Women’s Day Special: Celebrating leaders in alternative investments | Alternatives

In the lead-up to International Women’s Day on March 8, AsianInvestor spoke to a host of exceptional women in asset management across the region.

The global asset management industry is still highly male-dominated, yet there are some women who have made it to key leadership roles despite several challenges along the way.

Different paths, inspirations and philosophies have brought these women to where they are today. They are agents of change, and they exemplify empowerment, resilience and an industry undergoing deep transformation.

Today, we highlight three women of influence in the alternatives industry. This is the first story in a three-part series.

Speaking up and taking calculated risks have been instrumental in the career of Ng Chiang Ling, chief investment officer for Asia at alternatives investment manager Hines.

Trained as an electronics engineer, Ng now manages Hines’ Asia Pacific real estate portfolio exceeding $7.7 billion.

Her advice to women looking for careers in investment: the journey is by no means an easy one and everyone needs to be their own strongest advocate to be heard.

She recalls one defining moment in her long journey to CIO. During her initial years at an investment bank in Japan, she found her job anything but thrilling. “I was pricing loans, day in and day out,” Ng told AsianInvestor.

Eventually, she decided to let her boss know.

“I felt I was getting the same stuff to work on repeatedly, but I also knew that I had established the trust of my boss. So, one night, I just walked into his office, looked him in the eye and simply said ‘I’m bored’,” Ng said.  

To her relief, her manager told her that the message had been received and sent her back to her desk.

Ng Chiang Ling
Hines

“A couple of weeks later he called me on a Sunday night and said he had something for me and the following day I was on a plane to help him solve a problem in another location, and that is when my career really took a different trajectory.”

It was the start to a new and invigorating direction in her career path.

About 25 years on and Ng is now responsible for expanding Hines’ real estate footprint and investor outreach across the Asia Pacific.

Her journey has also seen her take on the CEO and CIO roles for M&G Real Estate and a managing director role with Goldman Sachs’ real estate private equity division.

Ng’s experience highlights the importance of speaking up, and with the right managers, change can happen.

CALCULATED RISKS

Gwyn Huang, senior director and head of transaction management at real estate consultancy CBRE Hong Kong, also recalls a similarly life-changing moment in her career, which happened during her first pregnancy.

She was offered a secondment role that presented entirely new challenges.

Despite the comfortable position she was in and the added commitment of starting a family, Huang decided to embrace the risk and step out of her comfort zone.

“This pivotal moment taught me the importance of stepping outside of my comfort zone, even during significant life events. It reinforced the notion that personal and professional growth often come from embracing new challenges and taking calculated risks,” Huang told AsianInvestor.

This experience, among others, solidified her belief in the power of maintaining a growth mindset despite external expectations about how her situation might limit her capabilities.

Gwyn Huang
CBRE

Huang has evolved into a seasoned real estate specialist, with a proven track record in evaluating overall portfolio strategies, managing best practices and advising on financial analysis

GENDER ADVANTAGE

Taking effective decisions has also been a hallmark of private markets specialist Soojin Lee, managing director at Macquarie Asset Management.

Lee’s journey in the high-stakes world of investment commenced in 2008 when Macquarie, which has around $33.2 billion in assets allocated to Asia, welcomed her aboard.

Her career has been predominantly based in South Korea, where the glass ceiling is notoriously unyielding, so Lee’s rise is far from conventional.

“Korea is the lowest ranked country in the glass-ceiling index for more than 10 consecutive years—29th among 29 OECD countries,” Lee told AsianInvestor.  

She has had more than her fair share of being in large meetings and being the lone woman in the room.

“15 years ago, when I met with external counterparties, I got comments on numerous occasions that it was their first time discussing ‘business matters’ with a woman!”

Today, the veteran investor oversees the asset manager’s Korean Private Equity Fund and contributes to the Korea and Asia Infrastructure funds.

She is one of the most senior women in Macquarie’s Asset Management business in Asia after group CEO for Asia Verena Lim.

Along with Korea, Japan is also considered relatively difficult for women employees.

Ng’s experience is no exception: when working at the investment bank in Japan, she admits she found the work environment quite isolating and often felt left out as her male colleagues built rapport through shared interests involving the latest sporting event or bars they frequented.

“There are other ways to build trust though,” said Ng. “I worked hard to become recognised as a good partner, somebody that’s responsible, that delivers and puts out fires.”

Macquarie’s Lee was fortunate to work under more forward-thinking mentors and finds the company’s appreciation for diversity empowering for her career.

Soojin Lee
Macquarie Asset
Management

“Over time, I came to realise that my gender is an advantage rather than disadvantage, because I could be more easily remembered among many businesspeople, and I was better able to manage challenging situations and tough negotiations more smoothly leading successful outcomes for all parties,” said Lee.

These successful women have learnt to push against adverse work conditions — and prevail.

LEADERSHIP FOR THE FUTURE

Women in alternatives, nevertheless, work predominantly under male leaders and it’s understandable that their leadership styles have evolved around that industry experience,

For CBRE’s Huang, that has led to a strong belief in placing the team above individuals.

“I place a strong emphasis on teamwork rather than individualistic leadership,” she told AsianInvestor.

Her perspective is rooted in her observations of the highly competitive male-dominated landscape and the “drawbacks of excessive individual competition” early in her career.

This leadership strategy has not only proven successful for Huang and her team but also reflects a broader shift in leadership approaches across the industry.

“Initially, the industry was predominantly led by male expatriates, with limited diversity and localisation. However, over time, I have observed a significant shift towards a more diverse and localised landscape,” said Huang.

Huang remains positive about the future of the investment industry and the momentum towards inclusive change.

“In recent years, there has been a remarkable increase in the representation of women and local professionals in leadership positions within the industry. This shift has brought about fresh perspectives, varied skill sets, and a more inclusive environment,” she said.

¬ Haymarket Media Limited. All rights reserved.




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