Millennials Are Our Force Of Change, Says Banyan Tree's Claire Chiang

Wealth & Giving

April 2, 2018 | BY Karishma Tulsidas

Responsible for pioneering Banyan Tree Holdings' retail business, Claire Chiang is the co-founder and senior vice president of the international hospitality brand. She is also a staunch advocate of sustainability, which she champions through Banyan Tree Global Foundation, as well as women's rights.

What are the best and worst decisions you’ve ever made?
Claire Chiang (CC) The best decision was to postpone my honours degree offer from the University of Singapore at 23 years old to enrol in Paris Sorbonne University’s Chinese-French-English translation programme. There, I discovered my Chinese Singaporean roots and met so many Asean sisters. The feeling of being labelled “Asian”, “Southeast Asian”, “Chinese” and “Singaporean” sharpened my sense of identity in the mixed French community. The Paris sojourn lifted my mind and heart to being “Chinese” and accelerated my re-learning of the Chinese language.

This skill-set got me a  translation and administrative job in French Embassy while completing my honours degree at the then-University of Singapore. There, I experienced early on the privilege of work-time flexibility without having to give up my academic aspirations. And today, the flair for the Chinese language I acquired has helped me in my business development role in China.

The worst decision was to have invested money with banker friends who I wanted to support without understanding what the investment was all about. The friendship soured because of disappointment and guilt. 

(Related: 10 Women Who Are Shaping Singapore

What was your dream job as a child?
CC I wanted to be a teacher. During my O and A Levels, and even when I was in university, I did relief teaching in various schools to earn a little income. I also wanted to be a nurse, being inspired by Florence Nightingale because I loved biology. However, my parents discouraged me because they considered nursing a hard and unrewarding vocation.

In your opinion, what characteristics have made you a successful leader? 
CC I am a doer. I see an opportunity, I pursue it, and try to realise it. If I see a problem, I raise it and solve it. This continual effort of presenting an idea, developing a plan, executing an outcome, and improving work in progress has become a journey of achieving small wins every day. Through practice, I have gained experience and confidence in managing my emotions when tackling situations, people and differences.

What do you think is the most significant barrier to female leadership?
CC Our numbers are not large enough to become a tipping point to create a forceful impact. We have to continually raise the visibility of women by supporting each other in a strategic intentional way. The millennial generation of women who aspire to be their own bosses will be the rising force of change and a silent revolution has begun. 

What is your vision for Banyan Tree? 
CC To create a brand that lasts for hundreds of years, and that our grandchildren and generations after will continue the legacy by serving as responsible stewards of what we have created.

(Related: Claire Chiang and Ho Kwon Ping share their definitions of success)

What do you consider your biggest weakness?
CC My inability to drive and my claustrophobia. 

What is the key to finding a successful work-life balance?
CC Take a longer perspective in defining success by aligning what matters in life with what works and don't give up on finding the solutions for achieving self bits, work bits, marriage bits, family bits and community bits.

The composition of various “bits”  at work and in life consistently and incrementally executed help you learn to optimise time and resources to “have it all.”

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