Annie Lo, AACSB senior vice president and chief officer, Asia Pacific

Get to Know Annie Lo, AACSB’s New Leader of the Asia Pacific Region

Posted August 17, 2016 by Lee Davidson - Coordinator, Copywriter/Editor - AACSB International

With the impending retirement of Eileen Peacock, former senior vice president and chief officer for Asia Pacific, many months ago, AACSB International’s governing body was challenged to find a new leader for the vast region with growing demand for business education. They would need to find someone with nearly impossible qualifications: someone passionate about nonprofit work, with an excellent record of global experience and leadership, with multicultural understanding and appreciation, and with a deep interest in advancing quality business education worldwide. Amazingly, they found that candidate in Annie Lo, who began serving in the position last month. Get to know more about AACSB’s newest chief officer.

What drew you to the senior vice president and chief officer of Asia Pacific position at AACSB?

Having spent about 15 years in the finance and investment industry and four years in a nonprofit organization focused on investment education and professional standards, I want to apply the skills and knowledge I have acquired from my prior work experience, as well as from my MBA and undergraduate education, to lead AACSB’s Asia Pacific office to continue building on an already impressive level of reach and expertise in the region while enhancing the standards for quality business education worldwide.

I enjoy working for nonprofit organizations because I am not working to benefit one single company but rather a much larger community. In fact, four years ago I was selected to serve as a grand juror in the county where I resided in California. Though many dread jury duty, I enjoyed the experience very much, as I felt my work as a grand juror enabled me to contribute to the ultimate benefit of my community. That occasion inspired me to move from the for-profit sector to the nonprofit sector when the opportunity came up. The big difference between the two types of organizations is that is that a for-profit organization focuses on earning a profit, whereas a non-profit organization is driven by a mission. The mission, vision, and values of AACSB resonate with me, as I strongly believe that high-quality education is vital to better prepare future business leaders in a continuously evolving business environment.

What important opportunities do you see for business schools in the Asia Pacific region?

Many Asian students in the past were inspired to study abroad, primarily in Western countries, as a way to achieve a better job and lifestyle in the future, as many of the best and most well-known business schools were in North America or western European countries. However, with the increased number of people in Asia joining the middle class, and the significantly improved living conditions and infrastructure in the region, more people in Asia can now afford higher education that was once limited to the affluent class or to exceptionally gifted students from not very wealthy families who had received scholarships. Many students in Asia recognize that a high-quality education from a well-known and highly reputable business school is a way to set themselves apart from others who are competing for the same job.

"More people in Asia can now afford higher education that was once limited to the affluent class or to exceptionally gifted students."

Recognizing this significant demand for education and the changing population in the Asia Pacific region, many business schools that were founded and based in North America and Europe either have formed alliances with other quality business schools in the region or have set up new campuses in Asia. In addition to the developed markets—such as Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Singapore, Korea, and Hong Kong—developing markets—as in China, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Philippines, Vietnam—are where many potential business school students reside in the region. Further, understanding the substantial growth and importance of Asia, more and more students from Western countries are now choosing business schools in Asia to gain the knowledge and experience that will help them gain jobs in the region or jobs that require frequent interaction and understanding of how to do business in the Asia Pacific region. So the opportunities for business schools are enormous and not to be neglected.

What is one aspect of your prior leadership positions that you plan to bring with you to AACSB?

My deep understanding and appreciation of the diverse cultures not only within the region but also in other regions, as I was born in Asia but grew up in the U.S., will greatly benefit AACSB. My studies from kindergarten through my MBA spanned three continents—at schools in Hong Kong, the U.S., France, and Japan. I spent many years working in the U.S. with a work exchange experience in London, and have worked in Japan, Hong Kong, and Singapore. In addition to English, I speak Chinese Cantonese and Chinese Mandarin fluently and can read and write the Chinese language. I have also studied French and Japanese languages. Moreover, I spent over 10 years learning different ethnic dances from Europe, South America, and Asia, so I recognize and appreciate music from many countries around the world. I believe this strong understanding, acceptance, and appreciation of the different cultures and languages, as well as my profound experience in working with internal and external clients in different countries, is very important in my interactions with AACSB members, volunteers, and staff, as well as with others in the business community.

What do you envision will be most challenging, and rewarding, about leading a regional office within a global organization?

As local practices, beliefs, cultures, and customs in Asia are quite different from those in Western countries, and can also be quite diverse even among different countries in the Asia Pacific region, knowing how to work with various stakeholders with the proper etiquette might be challenging. However, it is also very rewarding when you decipher the art and science of how to work well with people who are very different from you and who may hold opposite views. I strongly believe a deep understanding of cultural differences, acceptance of others who may have a different opinions or beliefs than yours, and an open mind to listen to and consider others’ ideas enables you to turn a challenging situation into a rewarding experience.

One thing I want to stress is that we cannot use an "one size fits all" approach when we operate in a global business environment, as we should not assume that what works well in one country or region will work equally well in another country or region, and vice versa. Several years ago when I first moved to Hong Kong, I was invited by a professional industry association to speak at their seminar, scheduled to be held on a Saturday morning from 9:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. I have attended many other investment industry conferences and seminars in the U.S., but never one that was held on a Saturday. I asked the organizer if hosting a seminar on a Saturday would result in very poor attendance, and was told that Saturday mornings are actually very popular for working professionals, as most of those who have children would typically have time on Saturday mornings to participate in professional development courses or seminars while their children take music, swimming, or other lessons. I learned that attending a business seminar on a weekday during normal business hours is not very desirable to many professionals in this region, who prefer not to take time off from the work week.

"We cannot use a 'one size fits all' approach when we operate in a global business environment, as we should not assume that what works well in one country or region will work equally well in another country or region."

The seminar host was correct, as the attendance was very good that day, and since then I have spoken at many other events in the region on Saturdays. If I were an American event planner trying to plan a business seminar in Asia without understanding or taking into account the locals' preferences, then I would have missed a very good opportunity to have more working professionals attending the event. Business leaders need to become aware of these different preferences and practices in order to succeed in this region.

What do you hope to learn from AACSB member schools in the Asia Pacific region?

I joined AACSB in mid-July and have spent this past month getting to know my team in the AP office as well as other staff members around the world, in addition to gaining a deeper insight into the work that AACSB does. During my first month I have had a few opportunities to meet and speak with members, and I look forward to meeting, getting to know, and listening to more members regarding ways my staff and I can better support them and their schools.

What is one thing you’d like the Asia Pacific membership to know about you?

I am a very open-minded person who is very keen to get to meet and learn about you and your schools. I will be chairing AACSB's Asia Pacific Annual Conference in Macau next month, and I look forward to meeting and chatting with all of you who will be attending the conference related events. Once I am more settled in my new role, I will start planning to visit you at your schools, to learn more about your schools, and to listen to any suggestions you may have for AACSB to better support you, our valuable members.