Stephanie Hui, Head of Merchant Banking Division, Asia Pacific Ex-Japan, Goldman Sachs
By Jennifer Khoo
When Harvard graduate Stephanie Hui entered the world of finance fresh out of college, little did she know that her intended year-long stint would grow into nearly two decades.
Hui started her career at Goldman Sachs as a financial analyst in 1995, rising swiftly up the ranks to Managing Director in 2006, then to Partner in 2010, and to her current role as Head of Merchant Banking Division in Asia Pacific, Ex-Japan in 2012.
Hui’s role requires weekly travel to different parts of Asia in search of good investment opportunities, often meeting with entrepreneurs and promising young companies with the potential to become market leaders, then ultimately deciding whether to invest in them.
Under her leadership, her team has made significant long-term private equity investments in leading companies across Asia. She currently oversees over US$3 billion in invested capital and since joining Goldman Sachs, she has led and worked on many of the firm’s landmark and most successful investments, bringing capital and international expertise to Asian companies.
Hui finds her role energizing, but certainly not without its challenges. “To excel at the investing business, one needs to be a consistently good judge of macro trends, companies and characters over a long period of time. Even if one has good judgment, given the competitive nature of the private equity business, one also needs [the right skills] to convince the entrepreneurs to let others invest,” says Hui.
The Goldman Sachs name certainly helps, but being able to build relationships and trust with these individuals is also critical, she adds. With all these things considered, Hui says making a successful investment requires “all the stars to align.”
But the demanding nature of Hui’s role is also a source of motivation. “The difficult nature of this job makes it the even more rewarding when we do it well,” she says.
In addition to the passion she has developed for the investment business over time, Hui attributes her long stay at the company to the quality of people she works with. “A rewarding aspect of my job is being able to work shoulder-to-shoulder in the trenches with a group of diverse, talented and equally passionate individuals who are also just good and fun people,” she says.
Speaking of people, Hui says the most important lesson she has learned during her career so far is that more can be achieved by working together. “I have learned to hire the right people and then coach and empower them. Everyone is different, and as a manager, I need to understand how to bring out the best in each person,” she says.
On the issue of gender in the workplace, Hui says the challenges women face – herself included – are two-fold, namely biases and work-life balance. On biases, she says, “Despite the modern age, people still have fixed ideas of what business leaders are supposed to look like, and I have had my fair share of being dismissed or overlooked at meetings over the years. My advice to others is to be resilient and have a clear sense of purpose because such biases can only be overcome by more women from this generation achieving professional excellence.”
On work-life balance, Hui continues, “Women still take up a bigger share of the household duties, particularly in Asia. My job requires intensive travelling around the region. It has been tough physically and mentally at times trying to juggle a young family and the work schedule. My advice to others is to prioritize intensely – focus on being perfect on things that matter but not everything. It is also important to stay healthy and maintain a good sense of humor.”
On women in finance, Hui says, “I firmly believe that a woman can do any job in finance, or in any field, for that matter. The key is finding one’s passion and making the best use of one’s talents. We need more women in senior positions in general, particularly on the revenue generating side, and my advice to the younger generation is to find a place with people you respect and try to stay.
“Find mentors whom you respect and trust and build a strong relationship with them. There will be ups and downs in the industry as well as your professional and personal life – be patient, tenacious and think long-term. And finally, coach the next generation and pay it forward,” she advises.