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Leadership Lessons
Crossing the cultural divide
Chris Davis
update on Saturday, June 12, 2010

Born in Hong Kong but raised in the Netherlands, Jennifer Chan has put her language skills and cultural awareness to  good use.

The founder and managing director of Sinova Management Consulting is fluent in Cantonese, Putonghua and several European languages. She heads a company which mainly assists private and corporate clients from Europe to enter, operate and grow their businesses on the mainland. "My work involves many different aspects of doing business on the mainland, including financial management, business matchmaking, negotiations, production and quality control," Chan says. Her firm increasingly helps mainland companies expand into global markets.

"I am fascinated by the cultural differences not only between the Chinese and Europeans, but also between different European nationalities," Chan says, explaining that while her business skills and financial acumen are important, soft skills, such as cultural awareness, are equally vital. "Good client management is critical in the professional services industry," she says.

"My work involves a lot of travel. Typically, I spend about five months of the year travelling to Europe and the mainland for client meetings."

As a counterbalance to her hectic travel schedule, whenever she is in Hong Kong, Chan arranges her work commitments to include as much time as possible with her family.

"Most mornings, I try to have breakfast with my daughters and be home in time to have dinner," she says.

Keen that some of her Dutch heritage rubs off on her daughters, one night per week she reads them stories written in Dutch. It was her goal to spend more time with her family that originally inspired Chan to set up her own business.

After 11 years of working 16-hour days as a high-flyer in the banking industry, she had reached a crossroads.

"I decided if I was going to work long hours, I should be doing something where I had more control over the way I used my time, so I could spend time with my family," she says.

In 2002, helped largely by referrals from her banking contacts, Chan initially set out to run a business which would provide her with an income that matched her previous salary. But Sinova has grown rapidly and has more than 400 clients serviced by 43 staff in Hong Kong, Shanghai and Rotterdam. She is also opening an office in Beijing.

"The firm could have grown a lot faster, but quality is my main focus, not size. Word of mouth is also important in our line of business. We pride ourselves on achieving real, visible results for our clients through long-term growth and profitability. My success is only possible if our clients succeed," she says.

Gifted one  

  • Helping clients achieve their business goals is one source of satisfaction. But satisfaction also comes from hiring and training post-graduates from Holland, Belgium, Hong Kong and the mainland
  • In addition to spending time with her family when away from work, reading, swimming and photography are Chan's main passions
  • Cooking is another hobby, which Chan considers to be a type of relaxation therapy

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