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People before PCs

Published on Saturday, 26 Jul 2014
Photo: Gary Mak

HP managing director Cally Chan leads with a softer style, writes Jolene Otremba.

Information technology is one industry where women have traditionally struggled to break through the proverbial glass ceiling. In a report released by The Women’s Foundation earlier this year, a survey of 57 Hong Kong companies showed that 88 per cent of IT directors were male. 

The achievements of Cally Chan, managing director of Hewlett-Packard (HP) Hong Kong, can therefore be an inspiration to women considering a career in information and computer technology (ICT). “I am indeed the first female MD for HP in Hong Kong,” says Chan, who is responsible for overall revenues and profitability, business operations and driving HP’s leadership in Hong Kong and Macau. “This is something that has made me proud.” 
And Chan has much to be proud of. Aside from her high-profile 24-year career at HP, she was awarded the country manager of the year award for Asia-Pacific and Japan last year, and is the only Asian female to be on HP’s global diversity and inclusion board. In 2003, she was also responsible for the development of HP’s IT consulting business in Shenzhen and its e-security centre in Hong Kong, which has gained significant visibility and momentum in the region. 

Chan has also earned recognition outside of her company. This includes being appointed a member and adviser of the Hong Kong government’s Digital 21 committee, which sets out the blueprint for the ICT industry in Hong Kong, and being on the Hong Kong Computer Society’s board to promote diversity in the IT workforce. 

While her achievements are largely down to her abilities, she says being a woman in a largely male-dominated workplace has also helped her to approach problems differently. “Being a female leader is an advantage, as I have a softer side in my approach that’s more caring and attentive,” she says. “When I fix a problem, I try to understand the problems of the people first, before attending to the technical problems.”

Chan says her approach to leadership is quite different to some of her predecessors. “Some of them had a leadership style like a brotherhood, but because I’m different, and I have my own characteristics, I try to leverage on my strengths to create my own leadership style.” 

She says this is one of the most important things she has learnt in her career. “There’s a lot of training and books about leadership, but don’t try to change yourself and copy what people are doing. You have to have your own characteristics.” 

This individualistic streak is in fact how Chan got into the industry in the first place. As a young girl, she was always interested in mathematics and decided to go into the science stream during secondary school. Then, as there weren’t many career options for mathematics majors at the time, she decided to do computer studies at university. “I didn’t want to be a teacher … and since computer science was such a hot subject, I had three job offers before I even graduated,” she says.

She adds the she has always felt lucky in her career, because she was able to have pursued a profession in something that she had an interest in, was good at and for which had strong market demand. As a mother of two teenage boys, she says that she has also been fortunate in having great family support. Her husband, for example, used to take her to work and pick her up when she needed to do systems upgrades in the middle of the night at remote locations. 

“My customers used to joke that it was great, as they would buy one and get two,” she says. “But it’s a good example of the importance of having some family support and your other half understanding your career needs.” 

Chan says her biggest realisation about her professional and personal life is that a woman has to wear many hats – that of a mother, a professional, and everything else that a job and household demands. However, she is keen to encourage female talent to join the IT workforce. 

“If you look at the world population, it is more than 50 per cent female. So from a company’s perspective, if you are providing a service or product to a customer, your company should reflect a similar demographic to your customer base. Otherwise how can you understand the customer?” 

She says that the reason why the industry lacks women boils down to the fact that there are not enough female role models. She hopes that she can be an inspiration for other women who are interested in joining the industry. 

“When you look at your career in a company, it’s not about how high you have got in the organisation, but what you have accomplished,” she says. “I hope to create more value for the company, for the community and the customer.” 


Program your own leadership style

Cally Chan shares four career lessons she has learnt on her way to the top.

Be more than a boss “A manager is just a formal role or title, but a leader is someone who can influence people and create value.” 
Go your own way “Different people have different leadership styles. Don’t just copy other people’s styles – look at what your strength is and develop your own.” 
Start from home “A direct link exists between individuals and the larger society. If you want to be successful in your career, a starting point is to take care of your family and individuals.” 
Make a difference “Success is not just measured by how far you have climbed in your career and in your company, but what have you done for the community.”


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