Senior Vice President, Account Management – S&P Global Market Intelligence
With roots in China and training in New York, a high-flying, global career in Financial Services, combined with motherhood, Bo Zhou’s journey has been a melting pot of cultures and approaches, and she’s put it all to good use. She juggles spearheading the S&P Global Market Intelligence’s Women in Leadership Series with her demanding career, whilst still finding time to go surfing and play the piano with her son.
In a nutshell, please tell us a little about your career journey until this point.
My career path is relatively unconventional. I trained as an engineer, then went on to study for a PhD in Material Science and Engineering from MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology), so I ended up somewhere quite different from where I started! I don’t regret it though, it’s taken me to some fascinating places, through four different global firms and across a myriad of cultures. I like to work at a fast pace, so the finance industry suits me well, but the analytical skills that engineering gave me were brilliant training, and I apply those to everything I do. It’s all culminated in where I am today, leading a senior relationship team in financial serves, and more importantly, advocating for diversity and inclusion on an international scale.
“Set your goal, see the picture and you will achieve it”
Who is your role model and why?
Our CEO, Lance Uggla, is a great role model for me – he’s a brilliant entrepreneur, always very proactive and constantly looking at how to improve things, but I also take inspiration from all around me. In addition to the senior executives I admire, there are so many talented young people I work with who inspire and challenge me.
Career and family are both top priorities for me, and I’m a working mother. I love seeing some of the amazing things mums and dads do to support their children, and I always try to notice where people do things differently in all walks of life and strive to just keep on learning.
What did you want to be when you were growing up?
Honestly, I had no idea what I wanted to be, but I knew what I didn’t! I loved piano, and my teacher wanted me to go to music school, but I realised I was much more drawn to science, so that’s the route I ended up taking. When I finished my undergraduate studies, I knew I wanted to keep on learning, so I continued with a PhD. That guiding principle of narrowing the scope has worked well for me and has always helped me to find things I’ve been excited and passionate about.
I still play the piano though, and I love helping my son with learning, so my early training has served me well. Everything’s played a part; engineering’s about structured thinking, but when you get to the top of the tree, it’s about creative thinking too, and that’s where the musical training came in, which in turn has all combined to get me to this point.
What’s the biggest risk you’ve ever taken, and what’s your greatest career achievement?
Starting out, I was a Trader on a fixed income trading desk, but I wanted to go into something that required more structured and strategic thinking. I also wanted a child, and at that time, I felt trading wasn’t the best environment for me to have the time, so I quit. It felt like such a big risk, but it worked out really well. I had my son that year, joined Bloomberg and that paved the way for what I’m doing today. My second big move was moving from New York to Hong Kong. With a young child, it felt like such a big deal, but I have a technique for risk-taking which always helps. I outline the worst-case scenario and ask myself, what’s the bottom line if doesn’t work out? If that is acceptable to me, I go for it!
In terms of achievements, my promotion to Senior Vice President feels pretty significant, and I’m proud of my contributions to the firm and helping our clients. On a personal level, I initiated the global S&P Global Market Intelligence Women in Leadership Series which invites female leaders from around the world to come together in conversation with S&P Global Market Intelligence female leaders and male advocates. In just over one year, we’ve had more than 50 brilliant external and internal speakers and advocates involved. Seeing is believing, and to see those women in senior positions shows everyone there’s a path for them, and that they’re not alone. I’m really proud to be driving it, and that the programme has had so much support from my colleagues around the world.
“If you have a vision, you may not get there in a straight line, there will be difficulties and challenges, but you will get there”
What would you tell your 18-year-old self if they could see you now?
One, stay proactive and two, work with as many people from diverse backgrounds and perspectives as you can, don’t just stick to people like yourself.
How has your personal journey informed the way you navigate your career?
I thought about this a lot, and it made me question, what culture do I represent? I grew up in the classic Eastern culture of China, then went to the US, which is a classic Western culture. It was there that I was trained in my advanced degree, and more importantly, began my career, but then ten years later came back to Hong Kong, which is where East meets West. Culturally, I’m quite a hybrid! I work in a global company, serving local customers in each of their territories, so that cultural mix has really helped me navigate my career. I love being at this intersection of understanding both Western and Eastern cultures and fusing them together to help people around me.
How have your lived experiences helped you in your industry today?
The ability to understand both sides and fuse them together really helps my journey through the industry. The other coming together of opposites is my love of collaboration and communication, alongside a dispassionate, structured and logical approach. In this industry, it’s rare coming from an advanced engineering background, and it gives me the unique advantage of seeing things through a more objective lens.
“Seeing is believing, and to see those women in senior positions shows everyone there’s a path for them”
How has connecting globally with people in other countries influenced your thinking or approach?
I strongly recommend everyone connects with as many people as possible from different backgrounds. We’re most comfortable with people who are like us and when you interact with people who come from different backgrounds, it will help you to listen to them, to look at things from a different perspective. One thing I often share with my team is if you were in their shoes, would you make the same decision? Who are they, what do they care about, what are their priorities? It’s hugely beneficial to everyone involved.
How do you think driving inclusion in your region differs from other parts of the world? Are there unique challenges or opportunities?
There are many aspects to this – gender, ethnicity, culture, but generally speaking, we have a relatively larger female workforce. There seems to be a better family support network in APAC, or domestic helpers in places like Hong Kong and this is a big advantage in furthering gender diversity. If you’ve been able to stick at your career, gain the relevant experience and training all the way through, that’s eventually going to be reflected at senior level.
This knowledge has engendered a lot of discussion around company policy across the globe, how do we better support women to stay and progress whilst making sure they can take care of their loved ones? It’s a challenge.
Another dimension of APAC is that most Asian cultures can be more humble and reserved. Because of that, we do a lot of work to encourage everyone to get their voice heard. We find that women here need a lot more encouragement compared to other cultures.
We often reflect on you can’t be what you can’t see, how far does this resonate with you and your own experiences?
I’m a big believer in that sentence. Who do you want to be, can you see them? The picture may not always be clear. Once you start seeing that vision, that picture of yourself in the near future, it drives you, and all our actions are driven by the values and the beliefs we have. If you have that vision, you may not get there in a straight line, there will be difficulties and challenges, but you will get there. Set your goal, see the picture and you will achieve it.