Benefitting from my multi-cultural upbringing: Betty’s story

Having grown up in a Chinese community in South Africa, Betty is using the cultural intelligence she developed as a child to help her in her role today.

Betty Tsai, Executive Director, Head of China Corridor, Africa and Middle East

UAE

I grew up in South Africa, living in a community of families originally from Taiwan who had settled in Pretoria.  I grew up speaking Mandarin so when it was time for me to go to school, I had to learn English quickly but growing up in a multi-racial community benefited me a great deal.  I had a wonderful childhood but obviously we were culturally different from others who lived in the area.  This taught me the importance of cultural intelligence from a young age.  I respected and learnt from South African customs, and learnt how to blend into the larger population, while still respecting and honouring my family’s Chinese heritage. 

I always knew I wanted a career that kept me mobile and gave me the opportunity to work in different locations.  After studying my EMBA (Masters of Business Administration) in London, New York and Hong Kong, I took some time to travel around Europe, meeting new people and expanding my network.  This time spent travelling was also crucial in helping me understand the markets where I would one day be working.  I was then recruited to join Standard Chartered in Johannesburg within Global Banking, after some time working for another international bank, looking after our Chinese client’s business interests across Southern Africa.

“I respected and learnt from South African customs, and learnt how to blend into the larger population, while still respecting and honouring my family’s Chinese heritage”

It’s a competitive environment as even local banks are now recruiting Chinese-speakers.  Clients expect results fast so it’s important to develop relationships quickly and get the best outcome for them.  A while ago I moved to Dubai to lead the Chinese desk across the whole of Africa and the Middle East.  Since the move, my husband has been the driving force behind my success. In 2018 we celebrated the birth of our first child, Leo, and together with my mother, we’ve become a great team.  I couldn’t do my job without their support while I focus on expanding my knowledge of the whole region. 

I see my role as helping not only our clients, but the whole eco-system of the Region.  I’m grateful that in my role I have direct access to senior management who demonstrate strong leadership qualities.  The culture here is to get things done, with hands-on support available as and when you need it. 

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