Dr Caroline Hong, FAICD
CEO of CH Asia Australia, Chairman of China HR Australia, Asia HR Australia.
Graduate Diploma in Health Administration 1988
The signing of the Australia-China Free Trade Agreement on 17 June 2015 heralds a new era in trading relations between the two countries. UniSA alumna Dr Caroline Hong has been a part of the evolving relationship since she participated in a trade mission to Shandong province almost three decades ago. She has an impressive career in health administration, consulting and public speaking and is widely recognised as an Australia-Asia SME Expert.
Asian born, Caroline grew up in Adelaide, and began her career as a dentist. She found herself drawn to the health administration path and progressed to become first woman CEO of the Australian Dental Association NSW & ACT.
Caroline runs her own consultancy CH Asia Australia advising on Australia-Asia cultural and business issues. She is a sought after public speaker and is a regular columnist on business topics.
With an equally impressive list of honorary positions, Caroline is currently Vice Chair, Sports Aviation Flight College Australia (SAA) and Co-Founder of Sydney School of Protocol Asians in Australia.
We spoke to Dr Hong about her career and her insights on doing business with Asia.
Tell us about the career achievements of which you are most proud.
My most proud achievement was when I became the first woman and first Asian to become the CEO of the Australian Dental Association NSW & ACT in 1997.
At that time, it was newsworthy. Some people perceived that I broke the glass ceiling for women and for Asians living in Australia.
That led me to an amazing next 10 years in the medical sector as the first CEO of a medical ultrasound peak association, the Australasian Society for Ultrasound in Medicine, responsible for Australia and NZ. Then I became the inaugural foundation CEO of the SME Association of Australia, leading me to my current international consulting business and public speaking.
You travelled to Shandong Province in 1987 as part of an Australian delegation to China during the early days of the South Australia - Shandong Province sister-state relationship. How far have we come in our dealings with China?
A lot has changed! It would be hard for most people to understand the pride I felt to be an Asian face representing South Australia travelling on a Diplomat passport to China in 1987. China was starting to connect with the outside world, encouraged after Deng Xiaoping took office in 1978, setting into motion the economic transformation of modern China.
Economic, trade and culture links for South Australia with its sister-province of Shandong, hold greater significance in doing business with China. It is ingrained in the Confucian philosophy of mutual respect by building and nurturing relationships with “family” and “guanxi” networks.
We have to start thinking of ourselves as part of the Asia region and Asia time zone. It is important to cross borders and oceans to get onto the other side of the equator to visit businesses and government bodies in Asia.
The China Free Trade Agreement, which was signed on 17 June 2015, will bring unprecedented benefits from a reduction in tariffs and ease of doing business for the South Australian people who are smart enough to think of themselves as part of the Asian Century, if not the China Century.
You say that doing business successfully in Asia is not just about market research, branding strategy and building long term relationships. How important are the soft skills, such as cultural understanding and learning an Asian language?
Very vital! Studies by Harvard University, The Carnegie Foundation and the Stanford Research Institute have shown that 85per cent of success in getting a job, keeping a job, and moving up in an organisation is due to people, or “soft” skills. Technical skills and knowledge account for 15 per cent.
It is complex, particularly when dealing with Asia. Businesses and government bodies that seek to understand and embrace culture to better position themselves in Asia generally do better than those who stay complacent.
Learning an Asian language is useful, but learning the culture is very important regardless of whether you speak the language or not.
What advice do you have for young graduates looking to a career in international business?
Have courage to venture outside Australia. Do that early in your career.
Stay connected with your University Alumni. The Alumni can play a pivotal role in connecting you to the outside world.
If you are lacking in soft skills, invest early to get personalised professional help to master those skills instead of waiting for decades to develop them through trial and error.
Follow your heart. Network incessantly. Travel widely.
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