At HKUST Business School, we firmly believe that it takes the best teacher to bring out the best in students. Our faculty consists of world-class experts who are dedicated to nurturing the best in our students. One such remarkable individual is Prof. Caroline Wang, an Honorary Fellow and Adjunct Professor of Management at HKUST. With a wealth of executive experience at IBM across multiple countries, Prof. Wang brings invaluable insights to our students' journey toward leadership excellence.
From Martial Law to International Business
Prof. Wang's extraordinary journey into the international business arena began with an invitation to attend a UNESCO international student conference in Korea. Born and raised in Taiwan during the martial law era, her determination to work in an international environment was ignited by this experience. After earning her second master's degree in public health from Harvard University, Prof. Wang embarked on her career in late 1978 at IBM in the US Sales division through a two-year trainee program.
The World Is Not Black and White
Being the only Asian at IBM USA's sales division in the 1970s and 80s, the initial barrier Prof. Wang faced as a cultural minority was language. Her manager, Jim, candidly noted, "Caroline, you're working hard, and I see your potential. But unless you improve your English, your future at IBM will be limited." This was a challenging moment for someone with a strong track record as a communicator in Chinese. This was the ‘fight or flight’ instinct for Caroline to motivate herself to tremendously improve her English.
To stay sharp for English studies afterward, Prof. Wang always opted for non-alcoholic beverages when socializing with her teammates. “On one occasion, a colleague asked me in a bar, ‘You Asians don't drink alcohol? Probably drink something else there? Soy sauce?'," she recalled. “I told him calmly, ‘Robert, you have a problem, and I am not about to make it my problem.’ and the bar went silent.” Prof. Wang’s response earned her greater respect for standing up for herself and refusing to be defined by stereotypes.
“The world is not simply black and white. Avoid falling into false dichotomies and evaluate the choices we have,” Prof. Wang added. It was her decision to improve her English that allowed her to build a satisfying career at IBM for decades, and eventually to teach "Managerial Communication" at HKUST Business School.
Women in the Corporate World
Having worked in Tokyo, Prof. Wang found that women were a minority in top management positions and were often stereotyped as more emotional than men. Employers were also more hesitant to hire recently married young women. Nevertheless, she holds an alternative perspective on this phenomenon, “Hiring is a process that matches organizational and individual needs. Throughout different life stages, it's about planning, making choices, and setting priorities. It's not simply a matter of fairness but a multiple-choice question for both parties.”
The Color of Corporate Culture
Prof. Wang defines “corporate culture” as a "pattern of assumptions" from her experiences working at IBM in the USA, Tokyo, and Greater China. She found corporate culture can be more hierarchical and patriarchal in some countries, less so in others, “For instance, Taiwan businesses prioritize personal relationships, while in the US, individual contributions are highly valued. In Japan, conformity is favored over differentiation and creativity, which can lead to individualistic and capable employees not being fully appreciated.”
Looking back on her successful multinational career, Prof. Wang concluded that working together is a mutual choice, “To find employers that align with your values, you must understand your own "color", your principles, and where you won't compromise—much like entering a marriage.”
Click here to read original article on inTrend, Moscow School of Management