It is just a short hop from Guangzhou to Hong Kong, but Rainbow Pan Jihong took the long way round. In the late 1980s, she gave up secure prospects and a predictable path at home and headed instead to Australia in search of opportunity and adventure. Now, as chief executive of ipac financial planning Hong Kong, she is a respected figure in the local business community and a firm believer that good luck and hard work go hand in hand.
What was your first full-time job? After studying economics at Zhongshan University in Guangzhou, I started as a business manager with one of the city-backed international finance companies. It was a natural move because my mother was a senior executive with a big Chinese bank and other relatives worked in finance, banking and accounting, so I understood that environment. My job was to assess applications for business loans - at that time mainly from state-owned enterprises like textile companies and tyre factories - so they could invest in new technology. As a fresh graduate, I found it fascinating being involved in all these real-life projects, seeing how the companies operated, and arranging loans in United States dollars with institutions overseas.
So why did you decide to move on? In the late 80s, you didn't have as many choices and opportunities in China as you do now. Like many of my university friends, I wanted to go abroad to study, explore new opportunities and see different parts of the world. Back then, going to Australia was relatively easy. The government policy was to welcome everyone, so I went to Sydney, liked the environment, the weather, cultural diversity, and stayed for 16 years.
What did it take to find a good job in finance? It took years of hard work. Success doesn't just fall on your lap. Initially, I had to study English because I only understood about 50 per cent of what people said. Then, I took some business classes and, later on, qualified as a certified financial planner (CFP). My family gave some financial support, but I worked as a part-time secretary for a TV antenna company - that's where I learned the Aussie accent - and in restaurants in the evenings and on weekends. I joined Westpac bank in 1995 as a teller, before moving to customer service manager, and was training to be a sales and loan manager when the chance came up to switch into financial planning. Six months later, I was one of the top three financial planners in our region.
What did you enjoy about that role? The characteristic of a good planner is that you have to put yourself in other people's shoes to see objectives from their point of view. I looked after four branches that were a mixture of wealthier and not so well-off areas. It was tough because there were challenging sales targets and I had to work long hours. But I liked the variety of dealing with so many different people and the feeling that you could help them create wealth and add value to their lives.
What brought you to Hong Kong? I was headhunted in 2005. I had been with HSBC's flagship brand in Sydney for five years, dealing with expats and senior executives, and the idea of coming back to Asia with ipac sounded good. The next 20 years will be all about Asia. I can feel it, and the rest of the world has decided that too.
Recently completed an MBA at the China-Europe International Business School in Shanghai
Won the prestigious SCMP/IFPHK award as best financial planner of the year in 2006
Was president of the Hong Kong Association of Business and Professional Women for two years to October 2008
Starts every day with a “to do” list and ends by reviewing progress in four key areas: thought processes, strategy, family and exercise
Plays golf off a handicap of 17 and likes the fact that the more you practise, the better you become