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Sustainable life and career
Published on Friday, 29 Jul 2011
Teresa Au
Head of corporate sustainability Asia-Pacific region, HSBC
Photo: Berton Chang

Teresa Au, head of Corporate Sustainability Asia-Pacific Region at HSBC, is responsible for driving the overall direction and strategies of the banking giant's corporate sustainability programmes in Hong Kong and across 20 countries and territories in the region where HSBC has business operations.

She was appointed to her current post four years ago to help the bank create a corporate sustainability department. Starting from scratch, she helped build up the unit and has become a recognised expert in the field. She sits on dozens of government committees and non-governmental organisation boards to give expert advice on corporate sustainability best practices.

At work, she reports to the regional CEO and the chairman, but at home, her husband is the boss, she muses.

"When I am home, my husband runs the show. My husband makes all the big decisions and I am in charge of entertainment and recreational matters such as holiday planning. At home, I just play the traditional role of a `little woman' and let the man take charge of everything," she says.

Au believes that to maintain a happy and harmonious home life, every family member must understand what his or her role is. Once each person's responsibility is clearly defined, everything will come easily, she adds.

Au applies a similar attitude in the workplace, drawing on the various strengths of staff members to achieve maximum results.

"I have people whose strengths are in communications, marketing, human resources and so forth. Putting them in jobs that they are good at is very important in order to achieve the best results. Take myself as an example. I am not a manager and I don't like routines. I love to initiate new projects and thrive on challenges. So, my role is to lead and inspire," she says.

It's the sense of adventure and the excitement of venturing into unknown territories that have kept Au going since she joined the bank's management trainee programme in 1982.

She was one of a dozen selected from thousands of candidates in her batch. Her first three years with the bank were more like a survival training course than the run-of-the-mill management programme for a bank executive.

She survived 17 days of Outward Bound's military-type training, from sailing through stormy seas to living through days without food and basic necessities, à la Chuck Noland, the character played by Tom Hanks in the 2000 Hollywood blockbuster Cast Away.

"It was part of leadership development training and the main focus was to push us to go beyond our comfort zone and personal boundaries," she recalls. "Even though it was an extremely tough experience, I found it totally rewarding because every day was a new experience."

Au certainly knows a thing or two about survival techniques and the skills she believes can be transferred to an office setting. After being posted to different jobs, attached to various departments in so many countries and cities in her six years of management training, Au was appointed to head various departments in Hong Kong where very often she had to rely on the qualities she developed in her earlier training days to help expand operations and develop new business models.

She believes the all-round and diverse training programme helped her to become more versatile, innovative, enterprising and resourceful.

Despite having to juggle a highly stressful and hectic work life and dozens of public roles, Au still finds time to spend with family and friends. She embraces the principle of doing everything to the best of her ability. "I believe I must fulfil all the different roles in life - as a career person, a wife and a mother. And there must be a proper balance between work and family."

To her, success means understanding her place in society, at work and at home. "To me, being successful means bringing happiness to people around you, be it at home or in the workplace. As a good leader, I believe in inspiring people and making them believe in you. If they respect you, they will naturally follow you."