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Intercontinental and transcultural

Published on Friday, 11 May 2012
Eleni Wang
Head of global client management Asia-Pacific, BNY Mellon
Photo: Jonathan Wong

Eleni Wang’s childhood was spent in a city that had been where East met West for centuries. It therefore seemed appropriate for  BNY Mellon’s Asia-Pacific head of global client management to take her subsequent university education and career back and forth between two of the world’s  greatest economic hubs.

“I grew up in Istanbul, Turkey, a very historic and multicultural city,” explains Wang. “And that really exposed me to people of many different nationalities, cultures and backgrounds.”

At 18, she headed for the United States, where her lifelong appreciation of the value of education was forged. “I attended Harvard as a foreign student on a full scholarship and I am forever grateful to Harvard and its donors for changing my life,” she says.

After four years in Boston, she moved to New York to study international finance and economic development at Columbia University, before joining McKinsey’s Financial Institutions Practice.

“Between 1984 and 1988, I travelled on behalf of McKinsey and worked with different companies in Hong Kong, Japan, Taiwan and Singapore. That was my first exposure to Asia, and I thought a whole wide world had opened up to me,” Wang says.

“I had always been interested in economic development and international finance and it soon became very clear to me that financial institutions have a major role to play in the economic development of countries,” she adds. “Each country in Asia is at a different stage of development and the capital markets play a big role in raising funds for companies, and also for managing the savings that individuals have.”

After six years back in New York with Bankers Trust, she was posted full-time to Hong Kong in 1993 and has been here ever since, filling senior roles in a range of companies.

Wang’s feelings for her adopted home obviously run deep. “Hong Kong is a wonderful place to be based and to do business from. I just love the people, the food and the multicultural aspects. And I also very much enjoy the opportunities for outdoor activities. In half an hour, you can be on a beach or  hiking trail.”

Which is just as well, given the demands of Wang’s work for BNY Mellon’s investment management and investment services businesses. 

“I typically start out working from home at 6.30 in the morning, talking to my teams in Australia, before rolling into Japan and Korea on my way into the office,” she says. “My day ends at around midnight and before then I will try to swim or go to the gym. I might also have a dinner with clients or colleagues, and have to make some conference calls.

“I travel almost every other week as my portfolio now includes 16 different markets from India to Australia and New Zealand, and I very much like to be close to our clients in each of these markets, and working alongside our people,” she adds.

“What really gives me a lot of energy and satisfaction is to combine the work and mentoring aspects of what I do. We have a very well structured mentoring programme for our employees.”

Wang is also heavily involved in  some of BNY Mellon’s broader initiatives in the  region. “One of these is our Women’s Initiatives Network (WIN), which started as a resource for the career advancement of women and has evolved over the past several years into a platform for diversity and inclusion,” she says.

Both of Wang’s parents were teachers and through their work – and through her own experience at Harvard – she came to appreciate the sort of impact education can have on lives. “If it wasn’t for my scholarship, I would have never been able to attend university in the US,” she says.

And, despite her own workload, Wang strives to give others a helping hand when it comes to their studies. “About eight years ago, I started working with Room to Read, which is a major NGO promoting child literacy in some of the most impoverished parts of the globe,” she says. “In memory of my parents, I endowed a school in Sri Lanka after the civil war ended, and I’ve donated to libraries in Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, Bangladesh, Nepal and India.”

Wang chairs  the English Schools Foundation’s Bradbury School, and is president of the Harvard Club of Hong Kong, which last year distributed Harvard Book Prizes to 122 secondary schools.

But how does she keep on top of all this “extra-curricular” activity? “Typically, I map out my calendar six months in advance and all of these commitments will be structured into my schedule,” she says. “I treat my community activities as part of what I do and equally as important as work. I just love working with and motivating people.” 

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