Jane Horan – Inside everyone is a great story waiting to be told. Stories have a beginning, middle and end. Every entrepreneur has their starting point – that moment when the decision was made to take a different path. Each pivotal moment is a starting point. Along my own path towards getting my doctorate degree on Asian Women leaders, I was fortunate to hear many inspiring stories, and had several moments of realisation on that path to a successful end.
Jane is a self-confessed serial entrepreneur but during her early career she heeded the sage advice of her parents to ‘study hard, work hard and one day get an important job in a big company.’ She spent the majority of her adult life working in Asia; initially in China teaching English for the government, then in Hong Kong working for Henry Tang, Disney and CNBC before being headhunted by food manufacturing giant Kraft; a move which also involved an unwelcome upheaval for her husband and twins (one boy, one girl) to Singapore to take up a post which she thought would be the pinnacle of her shining career. During this time Jane worked in people-centric roles within human resources, talent management and organisational development and witnessed a recurring, unfathomable pattern of highly skilled and talented women being overlooked for promotions.
2008 was a significant year for Jane and a turning point which she later recognised was also a theme in each story of the women she interviewed during her research into female Asian leaders. Instead of climbing up the corporate ladder with Kraft, a company restructure left Jane in a relatively new country with no job and little idea how life would pan out from that moment.
Jane now looks back on that time with a grateful, knowing smile because it was the starting point to fulfilling her entrepreneurial dreams. Jane began writing a book – I Wish I’d Known That Earlier In My Career: the power of positive workplace politics – which offers people sound tips and techniques to navigate the often treacherous office politics. This later led her to commence research into what makes great female leaders.
The qualities she saw occurring in each of the research participants are also traditionally very female values:
- Relationship building
- Caring / community
During her research, which spanned 3 years, Jane undertook interviews with female Asian entrepreneurs from across the region including China, Singapore, Bangladesh and Japan.
Here, Jane shares the story of two of the many women she interviewed:
1) ‘This woman was a friend in Singapore, a fellow soccer mum who I would share lunches and coffees with whilst discussing life. We never talked business – I always made a point to keep work and personal lives separate but one day I decided to ask – what do you do? With aspirations of becoming a flight attendant, she stated I run a hedge fund. Coming from a wealthy, prominent family she did not need to work. She fell into her first job at a bank and worked her way through to the investment bank followed by hedge fund management.
In 2007, she started her own hedge fund after following the advice of a mentor she had worked with for many years.
My favourite parts of this woman’s story:
- By 2008 the hedge fund she managed had reached $1b in value (just one year after she started out)
- 2008 was one of the worst years of the global financial crisis
- When asked about her leadership style, her response was “I’m not a leader. I am a mum, wife, sister and daughter who also runs a business – nothing extraordinary.”
- She was incredibly humble
- She had a mentor she trusted and followed their advice
2) ‘A Japanese a social entrepreneur that I almost left off my research but some connection kept drawing me back to her; there was an emotional pull. A small, unassuming woman that would not be suspected as a leader but proved everyone wrong. Her mantra was ‘life is a game. How do I play?’
She has started and led successful businesses within a range of fields including interior design, schools and restaurants. A severe medical condition prevented her from pursuing her love of cooking and after an initial set back, she simply asked ‘what is this situation trying to tell me? She sold her restaurant business and now works to eradicate poverty.
My favourite parts of this woman’s story:
- A very humble individual
- A silent achiever
- Reframing setbacks into lessons or different rules of the game’
3) Fascinating, when I asked about failures in life – the questions resulted in silence or I never failed at anything from all of my participants. Upon reflection these were – Moments of Realisation – a pivotal moment in time, to learn a lesson and step into leadership.
Jane also shared findings from the Kauffman Institute which found that while there are no tangible differences between male and female entrepreneurs, there are several striking commonalities:
- Desire to build something (wealth)
- Following a business idea they conceived
- Appeal of startup culture
- Desire to own company
- Working for someone else does not appeal
Jane Horan, EdD, author, speaker and authority in cross-cultural leadership, unconscious bias and workplace politics. She consults to Fortune 100 firms on developing inclusive and engaged organisations.
Her research on Asian Women Leaders provides concrete advice and practical applications for 21st century leadership. Jane’s recent book, I Wish I’d Known That Earlier In My Career: the power of positive workplace politics is a must read for navigating organisations, now widely used by corporate universities and career coaches globally.
An internationally recognised and inspirational speaker, Jane’s presentations give the audience usable tips and insights for career success.
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