J. C. Ho, a Laidlaw Scholar at London Business School, on talking less abstract, negative capability, and creating a more diverse investing & entrepreneurial community.
I grew up in a non-traditional Asian household where my mother was the breadwinner. Despite the circumstances we were facing as a family, as a child, I never felt I was less complete than any of my peers. My upbringing only made me realise early on that I need to work hard. I had many lofty dreams when I was young; dreams of being able to study abroad and of starting my own business one day. But I also understood that dreams remain dreams if they are never tempered by reality. Then, an opportunity came: I received a scholarship from Hong Kong Bank Foundation in my second year of university to study abroad at University College London. The experience touched me profoundly and I made a pledge to myself to give back what I have and know when I am in the position to do so.
I consider myself fortunate for many wonderful opportunities that have been bestowed upon me. I only have tremendous gratitude for all the access and support that I have received throughout the years. Growing up, female representation in leadership is rare, but watching my mother provide for the family made me question if gender stereotypes were as rigid as they seemed. After working in asset management and private equity for more than five years, I realised it was time to shape the next stage of my career where I can contribute my expertise in a more socially responsible manner. I applied for the Laidlaw Scholarship at London Business School because I wanted to be able to partake in the discourse of creating a more diverse investing and entrepreneurial community. I am drawn to the affliction of young women lacking access and opportunity to advance their careers and resonated deeply with Laidlaw Foundation’s effort in that respect.
What is the biggest life challenge you have overcome and what did you learn from it?
For two years, I was the only female member on the banking team in the local office of my previous firm. I had a hard time blending in and learning the “man talk” while feeling incredibly out of place. While I was passionate about what I was doing, I struggled with the lack of a female anchor at the senior level and the ways in which I could present myself as a favourable candidate for a promotion without seeming “bossy”. I turned to my immediate supervisor for guidance, who reassured me that I was performing above expectation and that a promotion was due.
The catalyst for change finally came after I got my promotion, when management decided to launch a new initiative to promote diversity in the global private equity and venture capital community. The CEO of the firm enlisted me to orchestrate this programme and I started gaining more exposure as a speaker in conferences where I presented my perspectives as a young female professional working in the industry. This experience taught me the importance of creating a more inclusive work environment which would require a synthesis of viewpoints from like-minded professionals irrespective of gender.
What is the best piece of advice you have ever been given?
“Talk less abstract.”
Until this feedback came along, I used to wonder why I would find myself losing my voice in a team setting. It was truly a eureka moment for me and made me realise that I needed to be more direct in my communication and allow more of my confidence to shine through as a leader. Something as simple as addressing the person, not the group, when I delegate a task -- in other words, I needed to make it easier for the rest of the team to understand who is doing what and my true intentions. I did not internalise this piece of advice profoundly at first, but after some self-reflection my appreciation for it grew more and more.
What is the worst piece of advice you have ever been given?
“Let’s be honest, for the work you’re doing, you probably won’t be getting the same pay elsewhere.”
I was left speechless when someone said this to me at work. I valued my output and my performance, so I had a very different view. My biggest takeaway was that it is important to practise the courage to disagree: a healthy dose of disagreement could potentially have liberating effects.
Top 3 tips that will help someone become a better leader
⚡️ Sharing is Caring
The best bosses I had were the ones who never hesitated to share what they know or provide feedback to team members about their performance. By teaching employees how to improve their work in a clear and informative way and giving them space to make their own decisions, your team members will be much more motivated to work for you;
⚡️ Negotiation and Tact
Negotiation is much more than just a skill that is “nice to have”, it is fundamental to decision making. A lot of people are eager to prioritise the conclusion of an outcome that is highly agreeable to all, despite knowing it is not the best outcome. I believe that only through negotiation one becomes aware of their own position and learns more about how the other party perceives the situation;
⚡️ Negative Capability
In a letter to his brothers, John Keats coined the term 'negative capability' -- the art of experiencing uncertainty without reaching irritably for fact and reason -- something that I found to be quite necessary for entrepreneurs, when odds are often not in your favour. One could use some optimism to try and reconcile the contradictory aspects of the world.
Which leaders in the world inspire you the most and why?
Sheryl Sandberg -- for being upfront with the world about the struggles of balancing work and family life in Lean In; sharing with the reader her most intimate life stories and letting us know we never walk alone;
Virginia Woolf -- my literary icon, for capturing the genuineness of human thought and gifting the world her stream of consciousness writing;
My mother -- for being the resilient lady that she is. We do not always express our appreciation and love for each other at home, but she is the one I look up to the most.
Briefly describe a scene from the future you are striving to create.
My upbringing influenced me to explore the discourse surrounding balancing the gender power dynamic which I believe could be achieved by increasing transparency and normalising diversity. For example, in a professional setting, there are different clubs and societies dedicated to engineering greater representation of both camps – starting with the Mayfair clubs, then came the old boys’ networks, and now we have female-only C-Suite mentorship clubs – only a few seem to be interested in promoting genuine partnerships between men and women. I envision a future where gender diversity is seen as a mutual objective, and where female representation bias is more of a means to an end.
What does it mean for you to be a Laidlaw Scholar?
The Laidlaw network includes countries where women still lack basic rights and freedoms and countries where women have made significant progress in achieving reasonable socio-economic standing. As a Laidlaw Scholar, I aspire to increase female representation in the investment community and orchestrate pro-gender changes at a corporate level. I am incredibly proud and humbled to be part of this vast network that is so supportive and rich in diversity. Every Laidlaw Scholar I spoke to at LBS has a unique story and has done fascinating work in their respective industries before joining LBS.
📺 Currently binging: The Crown Season 4!
🎵 My quarantine anthem: TAEMIN - WANT
📚 My top book recommendation:
The Sun Also Rises - Ernest Hemingway
The Intelligent Investor - Benjamin Graham
Brave New World - Aldous Huxley
The Lean Product Playbook - Dan Olsen
🎧 Podcast obsession: The Pitch by Gimlet - obsessed with Elizabeth Yin and learnt so much from all the candid feedback from the judges
🌈 Something that made me feel joy recently:
- Our team Late But Sprinting came 2nd in the INSEAD Product Games this year, representing LBS with our product KAIA - a sustainable fashion Chrome extension that follows environmentally conscious shoppers on their shopping journey, giving them better, cheaper, and greener alternatives;
- Rebranded my social media referral marketing startup with the entry of a strategic investor.
J. C. is a Laidlaw Scholar at London Business School. The Laidlaw Women's Business Education Scholarship aims to help build a pipeline of future women leaders through access to best-in-class education, resources and global networks by providing full and half scholarships to women who would not otherwise be in a position to reap the benefits of attending an outstanding school.
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