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Nov 2010

Case study: Theresa Chan, Warner Bros

Theresa Chan is the corporate finance director for Warner Bros in Hong Kong.

Theresa Chan, corporate finance director

In this interview, she speaks about how she has achieved her career success.

Striking the right balance

As a working mother with two children, maintaining a good work-life balance is a constant challenge. Both work and children demand lots of time, energy and resources, and I often feel as though I’m doing two or three demanding full-time jobs at the same time.

When I feel I can’t fulfil my commitment to work, to my children or my family I can get a little stressed, and keeping my emotions under control can be challenging. I also have to make sure I don’t bring stress back from work to home.

To manage the balance, I have to have very good time management and planning skills and to make sure I don’t let work pile up. Getting lots of family support is also important. For example, I rely on my husband to look after the children if I need to focus on urgent or unplanned tasks.

I also get up very early in the morning so I can get to work for 7am. This means I’m usually able to leave work on time so that I can at least see my children before they go to bed.

Keeping up to date

The demands of work and family can make it hard to find time to keep up with rapidly changing accounting standards and new regulations. Instead of attending seminars, which can be very time consuming, I keep abreast of what’s going on by reading professional magazines and newspapers and undertaking online training.

Managing the requirement to travel

Travelling is another barrier for many women, especially in Asia. With increasing globalisation, it’s difficult to find a job with good career prospects that doesn’t require travel. My job does entail some travel but it’s not too frequent and I have managed to find staff who are willing to travel, allowing me to remain in Hong Kong.

'The balance between job, family
and personal aspirations works well'

In order to achieve a position on the board, I might have to relocate and this isn’t something I want to do. The balance between my job, my family and my personal aspirations works quite well for me at the moment, and I’m quite happy with what I’m doing now.

The challenges of working in Asia

Both China and India are fast growing economies so there are lots of opportunities, but both these countries are very male dominated. This means women have to work extra hard to establish themselves.

I know that some women in Asia receive less compensation than men for the same job. I haven’t experienced this personally, and this is part of the reason I’ve chosen to remain with the same company for the past 14 years.

Following in the footsteps of role models

A mentor can be very helpful and save you a lot of work, especially if they know you well and can talk to you openly about your strengths and weaknesses – things that can be hard to notice in yourself. It’s also good to have a mentor to talk to if you feel tired and stressed at work. Particularly when you’re high up the ladder, it can get a little bit lonely sometimes.

I don’t have an official mentor but I do have one or two role models that I always refer to and see as good examples to follow. For example, the reason I did the CIMA qualification was following in the footsteps of the finance director I worked for in London, who got the CIMA qualification and then an MBA.

As well as mentors, female networks that allow women to meet and learn from each other can be really helpful. Hearing the success stories and advice of other women is very inspiring.

Staying positive and keeping healthy

In order to succeed, it’s important for women to be confident and believe that they’re just as capable as men. Remember that you will be judged by what you deliver, not your gender, and recognition will be given to those people who continuously contribute and bring new ideas and insight to the company.

It’s also important to stay positive – focus on the possibilities and don’t get hung up on difficulties. When you’re faced with a problem, think of all those ‘mission impossibles’ in the past that you eventually managed to complete, and you’ll realise that you can overcome the current problem, too.

'You will be judged by
what you deliver, not your gender' 

I think career advancement is a lifelong process so it has to be sustainable. You need a good balance between physical health, mental health and social health. You need good physical health because you need a high level of energy to deliver results. You need social health to keep yourself happy and you need mental health to help you think positively and survive stress and pressure at work.

A participative, approachable leadership style

A good leader has to know where they are going and how to lead others to get there. You need to demonstrate that you’re firm in your beliefs, be positive all the time, be a good listener, and be approachable and open to feedback.

My management style is open and participative – I delegate a lot of work to my team and give them the opportunity to take the lead so they can stretch themselves. I build up to this gradually - you can’t just throw a big project at them on day one. Once they start taking the lead, this builds up their confidence to do even more.

Men and women have complementary strengths

I believe men and women have different strengths that can complement each other in the workplace. For example, men tend to see things in the bigger context, whereas women can see things in finer detail. Women in general are more sensitive to others feelings, more cooperative, better at multi-tasking, better organised, and more able to take criticism without defensiveness.

As women, we should focus on our strengths and find ways to work with men. Instead of seeing each other as competing, it’s good to see men and women as complementing each other.

If we focus on improving ourselves, maintaining good relationships with colleagues, enjoy our work and continue to drive the business towards greater success, then working together with men we can all be champions.