Shirley Mentors Financial Executives to Reach Their Full Performance Potential
What’s your story?
I am a certified executive coach, corporate trainer and consultant for global banks and professional service organisations across Asia Pacific. I support executives, at all levels, to gain clarity in their career, and senior executives, to accelerate their development into key leadership positions.
No stranger to overcoming challenges and forging my own path, I was the first person in my family to go to university. I worked to pay my own way through two degrees and then started my career in IT at JP Morgan in London. Soon after, I moved to the trading floor on Wall Street. This was a huge cultural shift for me and, after gritting my teeth for a few months, I really enjoyed the challenge.
Since then, I’ve held regional and global leadership roles in London, Singapore and Hong Kong. Now, as a trusted advisor and trainer to individuals and organisations, I draw on my deep knowledge of the corporate culture, political landscapes and complex challenges that global banks and professional services organisations face, to facilitate real and meaningful growth and positive change.
What excites you most about your industry?
I’m passionate about developing inclusive global leaders and propelling women into leadership roles. When I started my Banking career, almost all leadership positions were held by white males. Women and minorities had to act like a white man to succeed, and senior female leaders were often childless. Times are changing and we’re seeing more and more examples of women being themselves, and thriving in their careers.
I used to run Global Diversity for a bank when it was a “side of desk” initiative. But now, I’m working with organisations that recognise the value of D&I and appreciate the business case for having a diverse workforce to service a diverse clientele. Many of my male clients, in senior positions, now ask me to help them develop as inclusive leaders, and to help them filter down inclusiveness throughout their organisations. My senior female clients are wanting to show up as role models for emerging female leaders. And my clients, like HSBC and EY, have valued the diversity and inclusion programmes that I’ve designed and delivered for them.
What’s your connection to Asia?
I was six months pregnant and working as Global Chief of Staff for IT at Barclays when I moved to Singapore. I immediately fell in love with the country, its people and warm climate. As a Scot, I’m used to rain most days of the year! When our daughter was two, we moved to Hong Kong and have now lived here for over nine years. I had my son here and he is now six. I set up Career Catalyst Group in 2017 to coach and train clients and organisations, and, in the same year, I took over running Back to Work Hong Kong to help men and women return to the workforce.
Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
It has to be Hong Kong. It’s so easy to set up and run a company here and people are so helpful. There are only one or two degrees of separation here, so I’m always connecting people to help them find jobs, mentors and to build their networks. Also, companies here are becoming more and more receptive to the need for experienced external coaches to develop their leaders. They want coaches who genuinely understand their business, and know exactly what’s going on in their industry, to better mentor and guide them to make the best decisions. I’m exactly where I need to be.
What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
During my time as Chief Operating Officer at a global bank, I worked with a highly dynamic and inspirational boss. I learned a great deal from him, and he valued my candid counsel, observations and advice. He trusted me, knowing that I was well attuned to what was going on within the organisation, and I would have the conversations with him that no one else would.
When he left the company, he wrote down my key contributions on a piece of paper that I still have today: Leading the people strategy, managing the politics, and acting as a trusted advisor to help leaders, like him, to succeed.
These are the skills that I’ve continued to hone over the years. As a performance coach to senior leaders, I have those candid conversations in a way that is welcomed and valued. Be it around diversity and inclusion, strengthening communications, and other key leadership traits, or overcoming personal habits that are getting in the way of professional success, I draw on my strengths to help my clients draw on theirs.
Who inspires you?
Jacinda Ardern, the Prime Minister of New Zealand. On a daily basis, she demonstrates that true leadership requires empathy, open and honest decision making, and really listening to the concerns of her people. She has run a country, dealt with a volcanic eruption, a terrorist attack, a pandemic, and has had a baby. She shows that it is entirely possible to have children and do a great job, and that men can equally succeed as the main caregivers. She is inspiring male and female leaders globally, and encourages girls to reach higher in their career aspirations. I use several of her examples in my “Getting Inclusion Right” workshops.
What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
At the moment, many of us have had the chance to step back and reflect on what is really important. For me, and many of my clients, it’s about maintaining relationships with families and friends. I love to see how organisations are now embracing working from home, even if they were reluctant to allow it in the past. They are recognising the value of giving their staff more freedom, and several of my clients have noted that productivity in their teams has actually increased.
Going forward, I believe companies will adopt more flexible work structures, connect better with their workforce, and promote inclusive leaders into more senior positions.
Organisations that have built an inclusive workforce have been shown in studies to have achieved up to an 80% improvement in business performance, demonstrating there is a strong business case for D&I, as well as it being the right thing to do.
If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
I am naturally a “glass is half-full” person, so I don’t look back with regret on any experiences. However, there were times in the past when I dwelt too much on events when something went wrong at work.
How do you unwind?
I enjoy hiking and take advantage of the amazing trails in Hong Kong. I also do 100k charity hikes for Just Challenge, raising money for Laureus Sport for Good. Last year’s hike was in South Africa and this year’s will hopefully be in December, in New Zealand.
I’m also a very committed singer, and have been lucky enough to sing in Carnegie Hall and the Lincoln Centre several times. Last year I was part of a choir that recorded Handel’s Messiah in Abbey Road Studios, in London, with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. That was definitely my singing highlight of the year!
Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
Thailand. My family loves the food, and the people are so kind and friendly. My children are desperate to go back there, so it will be our first destination once we are free to travel again. Going to places like Thailand makes us realise how much we take for granted in our lives in Hong Kong. One thing I focus on with my clients, especially those who are at a crossroads in their careers, or are out of work, is to list everything they are grateful for. Practicing gratitude is a small thing which can make a big difference to our mental health, especially during times like these.
Everyone in business should read this book:
I recommend two books:
“The Road Less Travelled: A New Psychology of Love, Traditional Values and Spiritual Growth,” by M. Scott Peck, M.D. I have read this book several times. It makes you think about how you live your life and about the decisions you make. It made me realize that I had to look at my life mission statement or, as Simon Sinek would say, my “Why.” I make sure that my “Why” is in alignment with “What” I choose to do. This way, when I look back, I know I’ve done the right thing and can be proud of what I have achieved.
“Who Moved My Cheese?” by Spencer Johnson, M.D. I have often given this book to people because it focuses on dealing with change in work and in life. It’s particularly relevant this year as we’re all dealing with change in all aspects of our lives. This book can be read by people of all ages, and I’m about to give it to my daughter before she starts secondary school in August.
Shameless plug for your business:
At Career Catalyst Group, we coach executives, at all levels, in gaining clarity, confidence and concrete leadership skills. We also mentor senior executives in accelerating their development into key positions, such as Managing Director or Partner.
We are particularly passionate about developing inclusive global leaders and propelling women into leadership roles. We design and deliver interactive workshops, including the widely lauded programmes “Getting Inclusion Right” and “Steps to Success.” I am also a regular speaker and panellist for diversity and inclusion-focused events.
At an individual level, I mentor leaders to become strong role models. I also mentor emerging female leaders to take charge of their careers. As Director of “Back to Work Hong Kong,” I help men and women return to the workforce, with confidence.
This interview is part of the ‘Callum Connects’ series of more than 500 interviews
Callum Laing is an entrepreneur and investor based in Singapore. He has previously started, built and sold half a dozen businesses and is now a Partner at Unity-Group Private Equity and Co-Founder and CEO of MBH Corporation PLC. He is the author of three best-selling books ‘Progressive Partnerships’, ‘Agglomerate’ and ‘Entrepreneurial Investing’.