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You won’t reach the top if you don’t set your sights high enough

Published on Saturday, 21 Nov 2015

Five years ago, while trekking in Nepal, I met a talented young woman who was at a crossroads in her career. After training as an actuary in the UK, she rose quickly to become vice-president of a major financial services group in China. But she still hadn’t found her calling.

Five years on, she has a remarkable story to tell – one that will resonate with anyone eager to make an impact on the world.

At 39, Helen Hai is a goodwill ambassador for the United Nations Industrial Development Organisation, advising presidents and speaking at the World Economic Forum. 

She has two powerful messages for future leaders. First, your horizons are as wide as the identity you define for yourself. Second, your academic training is just the foundation – build on it by cultivating the leadership qualities of curiosity, determination and engagement.

Not long after we met, she took a job opening a factory in Ethiopia for one of China’s largest shoe manufacturers – despite having no experience in manufacturing or Africa. 

Demonstrating her determination as a leader, Hai built several production lines and a skilled and motivated workforce. The factory expanded rapidly, doubling Ethiopia’s shoe exports in six months and creating 4,000 jobs in two years. It put the country on the map as a global production base and caught the eye of global foundations.

She then founded the Made in Africa Initiative, which advises African governments about industrialisation. As its CEO, she uses her actuarial background to show how industrial development translates into GDP growth and combines this with well-honed engagement skills to win support from world leaders.

Do you want to make a difference in your career? Then follow Hai’s example and think big.

This article appeared in the Classified Post print edition as Read up, re-tool and you're ready to resume your career.

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