have to be tougher than men, as they always have to try harder to break down barriers. 'You need to be passionate and committed and lead by example because people look up to you.'

A good leader must also show compassion and be caring to others, especially their subordinates, in order to earn respect. Hillary Clinton and Michelle Obama are Cha's role models because the pair epitomise what modern women should be like: strong, intelligent and independent, being supportive of their families.

Cha credits her children, both of whom are married, for keeping her humble. She says: 'No matter how successful I am as a career woman outside, when I return home I am still a mother and a wife.'