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A Word with Stephen Chang

Posted 14 June 2022 in EMpower News   |   Share


Stephen Chang is a Portfolio Manager at PIMCO and a member of EMpower’s Hong Kong Board of Directors. Recently he spoke with Cynthia Steele, EMpower’s President & CEO, about diversity and inclusion in the corporate world, current realities in Hong Kong, and more.

I wanted to start by getting your insights on diversity, equity, and inclusion because I know this to be a major priority at PIMCO and something that you yourself have been directly involved in. I'm interested to hear what it is that sparks your commitment to these issues.

I've been able to live in different parts of the world since my university days; I worked in the US and in the UK for a short while, and I spent the last close to 20 years in Asia. In each of the locations I’ve worked in, I’ve covered different countries for investments, many of them emerging markets. I get to see a global world in that sense. There are a lot of very smart people that I've met with diverse perspectives, and I genuinely believe that you need that kind of full picture to get the best results and to achieve high performance. People from different backgrounds, different experiences, and viewpoints all have something to offer. You can have a great debate and cover different points and data, and they can always add to the equation—even though at the end, you can make your own conclusion about what's best to do. I now serve as one of the inclusion and diversity council members at PIMCO. And from our perspective, we try to enhance our firm-wide strategy to further promote that feeling of inclusion, and to foster an environment where people feel that those diverse perspectives are valued very highly. We're pursuing different kinds of internal, as well as external, strategies to show our commitment. Along the way, I think there will be more connectivity between staff, clients, and our suppliers. All should feel a strong sense of belonging in this community.

You've been involved with EMpower for many years. I'm curious how your engagement with EMpower over all these years has shaped your view of corporates giving back? Because I know this is something you really believe in and champion.

I've lost track of how long I've been on EMpower's Hong Kong Board! But I still remember what intrigued me initially was the idea that as a finance professional—who has been traveling around many of these countries, and made my career by growing along with these emerging markets—I wanted to have a sense of shared success with the respective investments and people that I interacted with. I think this idea of prospering together also means that you want to be able to give back to areas that might need help so that the ecosystem and the general environment can be sustained and continue on the best track possible.

It's very, very exciting to see the continuous commitment and wide representation from many different firms in EMpower. To be able to interact with my industry peers on charity—outside of normal investment research—is something that we all feel an extra sense of common purpose and passion for. Many of my fellow board members are involving their respective firms in terms of this giving back, and I think all of us believe that this can create a type of virtuous cycle. In addition, there might be other networking effects: getting our families involved, maybe even getting our corporate colleagues to be able to contribute towards volunteering activities. For example, we have done pro-bono activities that my company can help with—it could be marketing expertise, or it could be just a situation where we can help problem solve, for my colleagues to give back in other areas where EMpower might need help.

One of the things that I think is so cool is that the people on our board—people who might be competitors in their professional lives—come together because they believe in what the community can do.

I was negotiating super hard with many of them before in the trading business, but when we come to a board meeting, we put ourselves into a different mode, wear a different hat to talk about something much, much closer to our hearts.

Exactly, that's so true. You and I were speaking earlier about travel and what it's like to live in Hong Kong. For those of us who keep up with the news but are not there, what should we be understanding about the current environment in Hong Kong?

This interview is taking place during my hotel quarantine, which is seven days after my arrival back into the city, and I have already gone through a number of tests. Hong Kong is still tougher than many other places in terms of COVID control given the more vulnerable older population in this city, with their vaccination rates still relatively low. Recently there has been a change where they shortened the quarantine policy from, in some cases, 21 days to seven days—so that certainly has made it easier for me to deal with. I think the city is trying to balance public health security versus opening for business. In the past, Hong Kong was one of the easiest destinations to travel in and out of. As a regular traveler, this was the first trip I have taken in two years—when I used to fly almost every single month.

People continue to try to adapt to virtual tools like Zoom—which we are speaking on. And Hong Kong generally can boast a reliable network and fast connection speed. I think the mood here is considerably more cautious about economic growth and about business prospects. But I do think we will see pent-up demand released when many of these restrictions come down, and we will see many activities resume in due course. Hopefully, this is a temporary phase.

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