Deirdre Lander

Deirdre Lander GAICD

Location: Hong Kong

Member since: 2015

Current directorships: Non-Executive Director – Obe Organic Ltd 2014; Director - Outward Bound Hong Kong 2018; Hong Kong Advisory Committee Member - AICD 2018.

1. What do you think are the three things that directors must bring to their roles?

Firstly, digital awareness. Traditional business models are being disrupted by rapidly developing technologies and new, different competitors are redrafting the rules of business and customer relationship management. It is essential that Directors can support management’s continual assessment of the impact of digital technologies and the workplace transformation challenges it brings.

Secondly, a global mindset. So much of what we do involves suppliers, customers and colleagues who are not like us. We must encourage companies to embrace diversity in all its forms and develop a global outlook – i.e. what is important to key stakeholders, how they make decisions and what is involved in forming trusted relationships.

Lastly, well developed interpersonal skills based on a clear appreciation of group decision making and decision theory. Board meetings are a team sport, so avoiding ‘group think’ on the one hand, and aggressive confrontation on the other relies on the board having the skill and the will to resolve complex or sensitive issues collectively.

2. Can you share some highlights or the most rewarding part of your career to date?

Deciding to work overseas in 2004 has been a life-changing experience. I joined Esquel Enterprises in Hong Kong, the world’s largest woven shirt maker, with a vertically-integrated supply chain stretching from cotton production to garment retailing. With manufacturing facilities in China, Malaysia, Mauritius, Sri Lanka and Vietnam, I was immersed in a company in a region experiencing dynamic growth. The company’s enlightened 5-e culture – Ethics, Environment, Exploration, Excellence, Education - countered the “sweatshop” stereotype of Chinese companies. At the same time, the obligations to the Chinese government were omnipresent, needing sensitive navigation.

Being appointed to the Board of an Australian organic beef exporter OBE Organic in 2014 has also been enormously rewarding. I was the first international resident, the first non-producer and the first woman appointed to the Board. The tyranny of distance is as real for the outback board members as it is for me in Hong Kong, with board meetings typically by teleconference.

3. What are some of the challenges you have faced working overseas, and are there any unique challenges in your current country?

The business and behavioural norms are challenges at first. Working hard to be non-judgmental is crucial. It is such an easy trap to consider the familiar as superior or attribute motives unreasonably. I am constantly reminded of Chinese Confucian pedagogy versus the western Socratic tradition. The Confucian approach values humility, copying the master, and respect for seniority, whereas we in the west have been encouraged to question, debate and inquire of our teachers. It pervades Asian corporate behaviour – the holding of meetings, the making of decisions, the delivering of bad news and the resolving of conflict. Creating settings that enable Asian colleagues to contribute fully to sound decision making, rather than polite compliance, is a specific challenge.

4. What is the best piece of advice you have received over the years and from whom?

Is it “directionally correct?” My first HR boss in Asia typically asked this question to gauge progress towards a goal. It saw me through a lot of anxiety and frustration in the early days of my cross-cultural experiences.

Also, practising “purposeful leadership” is greatly valued advice from Richard Leider, Co-Director of the Global Institute of Leadership Development (GILD). His research shows that leaders who identify a personal “why” and commit to Growing and Giving, impact their teams, organisations and communities most significantly. Giving as a mentor in the excellent mentoring programs in Hong Kong – including AustCham in 2013 and The Women’s Foundation in 2014 has been most rewarding for me as well as my mentees.

5. What advice would you give to others contemplating an overseas move?the world’s population are in this region and the race to join the middle class – and the opportunities that it creates is huge. It is vibrant, fast-paced, and immensely varied.

“Just do it”– famously put. We are in an unprecedented time in world history, and it is happening in Asia. The scale and pace of change are breathtaking. Three-quarters of the world’s population are in this region and the race to join the middle class – and the opportunities that it creates is huge. It is vibrant, fast-paced, and immensely varied.