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Dec 2010

Case study: Amy Lam, Jardine Shipping Services

Amy Lam has worked as group finance director at the Jardine Shipping Services group in Hong Kong since July 2010.

Amy Lam, group finance director The role covers ten countries, including Hong Kong and Malaysia.

She has worked within the Jardine Matheson group for 25 years, specialising in management accounting from the start. She speaks below about her successful career.

Studying while working

In Asia the working hours are long and there’s also pressure to study after work. For example, I have had to go on courses to get myself up to speed with the risk management elements of my role.

The challenge of working and studying at the same time can be tiring and you have to plan and decide which particular area you want to spend time on. There are so many things that you have to be up to date with, and you have to pick the priorities.

Female finance executives

Lots of the finance executives in the Jardine group are women and consequently there are lots of women leaders. The group puts a lot of emphasis on the finance executives, and we are perceived as being at the right hand of the CEO, so our authority is quite extensive. I haven’t experienced discrimination or a glass ceiling.

'I try to just be a director
rather than focus on my gender'

What I always try to do is just be a director rather than focus on my gender. It doesn’t really matter whether I’m a woman or a man. The more you think about gender, the more sensitive or conscious you become and the harder it is to do your work.

Working in English

In the early stages of my career, language was a problem. In Asia we work in the local dialect but in the Jardine group English is the common language so I had to get used to speaking, writing and listening in English.

When I mentor university students now, I always encourage them to spend more time on learning languages. Having said that, once you’re in the environment and have a chance to practice and are courageous enough to speak it, I don’t think it takes long to learn.

My ability to speak Chinese and Mandarin as well as English gives me an advantage over people from some other countries. As China is expanding so rapidly, being able to read and speak Chinese is a real advantage.

Being proactive and gaining respect

I believe you have to be proactive in order to help others, get involved and be willing to do a little bit more than you’re asked to. This helps you gain respect and promotes a way of working in partnership: rather than being a bean counter, sitting behind your desk and only knowing the numbers, you can put numbers before colleagues in layman’s terms so that they can understand and make use of them.

Leadership training

I went through a series of in house management development programmes, tailored to different stages from junior executive to director. That helped me learn the different skill sets needed for different levels. It was also a good opportunity to build up a network of support with other professionals, such as lawyers and IT colleagues, within the group.

The importance of influence

To be a good leader it’s important to have a vision of where you want your team to go and what you want to achieve. That vision is easier to achieve if you have good influential and communication skills.

'Women more easily step into others’ shoes
and see things from their perspective'

I believe women tend to be better than men at exerting influence, as we can more easily step into other people’s shoes and see things from others’ perspectives. Men tend to be more subjective and can’t always understand other people’s way of thinking. 

Stay positive

Commitment and a positive attitude are important to achieve your career ambitions. Always be optimistic – although you may be in a difficult situation now, when you look back it will seem like a piece of cake.