Ronna Chao is Chairman of Novetex Textiles Limited, CEO of Novel Investment Partners Limited, Director of Novelpark Investments Limited, and has taken on various advisory and leading roles in foundations. Here she speaks to Samantha Welsh about leadership, particularly at Novetex
1. How much is good leadership about effective communication?
Often as CEO, you find colleagues look up to you as the leader of the pack. Leadership is as much about offering a show of strength as it is about allowing the members of your team to feel that they are truly a part of something. During meetings, I regularly say: “What do YOU think?” This is because I want to promote an atmosphere in which everyone, regardless of rank, feels safe and free to speak and voice their opinions and recommendations. There is so much we can learn from each other and I really believe that mentoring is not one-way. Communication is a skill that requires constant practice and honing.
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2. What is it about this collaborative style of leadership that you are passionate to share with next gen through Bai Xian Asia Institute?
Bai Xian Asia Institute is the brainchild of my dad, who had the opportunity to study overseas and believed in the importance of fostering friendship and understanding in young people across different cultures. We focus on supporting Asian students to study abroad within the region because we believe that one needs to understand and appreciate one’s own home region and culture before becoming good ambassadors elsewhere. We provide our scholarship recipients a secure space where they can exchange views, and this environment enables them to grow as individuals and as part of a community. As they become leaders in the various fields of their choosing, our hope at Bai Xian is that they extend their circles of influence and propagate their perspectives and experiences with the wider community. Having studied abroad for extensive periods of time myself, I too see the necessity and the advantages that come with intercultural and interdisciplinary education. The world is getting smaller and smaller, and the need for collaboration across borders, across industries, is so apparent.
3. At a personal level, how do you manage challenges in, or to, your leadership?
Things always evolve, and one way to maintain an open mind and curious mindset is to accept and embrace the fluidity of circumstances and situations. One thing I strive to keep in mind in my leadership is that I do not and cannot know everything. My liberal arts education at Brown allowed me to explore interests in different subjects and topics as an undergraduate. These experiences trained me to keep an open mind and have broader perspectives. My three children are growing into adults themselves, and I am constantly in awe of their wisdom and ability to absorb everything around them. At their age, it’s natural that they begin questioning me – but they know that questions, criticism are always welcome to me and the communication lines remain open. These days, the roles are reversed in many instances as there is so much that they teach me and I look forward to considering their experiences and perspectives, especially as they come into their own and forge their own paths.
4. What compelled you to return from US back to Hong Kong to lead Novetex, a pioneer in the global textile industry?
Returning to Hong Kong and working with Novetex was a wonderful opportunity and an enormous honour for me that our family trusted me to let me try and helm the company. Ron’s heavy investment in research and development (R&D) proved fundamental to modernising our business practices. We initially created The Billie System, an innovative upcycling process that reduces environmental impact, to address the textile waste that our company was producing on an internal level. Over the past decade, we’ve identified new ways to minimise our environmental impact, even down to our supply chain. We arrived at the idea of The Billie together with Hong Kong Research Institute for Textiles and Apparel (HKRITA). Because of how we began this venture, the focus has been on preventing materials from entering landfills and recapturing the value of these fibres.
5. Novetex is also a first mover in textile R&D and you are invested in a sustainable future. Where have you found innovation to be most impactful under your leadership?
Novetex has been in business for five decades. We began this journey toward sustainability almost fifteen years ago when the topic was not popular as it is now. At Novetex, we pride ourselves on being our customers’ “Complete Yarn Resource,” which means we strive always to be creative and innovative in offering a wide variety of qualities, colours, custom-designed and specialty yarns.
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In a self-reflection process, we audited our environmental impact, and reviewed processes from our operations down to our supply chain. Textile waste was identified as one of our pain points and we started having conversations with stakeholders and other parties to address the issue. Rather than worry about whether the timing was right, we went full steam ahead – and incorporating sustainability into our mission and vision is paying off, slowly but surely.
6. What was the take-away in your speech to other leaders at Hong Kong’s Business of Design Week?
Prior to joining Novetex in 2010, I had little to no hands-on experience in factory operations, textile R&D, sales and marketing, and brand management. Having to assume a leadership role with such “limitations” was a challenge. Nobody knows everything, and humility, curiosity, open-mindedness, and the attitude for life-long learning are key drivers that can help us as we journey in uncharted waters. Innovation and change require not only vision and courage but also patience and persistence. It is a marathon, not a sprint; setting goals, constant reviewing, keeping the balance between reaching for stars and keeping your feet on the ground enable us to cover the distance bit by bit.
Find out more: www.novetex.com