Ming Long found being a CEO and CFO lonely.
She had no role models she could relate to, and she constantly felt like she was breaking new ground.
Now a non-executive director on a number of prominent boards, including Chartered Accountants and the Sydney University Finance & Audit Committee, she’s pushing to change the game when it comes to diversity in leadership.
Below, the former head of the $2.5 billion Investa Office Fund is the latest to answer our Game-Changing Women Q&A.
Read more on our game-changers here.
How did you get here?
I was promoted to CFO during the GFC. I was in the right position at the right time, and when the board and CEO were doing a search for a global CFO to deal with critical issues and ensure our company’s survival, I got the job. I had turned it down about 3 times, but a few of the female NEDs in our company ‘worked’ on me and convinced me to take the role. It was a poisoned chalice/glass cliff scenario as many did not think our company would survive. It took about 5 years but I was successful in fixing and turning around the company. At the end, when the CEO retired to return overseas, the board promoted me to MD.
What ‘game’ are you changing?
We have been talking about gender diversity for a long time and it still feels like we are fighting in the trenches to convince people why it’s important. I also feel compelled and responsible to champion cultural diversity or the “Bamboo Ceiling”. Ultimately, the fact that we don’t have diversity and inclusion in organisations comes down to leadership. It is leaders that make this happen and the fact that it hasn’t is a failure of leadership, it is a reflection on all of us. Leaders hold to ransom the status quo which has enabled us to became leaders and where we attribute our success. Asking leaders to sacrifice the status quo for the greater good is hard but we need it to happen. Diversity may be the hardest thing for leaders to swallow, and perhaps the most dangerous thing for a company to be without.
Who or what inspired you to do this?
It was so lonely being the CEO and CFO – there were no role models like me, with the issues I was facing and I felt like I was breaking new ground. I needed people around me to point to different ways of leading or different ways a problem could be tackled, not just the anglo-saxon male leadership model or their solution of what had been done before. I don’t want future female or ethnic leaders to feel the same way. We have many critical and complex problems to solve and we need everyone’s talent and capability to solve them.
What skills have you acquired that have aided your game-changing abilities?
You learn about leadership very quickly when you get thrust into a critical game changing role in the middle of a crisis like the GFC. There were no second chances. I needed to dig deep and quickly work out my values, what was really important, and how I was going to lead. As a leader staring down the barrel of the company potentially going under, I needed to have courage, stand up and give people hope. We had little money to spend on training or salaries, promotions etc, but I got creative on how to motivate people, learnt how to align people to the company’s purpose, how to get people to care about doing their best. It’s when the chips are down that you are tested on who you are and what type of leader you are going to be.
Your true nature comes out when you’re given power.
I believe that people who have been through hardship and have learned life’s tough lessons and have come through the other side have great leadership qualities that others miss. I see women, minorities etc. in organisations learning agility, adaptability, resilience, empathy and negotiation skills because structures in society and in organisations are stacked against them. They’re creative at working around these obstacles and they continually innovate. Life is not easy for them but this makes them stronger and more valuable as leaders. Some of these skills you can only learn by being the minority needing to adapt to the structures of the majority.
What does an average day look like for you?
Wake up and sleep more
Finally wake up – read papers and other news and articles from social media (all on an iPad)
Go for a walk with hubby and the dog to our favourite coffee shop, then go for a “run” at an oval.
Home get dressed and catch a train to the city
Various board or other meetings (many coffee meetings!) including networking meetings
Catch a train home – catch up on social media and news
Dinner with family – including trying to get teenage kids to converse with my husband and I
TV – I’m love programs like “Tiny House”, myriad of ABC programs
Sneak a bedtime snack (like Nigella) and read until I get sleepy (I’m an insomniac)
What key thing have helped drive your career to date?
I now encourage people to take risks and work outside their comfort zone – that is when they will learn the most
Secondly, have networks that help deal with various problems
What are some of the best things you’ve learnt about leadership?
Leadership is about being the greatest servant. You have great capacity to do good, but also destroy people. The culture of an organisation is shaped by the worst behaviour a leader is willing to tolerate. Being a leader is not an easy job and is not for everyone – it requires courage, humility and sacrifice.
How do you look after your wellbeing outside of work?
Walk and try to “run”
Spend time with family – dogs are wonderful at destressing!
I continually focus on my purpose – the “why am I here” and work on areas I am passionate about. Ensuring I understand my purpose and working on it ensures I am mentally content
What makes you angry?
Firstly, the promotion of “rainmakers” because they have confidence and can talk a good game, but ethically, morally and from a people perspective should not lead.
Secondly, Faustian leaders
What’s the first thing you do in the morning?
Think “It can’t be time to get up yet, I need more sleep!” Press the snooze button, roll over and try to speed sleep.
And great podcasts you’d recommend?
This TedX talk by Margaret Heffernan
What advice would you like to tell your 18-year-old self?
You are enough.