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28 December 2016

A World Without Comfort Zone

Daisy Cheng (MBA 1981) is the former Hong Kong Managing Director of BNP Paribas Bank. After more than three decades in the financial sector, she retired from the frontline a few years ago to start a new exciting chapter of her life. Daisy is grateful to be a lucky baby boomer who enjoyed the dividend of the post-World War II global economic miracle. It is in stark contrast to the tough environment that the new generation faces nowadays. She advises young people to think out of the box and embrace the challenges and opportunities that come with the Internet era. They should also have foresight to make good life planning as the average life expectancy is getting longer and longer. It is definitely not hard to see how life experience and wisdom go hand-in-hand with Daisy.

Daisy (1st row, 1st from left) as the class monitor of her MBA class

MBA Study Leads to Decades of Devotion to Financial Sector

Sipping a cup of Dancong tea, a favourite among Teochew people like her, Daisy recollects her two-year full-time MBA life in the Central tea house she opened after retirement. “With a bachelor’s degree in English, the normal career options were either teaching or working as civil servant. I didn’t like either. I eventually became the personal assistant to the chairman of a real estate company. Every day I accompanied my boss to inspect construction sites and handle his business and private matters. I was so green at that time. I didn't know a thing about business contracts or financial statements. Just as I was feeling inadequate, a friend returned to Hong Kong after finishing an MBA in the United States, and encouraged me to apply to the sole business school in Hong Kong at that time. That was how I ended up back in school pursuing a full time MBA degree.”

Daisy says getting an MBA wasn’t as popular back then. There were only about 30 students in the class. Some still get together for dinner from time to time. Friendships are one of the best things that came out of the experience.

Daisy opened a tea house after retirement. She showcases a calligraphy piece bearing the name of her tea house Salao de Riso gifted by a famous Chinese doctor/calligrapher during the interview.

Daisy is grateful to be a post-WWII baby boomer. As nations were eager to rebuild and birth rates were high, the global economic growth skyrocketed and opportunities popped up everywhere. “My generation was very lucky. Jobs came to us, not the other way round, when we graduated.” Opportunities knocked on her door when Citibank and Bank of America held campus recruitment interviews just as she finished her MBA. Daisy jumped at her first offer. Little did she know a spur-of-the-moment decision would land her a three-decade career in the financial sector.

She has served in global financial organisations such as Citibank and BNP Paribas and worked in different departments and with different products over the years. From corporate financing to credit rating, investment banking to private banking, and Hong Kong to the Greater China markets, she has mastered them all. She has picked up professional skills such as credit analysis, market risk management and wealth management. In a front row seat, she witnessed the most prosperous and glorious time of the Hong Kong financial sector.

Daisy and her MBA classmates compete in an inter-collegiate tug-of-war contest on CUHK campus

Exiting from the Comfort Zone to
Get Ready for the New Internet Era

Although Daisy has spent half her life in the financial sector, she warned her daughter to think twice before following her footsteps (note: her daughter did eventually become a Goldman Sachs banker) because she did not think that the financial sector will ever return to its former glory. “The 2008 Lehman Brothers saga triggered a worldwide financial crisis. It has shaken investors’ confidence in banking investment products that generate paper gains. Investors now opt for tangible assets such as real estate, precious stones, private jets and art work. On top of the excessive government regulations, banking services are under quite a few constraints.”

She points out that the Internet and information technology have rapidly changed the world and challenged many traditional sectors including finance. “People used to put their money in the bank but now money is transferred to the accounts of different electronic payment institutions. People used to get loans from the bank for their business. Now they raise funds from crowdfunding sites. These functions continue to lessen the traditional role of banks and lead to the loss of jobs. Bank tellers are a notable example.”

Daisy, an MBA elite mentor, is happy to meet with her mentee at a Chinese New Year gathering.

To adapt to the new era, Daisy thinks people should prepare themselves by letting go of the existing safety net. “In the past, people preferred working for large corporations for job security. Some even spent their whole life working for the same company,
but these days the bigger the company, the bigger the risk because a ‘big elephant’ can’t adapt to changes fast enough. Safety nets no longer exist. Everyone should continue to learn in order to keep up with the fast pace. Young people should break free from traditional mindsets and develop skills irreplaceable by computers to avoid becoming obsolete.”

Daisy has been a mentor of the CUHK Business School’s MBA Elite Mentorship Program since 2007. Other than giving back to her alma mater, she hopes to learn from young people and understand their world and thoughts. Thanks to her children and youngsters, she has been introduced to social media like Facebook and Instagram.

Daisy has picked up photography in the past few years. She shares the anecdotes from a photography trip to Inner Mongolia during the interview.

A New and Exciting Life
Awaits at Retirement

Another reason for Daisy to believe that people should keep on learning is the increasing life expectancy of humans. Due to medical advancements and the accessibility of health information and exercise apps, humans now live longer than ever. People should be mentally prepared that they probably will have multiple jobs in a lifetime. They should make early financial, health and spiritual plans for the decades to come after retirement.

Daisy takes herself as an example. She has acquired two professional certificates soon after retiring a few years ago: Certificate of Family Business Advisory and Certificate of Family Wealth Advisory from the Family Firm Institute of the United States. She is qualified to offer advisory services on family business management and family wealth succession. Along with a few friends, she has also set up a non-profit organisation — The Hong Kong Institute of Business Ethics and Sustainability. Through talks and research, it promotes ethical business practices for sustainable development of a business. Her tea house serves as a spot for her to host tea tasting sessions and chat with friends and business associates. In addition to that, she has recently become a member of the CUHK MBA 50th Anniversary Gala Dinner Organising Committee. Keeping herself busy is her secret to happiness.

Legend has it that seasoned tea oil inside a teapot makes tea even more aromatic, so much that it releases a pleasant fragrance even without having tea inside. The same idea should also apply to life experience and wisdom.

Video ― Messages from Our Alumni

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