Career Advice Working Women

Global perspective

The many tasks of Wal-Mart’s Erica Chan span the width of the world

Erica Chan's relaxed demeanour belies the seemingly endless list of responsibilities that comes with her job as senior vice-president and general counsel at Wal-Mart Asia. These include dealing with corporate transactions, joint ventures, compliance, risk analysis, real estate, merchandising, dispute resolution and general management - among others. "Our job touches on every single business unit; we are on the front line, working with other units to make things happen. We are part of the decision-making process," she says.

Connecting the US headquarters with businesses in China, India and Japan, Chan begins her day by reading the news on her Blackberry before leaving home, and sometimes also taking conference calls.

Chan and her team of more than 40 lawyers and four general counsels must respond swiftly to events in the global markets. "Things happen during the night in the US, and in the morning it's about our Asian markets … we have to react very quickly," she says.

The rest of her day entails meetings with management, phone calls with lawyers, video conferences with her Asia team, and late-night video conferences with the US.

Chan's 13 years at Star TV in Hong Kong as general counsel for Greater China and general manager has helped in her current position. "The job allowed me to see the growth of an Asia-Pacific business over a long time, including the localisation of an international business. Working with international talent helps to broaden your perspective," she says.

The experience also taught Chan how to stay cool. The secret is not to get upset about small things, but keep the big picture in mind, she says.

Chan believes delegation is the best way to deal with her heavy workload. She accepts that one person cannot do everything and has to be open-minded enough to ask for assistance. Hiring talented teammates also gives her more time to work on big-picture strategies. She has found this applies to her home life as well, where she relies on the support of her family to take care of her children.

Leaving the office by 6pm, she is able to spend some time with her children and supervise the preparation of their homework, before attending to late-night calls with the US two to three times per week.

"Having to travel constantly and being away from the kids is not easy. The support and understanding of your husband or partner and family is an important factor in helping women find work-life balance. I'm grateful to have a very supportive husband, who is also a lawyer and helps me a lot in taking care of our three young kids," she says, adding that he keeps her grounded. "He reminds me of what I should be doing as a mother, wife and person."

Wal-Mart's family-friendly policies are another great help. "The culture at Wal-Mart is very supportive of family and children. Wal-Mart's Global Women's Economic Empowerment Initiative has helped to change the lives of women, including close to 90,000 of our female associates and over 20,000 women in Asia [through] sharing sessions and mentoring programmes. Some of our successes include an increase in the number of women in director-level positions and above from 43 per cent to 50 per cent in China last year," she says.


Erica Chan suggests ways of coping with a hectic schedule.
Don’t sweat the details “Learn how to relax and not get too worked up about everything – keep the big picture in mind.”
There’s more to life “Prioritise things in your life other than work. Work is not the total of your life – relax and be happy.”
Have some ‘me’ time “Try to achieve a balance between family and working life. Spend time with your family and leave some time for yourself and friends.”
Negate the negatives “Maintain a positive and optimistic outlook.”
Life is a journey “Let go of your ego and keep learning and improving.”