Image by Rebecca Kanthor.
Covestro Asia Pacific polycarbonate business unit senior vice president Holly Lei shared with Plastics News China the company's challenges and her personal management style.
Q: What are the biggest challenges in Asia Pacific?
Lei: I think there are a few challenges. We all know this market is very dynamic, and this is the most dynamic market I've ever experienced. The customer needs really vary from industry to industry and the customers are very demanding. In China we have a saying, "The customer is God."
It's a big corporation, so efficiency is always a challenge. Speed of decision is always a challenge. Working with different people with different backgrounds, it is always a challenge. So there are quite some challenges. But for me, the most challenging is how we can work as a team internally. As a company, how do we tackle the external needs, our customer needs, in a very efficient, effective manner, in the right way. That is the most challenging thing.
Q: You've lived in different parts of the world. What is about China that you think differentiates it from the other regions?
Lei: You always need to adapt to the environment, wherever you have business activities. When we talk to our colleagues in NAFTA and Europe, although the energy level is different, they have a lot of experience. [They are] well established, which is really helpful to the market here, not only to our customers [but] also for our colleagues.
From the energy level, economic activity, and the curiosity of the people, we still see this region [Asia Pacific] is the most active economic market. Looking at this region, we have many young people who have less experience compared to other regions. So you see the learning. ... Everything's so fast moving, with fast decisions. That's also beneficial to our colleagues in other regions.
Q: What is your personal management philosophy?
Lei: I am a support [person] in this sense, because I used to live in North America and I know a bit of the culture. I know how to deal with our colleagues over there. The communication between us, it's a little easier this way. Because again, you respect them, you understand them. Then they eventually communicate much easier. I can be the role model. So that's a good thing.
I stayed abroad for many years, for 18 years, so I know how to deal with different cultures. We say, "Let's work for the right thing," not only for the harmony. I'm not really afraid to say [something] or say, "This disappointed somebody." I think I have that inherent kind of characteristic, but it really took me a while to really stand firm. Because again, this Chinese culture, I have that culture of course and it plays a very important role for me. But over the years, you see things could go different ways. I really am grateful the company gave me an opportunity to really speak for myself in that aspect. So today if you say, someone who stands out, maybe I'm one of them.
Q: Covestro has a number of females in leadership positions. What do you think needs to be done to get more females in leadership positions in the industry?
Lei: If you ask me, I say, once you reach a certain level, first of all, gender is no use. It's really your leadership [style]. If you look at Covestro, I think gender is not one factor. It's really choosing the best fit person [for the job]. At certain levels we have business leaders, and then who has that capability, that competence to fit that position. In China, in the workforce, you see a lot of women.
I still see more room for female leaders to grow. There are two factors I think [are limiting women leaders]. One is external, we still somehow perceive females as having a glass ceiling. Another is our own selves. You somehow feel family responsibility, then you just give yourself some kind of pressure. If we [can] overcome that, I don't think we should talk more about gender difference for leaders. It's just equal opportunity for everybody. Everybody can grow to some level if you want. Of course it's really up to the female workforce, to work towards our goal. If we can overcome that part, I think that the external factors, somehow will become less. Anyhow I see strong female leaders growing in Covestro. So personally, I don't feel the boundary, although it's there, but is up to us [to overcome it].