Posted by: Sam Olsen | July 25, 2012

The Iron Lady of the East

Now we all know the Olsens’ love of Mrs T., but today I was lucky enough to attend a speech by Mrs C.: Anson Chan. Never heard of her? She is truly the Asian equivalent of Maggie, just as ground-breaking in her day.  Mrs Chan (I would not deign to address her by her first name even on this blog), became the Chief Secretary of HK, i.e. the head of the civil service, and basically second in command to the Governor (later the Chief Executive). She was appointed by Chris Patten, the reason for his choice being that she ‘always runs with the ball’ in his words that she relayed to us today, so started work before handover and then continued under the first Chinese administration. Mrs Chan had come to the office to talk to the Women’s Network, and she certainly had some tales to tell. When she started work in 1962, women in HK’s civil service were paid 75% of their male colleagues. And upon marriage, your contract switched from permanent, to a one month rolling contract that made it easier to terminate you!  

What presence and grace this lady has! Aged almost 73, she was as relevant and probably more opinionated than she was while in power. She spoke extensively about the importance of sticking to one’s convictions, about the problems of a lack of ethics in public and corporate life (and the connection to money-making obsession in today’s HK), and about leading by example.  Her treatment of and by the press was particularly interesting, and she once took advice from Margaret Thatcher to stop reading the papers because it might dissuade you from the path you’ve chosen to take.  Hilariously she mentioned Bob Diamond’s quote: “Integrity is something you do when no-one is looking” and drily followed it with the comment “if only he had practised what he preached”.  When asked about her views on the current HK administration, she offered candid criticism, but old habits die hard and she scanned the room quickly to check this would be ‘off the record’!

What else is required to make a successful life as a woman in the corporate or political world? Well, the number one prerequisite is of course a supportive husband. Then the recognition that life isn’t fair. Sensible. And of course the determination to stick to what you know is right. What an inspiring morning! 

Here she is, known as “Hong Kong’s Conscience”, and well-known for her cheery smile and dimples.



  1. supportive wives useful for the husbands too! Sounds like an inspirational woman.

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