Chameleon-like career choices |
Home > News & Advice > Working Women > Chameleon-like career choices

Chameleon-like career choices

Published on Friday, 04 Mar 2011
Edith Ngan Chan (third from left), hosting an Asia Society programme.
Photo: K.Y. Cheng and Nick Mak
Edith Ngan Chan, executive director, Asia Society.
Photo: K.Y. Cheng and Nick Mak

Edith Ngan Chan is executive director of the Asia Society, an organisation founded by the Rockefeller family in the United States in the post-war years to encourage understanding of Asian societies and strengthen Asia-US relations.

The New York-based group has more than 10 offices in the US and Asia, with the Hong Kong branch operating since 1990, and runs intellectual, artistic and cultural programmes.

"If I were to coin a success criterion for the Asia Society, it would be bringing cross-sectional interests and participation together," says Chan, who joined the organisation last year.

"That's what [we are] able to offer to our members - that whatever trade or profession they are in, they can come here to deepen as well as broaden."

Chan's day is mainly spent with her 10-person team, developing the society's programmes and meetings, and talking to sponsors and the media.

She is also working on the society's new centre, scheduled to open around the end of the year, and located in the former explosives magazine site in Admiralty.

A quick thinker and skilled speaker, Chan brings to the role unusually broad skill sets.

Her resume reads like the compiled resumes of several people and she is clearly not someone who sticks to her comfort zone.

After studying industrial engineering at Stanford University, she trained as a chartered accountant, worked for a non-profit group, moved to the mainland to work for a joint venture and then joined a hedge fund.

She sees her chameleon-like career choices as simply different parts of the jigsaw puzzle that is her life.

"When I talk about building my career, it's actually about expanding my horizons. It just gets wider and wider," she says.

Chan has brought her business expertise to the Asia Society, though in a different context, as the society is a non-profit organisation. "In a way, that's the element I brought in. They need to see that they are running a business as well. In business, the fundamental axiom is self-interest, to make profit. It's all about `me'. But when you're in a non-profit, it's actually about others, it's about something larger than yourself. You are irrelevant. It's totally refreshing."

Chan sees life as a holistic construction rather than an either/or model, and has achieved what she calls a "dynamic equilibrium" in her work and family life. That means seeing all of her life decisions in the context of her family, and their choices, she explains.

The family comprises husband Anthony, who is head of oncology at the Chinese University, son Ian, 18, who is studying in the US, and 15-year-old daughter Adrienne, who attends secondary school in Hong Kong.

Any free time is spent with the family, and Chan says her most relaxing moments are those spent chatting with her daughter. Holidays blend individual constraints with a shared goal, in line with Chan’s holistic approach. An imminent holiday, for example, involves her husband departing first, Chan following a week later, and daughter Adrienne three days after that.

“We’re all meeting together in California, where my son is studying,” she explains, adding that she combines other holidays with the search for a university for her daughter.

Her husband has been the centrepiece of her balanced life, Chan says.

"He's always been very supportive, and because I haven't had that burden of having to support the family, I've been able to take risks.

"I think a lot of people, nowadays, only look at the downside [of] risk, and forget about the upside. And if you live with fear, it's a totally different life than if you live life with passion."

Become our fans