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A Company Full of Love: the AMCHAM Interview with MSH CHINA's CEO Joanne Cao

2014-04-09 11:09:04


Women in China today enjoy opportunities and rights in the workplace that were unimaginable just a few decades ago. According to the Grant Thornton International Women in Business Report 2013, 51 percent of senior management positions in listed and private companies in China are held by women, compared to 25 percent last year and more than double the global average of 24 percent.

Globally, the proportion of businesses employing women as CEOs has risen from 9 percent to 14 percent, and 21 of the Fortune 500 CEOs are women. In China, one such company led by a female CEO, health insurance services provider MSH China, shows why the country continues to make headlines for women in business.

Women comprise 85 percent of the employees notes MSH China CEO Joanne Cao. A Xi’an native, Cao joined the multinational in 2003, shortly after obtaining her master’s in the United Kingdom. She became CEO less than a decade after at the age of 32. During her time with the company, she has seen it grow from five people to almost 300, with 200 staff in Shanghai and others in Beijing, Guangzhou and few other major cities.

Soft-spoken and composed, Cao’s unequivocally feminine style permeates through the company culture. “Women can be elegant and still be a leader, you don’t have to look very strong, you can look very gentle but still do things well,” says Cao. “In our company, we don’t need to be harsh and aggressive. As we are in the healthcare industry, we need to help people every day when they are not feeling well. We try our best to treat our employees with love and care so they can serve our clients with love and care. If you only care about the business target within the company, it’s hard to expect employees to really care about the clients from their heart.”

In fact, Cao notes that among the company’s core values is love. “I’m very happy that we built this company full of love,” she says. “A few years ago our staff got together to vote for core values, and love came up as No. 1 … I don’t think any other company has such core value but I’m very happy about that because it’s coming from the team. That’s where they want to be and they will commit to it personally to make their job meaningful” In MSH’s clients’ praise we often see the client says “thanks for your staff xxx treat me like a family member” which is really rare as a insurance service provider.

Walking through the Shanghai office, which takes up two floors of a modern building, we stumble upon the lactation room, a reminder that women rule at MSH China. The staff is young and smiley and lining the walls are photos of various company trips, runs and other activities, including weekly yoga and belly dancing classes and biweekly book club meetings. A special section of the walls is reserved to recognize top performing “company stars.” A lot of employees have been with the company for many years and they grow with the company and took a lot of initiative to make the company better. Many new ideas from culture development to service improvement,  are from the employees instead of top down which creates strong ownership spirit.

So what is it like for a man to work at a company with mostly women? Thomas Hsu, business development senior manager, says: “Working in a company with a predominant female staff creates a more family-oriented atmosphere. At the same time, as a male, you need to be more careful when you communicate and build good relationships and respect everyone’s emotions and feelings. However, you feel special as your female colleagues show you more care and want to hear your opinions.”

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