Inspiring Women Leaders

A Journey to the table

An interview with Chien Chien Wong, CEO for Singapore and COO for Asia Pacific at Credit Suisse

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A JOURNEY TO THE TABLE​

An interview with Chien Chien Wong, CEO for Singapore and COO for Asia Pacific, Credit Suisse

Veteran banker Chien Chien Wong’s passion for seeing the world has led to a career that spans continents and roles. But the one journey that may have been the most challenging for her, and one that required her to learn to believe in her own value, was getting a seat at the table.

“Learning to be taken seriously is something other female managing directors taught me,” says Credit Suisse’s Chief Executive Officer for Singapore and Chief Operating Officer for Asia Pacific. She has spent the bulk of her career as a COO and has worked through many complex situations with conflicting interests. That has led her to embrace honesty and a principled approach as a business leader.

“It’s important going into a meeting that when you do not agree with something, you have to make it a point to raise it and do it in a constructive way with solutions,” she says.

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Chien Chien is purpose driven – always pursuing meaningful partnerships with people right across the organization, sharing those values. She has always been a culture carrier who is meticulous and professional in all she does. She challenges herself to lean in, use her voice and try new things. Having her perspective has added value to me and the management team, helping us to take in a diverse set of input in order to come to the best outcome.”

Helman Sitohang, CEO for Asia Pacific, Credit Suisse, through end-May 2022, describes Chien Chien as purpose driven.

What were some of the formative events in your career?

After I had moved to Credit Suisse First Boston, first in Internal Audit then in the Legal and Compliance department, the bank was looking for a Chief Operating Officer for the Emerging Markets Group in Asia. It was a very prestigious and demanding job, and the role was typically occupied by someone from our head office rather than by someone locally. I also knew my manager was applying, so I ruled myself out as I thought I would not be qualified. But the Global Head of Emerging Markets came to Asia to interview all the different candidates whilst attending a number of management meetings. I happened to be in one of those meetings and provided constructive solutions to an issue that impressed him. He asked me to his office and told me he was putting me in the running for the COO position alongside the rest of the candidates, including my manager. After going through a series of interviews, I got the job, partly because I had been working with the team and the regulators on a number of business propositions and license applications, and I have a strong understanding of risk and controls. I was qualified after all!

The COO role was my first exposure to the real business side of the Bank. I trained under some of the best and most experienced fixed income leaders, and I have never looked back. They gave me a lot of opportunities to excel, including the opportunity to work in New York on our Latin America franchise expansion. I recalled some of the colleagues asking the Global Head of Emerging Markets why an Asian woman, who did not speak Spanish, was selected to lead the project. I was selected because I had the relevant experience of opening bank branches in Asia. This experience was highly transferable and valuable for this stage of the project. Working in the US was a great experience for me; it exposed me to different perspectives such as the size of business in Asia versus in the US, markets, products, people, culture, regulations and so on. Additionally, one very important piece of advice I received from the Global Head of Emerging Markets was that I needed to be more assertive and to speak up so that my views were heard. This is one piece of advice that has stayed with me and that I will always share with my female colleagues – prepare for the meeting, don’t be shy, speak up and come up with constructive solutions – this is how you earn a seat at the table.
This is one piece of advice that has stayed with me… prepare for the meeting, don’t be shy, speak up and come up with constructive solutions – this is how you earn a seat at the table.

What were some of the challenges you faced along the way?

My career has been defined by mobility and change. Embracing change is not always easy. There are personal sacrifices that need to be made. Whenever I move to a new country, even while working for the same bank, I still need to adjust to the new environment. Though there were moments that I would second guess myself, once I got over the transition period, I have always been thankful that I have made what I believed was the right decision to embrace important changes and to gain new experiences.

As women play a variety of roles in life – mother, wife, daughter and working professional – change will require more considerations. In the modern world, it is important that women discuss their ambitions with their partners and families and work out an amicable arrangement between family and work. Don’t be shy to negotiate with your families and your workplace, and don’t be shy to ask for help.

What are some of the more important lessons you’ve learned?

Building a strong network of friends at work is crucial – supportive colleagues help me to overcome difficult situations and bounce back. They also make the work environment so much more interesting.

Active participation in a meeting and keeping a good audit trail to ensure issues are resolved in a timely and effective manner. Set aside the personal agenda and think strategically for the organisation. This is how we can add value.

A diverse team helps us to make better decisions.

What are the challenges facing the financial sector today?

The Singapore government has done an excellent job of developing Singapore into an international financial centre. As we are a small country, it is very important to continue to invest in Singapore’s core. It is also important to leverage foreign talents to help develop the requisite skillsets locally, so that we can continue to build a sophisticated workforce to meet new demands.

How do we build resilient organisations?

Strong and efficient corporate governance is key. This means setting the appropriate criteria and processes and procedures around governing our organisation and selecting key management positions, including on relevant boards and other governance forums. Equally important is ensuring that we retain a diverse team of the very best and experienced personnel and management who can provide strong leadership, management, and strategic thinking and guidance. It also means following the appropriate governance processes and procedures to ensure that salient issues and matters are reviewed, escalated and decided upon at the appropriate levels within our governance structure in a timely manner.

People and talent – this is the most important asset of any company. Having a strong talent strategy so that we can attract, retain and train our workforce is key. Diversity and inclusion play a critical role in doing that.

When it comes to sustainability, I think we need to raise a lot more awareness. Every company should have an environmental, social and governance strategy to drive positive change with investors, clients, employees and the general public. This will make the company more resilient over time.

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Chien Chien Wong is a Managing Director at Credit Suisse. She is the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) for Singapore, as well as the Chief Operating Officer (COO) for the Asia Pacific (APAC) region.

As Credit Suisse’s CEO for Singapore, Chien Chien has oversight responsibilities of the Wealth Management, Investment Bank and Asset Management businesses and regulatory activities in Singapore. As COO for the APAC region, she works with the business divisions and corporate functions and drives a holistic perspective of regional and country strategies, investment priorities, infrastructure deliveries, governance framework and risk culture.

She also sits on a number of key regional and group committees at Credit Suisse, including the global Purpose, Value and Culture Committee, APAC Operating Committee and APAC Risk Committee. She also chairs the APAC Managing Director Promotion Committee.

Chien Chien joined Credit Suisse First Boston in 1992 and has since taken on a number of leadership roles in operations, legal and compliance, and internal audit.

Chien Chien was born and raised in Singapore, and has also worked in New York, Hong Kong, Tokyo and Taipei. She received her Accountancy degree with honours from the National University of Singapore, and is a Certified Public Accountant.

The Council for Board Diversity (CBD) believes that board diversity catalyses robust governance and responsible stewardship, and is a valuable driver for growth.

Having diversity in the board brings together the diversity of judgement to chart the best course through uncertainty, challenge, opportunities and risks – applicable to both for-profit and non-profit organisations. The mix of knowledge, skills, experience, gender, age and other relevant features is harnessed to devise strategy and manage its execution. Against this backdrop we believe that including women on boards, in particular, adds a powerful lead-in to the other forms of diversity that bring value to the board’s role in the company.

CBD, established by the Ministry of Social and Family Development, endeavours to promote a sustained increase in the number of women on boards of listed companies, statutory boards and non-profit organisations as a stepping stone to broader diversity.