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25 September 2017

A Shepherd Who Leads with “Heart”

John Chu (MBA 1974) is a primary school principal-turned-top banker who has served at major financial institutions. These include Bank of America, where he served as Country Manager for China, Global Account Manager of the Oil and Gas Division in the New York Corporate Office, and Corporate Banking Head for Hong Kong. Other positions included at AIA Company Limited where his vast credit risk and financial management experience saw him assume a number of executive roles, serving as Group Chief Investment Officer for more than 22 years before he retired. To this day, he remains on AIA Company Limited’s Board of Directors. John believes that one must treat others with “heart”. After mastering small tasks diligently, great things will be accomplished.

Chu Sir was the teacher-in-charge of CUHK Provost Professor Benjamin Wah (left) when Professor Wah was in primary school. The two are delighted to catch up at a CUHK Business School event.

Early Years Devoted to Education Horizons Widened by an MBA

Affectionately known as Chu Sir, John’s career is deeply rooted in promoting education. When he was studying at Concordia Lutheran School, he was inspired by the passion displayed by its principal and set his mind to promoting Christian education. After HKCEE, he chose to enroll in Grantham College of Education and taught at a government primary school, where in a twist of fate he was the teacher-in-charge of future CUHK Provost Professor Benjamin Wah. He later obtained his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in education in the US. After returning to Hong Kong, he was appointed Christian Education Administrator for The Lutheran Church in Hong Kong. With this connection, he co-founded four subsidized schools with the government and assumed the role of Principal or Supervisor for those institutions.

Besides passion, financial management skills are essential for running a school. Chu Sir says that in the very beginning he could not even comprehend a business journal properly. Therefore, he applied for the MBA Program of Lingnan Institute of Business Administration (the predecessor of CUHK Business School). “Other than imparting financial knowledge and skills to us, the program also covered global case studies. Along with its international teaching staff, it really opened my eyes. Before I graduated, I was able to make use of the business administration skills to reform the way we did our financial planning at the school.”

Chu Sir poses at the CUHK campus when he studied his MBA in 1973

At that time, the MBA Program only admitted about a dozen students, and teachers and students had a very close-knit relationship. Professor John Espy was Chu Sir’s biggest influence. “MBA was a new product in Hong Kong back then. He visited many companies in Central to introduce to them our program and strengths. He also matched students with potential employers for job interviews and shared interview techniques with us. A good teacher like him doesn’t come by every day!”

Eternal Gratitude to a Teacher
Who Opens Doors in Banking

After graduating in his MBA program, Chu Sir received multiple job offers from a number of corporations thanks to Professor Espy, who had been pulling strings for him. The Bank of America Chief Executive in Hong Kong had seven meetings with Chu Sir and outlined a concrete career development plan for him. Given that his education projects were completed and his goals had been met, Chu Sir accepted the offer and took on banking as a new challenge.

When working at the Bank of America, Chu Sir (2nd from right) gives a speech to clients at an event in New York.

Chu Sir is a firm believer of the principle “the great develops naturally from the small” by Lao Tzu. He sees all great successes as the accumulated results of small tasks. Therefore, he was willing to start from the bottom when he turned to banking. His first role was Head of Human Resources, which enabled him to pick up on operations and staffing of each department. From that job he discovered future top bankers including Margaret Leung (former Chief Executive, Chong Hing Bank Limited) and Peter Lo (Chief Country Officer Hong Kong, Deutsche Bank). He was later posted to Tokyo to take charge of financial planning for Asian branches. The job further deepened his understanding of the industry. Then he was reassigned to Manila to set up the Asian training headquarters and teach management courses, when he achieved a firm grasp of the industry.

Upon his return to Hong Kong, he took up the role of Senior Credit Manager, responsible for the loan business to manufacturing and trading companies. After that, his career began to soar. He was promoted to Country Manager of the Bank of America in China, giving him the opportunity to witness and contribute to China’s economic development. He then reached a career height when he was transferred to the New York headquarters to manage the energy financing business of six international oil companies. It was there he managed to gain trust from global giants such as Exxon Mobil and Texaco, at a time where there were few Chinese leaders in the industry.

Chu Sir participates in the China Development Forum 2016. He poses with China Insurance Regulatory Commission Vice-Chairman Mr. Huang Hong (centre) and the then AIA Group Chief Executive and President Mr. Mark Tucker (left).

The Pinnacle of Management:
People Feel They Did It Themselves

Chu Sir left the Bank of America, his employer of 19 years, to join AIA at the invitation of Mr. Edmund Tse who was the then Group President and Chief Executive Officer. He believed that he could leverage his abilities to contribute to the development of Hong Kong’s financial services industry. His extensive experience in credit and financial management was a good fit for AIA, an organization that was searching for talent to manage their investment portfolios in Asia. It was a perfect match that led to another 22 years of financial management career, proving that one can do anything at any stage of life.

Chu Sir takes inspiration from Lao Tzu for his management philosophy. “Lao Tzu says, ‘The best leader is the one people barely know he exists. [. . .] When his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: Amazing! We did it ourselves.’ (Tao Te Ching, Chapter 17). The best management is completed without a trace, where people are not even aware that they are being managed. When a deed is done, people believe they did it themselves rather than having the feeling of being told what to do, how to do and when to do it. Only then will they develop a sense of job satisfaction and self-fulfillment.” Therefore, when Chu Sir implements a new initiative, he does not only seek the approval from his superiors but first consults his team mates so that they all feel they are the ones leading the efforts.

Chu Sir shares his experience with students enrolled in the CUHK Business School’s MBA Program in Finance

Treating People with “Heart” is a
Life-long Experience

Chu Sir condenses his key to success into one word — heart. It comprises compassion, sincerity, concentration, determination and perseverance. For years he has stood by his principle of treating people with “heart”. He sees himself as a shepherd and his colleagues as “precious lambs” that he cares for. He always tries to foster a harmonious work environment to help colleagues develop a sense of unity.

Chu Sir has started a fulfilling new chapter upon retirement. Besides taking walks, swimming, reading books and journals, and spending time with his family, he frequently gives sermons at church and speeches at schools. After all, it is a shepherd’s duty to guide the new generation.

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