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Asian professionals convene

NAAAP conference highlights stories of success

Martin Desmarais
Asian professionals convene
The National Association of Asian American Professionals’ Northeast Leadership Conference drew hundreds to UMass Boston last week for workshops aimed at helping participants advance in their careers. (Photo: Sam Liu)

About 200 of some of Boston’s up-and-coming Asian businessmen and businesswomen attended the National Association of Asian American Professionals 2015 Northeast Leadership Conference last Friday at the University of Massachusetts Boston.

In keeping with the NAAP mission, organizers designed the event to serve as a stepping stone for attendees to take better advantage of career opportunities.

The Northeast Leadership Conference pushed the professional development skills with a theme of “agility.” Speakers and workshops examined ways for individuals and organizations to anticipate and work with changes common in today’s business world in order to grow and succeed.

Some of the workshop topics included how to: define and adapt goals and outline plans to achieve them; develop brand and reputation to become a recognized thought leader; build an “agile” workforce by embracing diversity and inclusiveness, women and generational differences; and foster an organization that can quickly adapt to client and industry demands.

Author: Sam LiuKeynote speaker Liz Cheng of WGBH

The keynote speakers were Liz Cheng, WGBH’s General Manager for Television; and Daniel Koh, chief of staff to Mayor Martin Walsh.

Other speakers included: Paul Francisco, managing director and head of diversity consulting and sourcing programs for State Street Corp.; Judy Shen-Filerman, president of Dreambridge Partners; Lauren Rikleen, president of Rikleen Institute for Strategic Leadership; Maura Rudolph, vice president of New England market for Accenture; and Thomas Sullivan, lead for leadership development at Hult International Business School. Jesse Nandhavan, NAAAP Boston Chapter President, also spoke.

Jim Fong, chairman of the NAAAP Boston Chapter board of directors, spoke to the Banner about the importance of developing leaders amongst young Asian American professionals. It is a task NAAAP Boston has fully embraced. The Boston chapter, which was started in 1986, is one of the oldest and biggest of the 33-year-old association, with about 450 members. The chapter hosted the first Northeast Leadership Conference in 2014 and handled the event again this year.

“This is right at the core of what we do since our moto is ‘We Build Leaders.’ We believe in helping people do leadership, so all the people organizing the event have to think about how they can help their colleagues advance and what kind of information can be useful. So this is perfect for us,” Fong said.

He also said it was important to show examples of Asian Americans who have been successful in what they do to provide role models for a younger generation.

“It is great to bridge that experience gap where a lot of people ahead of them feel that they had to learn things on their own on the fly and they didn’t have somebody to ask or talk with, so we want to be more accessible and available to people earlier in their careers.”

Keynote speaker Liz Cheng of WGBH seemed to resonate with the conference attendees with her story about how she forged a successful career in a sector not traditionally associated with Asians and also one which was not immediately acceptable to those closest to her.

As the daughter of Chinese immigrants to the United States, to many, Cheng’s story was a familiar one as she recalled the push to build a career in engineering or medicine — the fields more culturally acceptable to work in. Her battle to follow her passion for storytelling and go into media, shedding cultural stereotypes and finding a foothold, elicited a warm response.

Author: Sam LiuJesse Nandhavan, NAAAP Boston Chapter President.

Four years into her WGBH rola as general manager for television, she is responsible for some of the station’s top content and programing. She joined WGBH from Boston’s ABC affiliate WCVB-TV, where she was vice president as well as director of programming. She was executive in charge of production for the well-known newsmagazine “Chronicle” and executive produced 10 years of “Pops Goes the Fourth!” and “Holiday Pops.”

“If I had listened to my parents I would have become a surgeon, a lawyer or a stay-at-home mom. I would never have chosen television,” Cheng said.

She joked that even after years of high-level jobs in the industry her father still questions her and wonders what she does all day, even suggesting other career options just in case things don’t work out in TV.

Career advice

Cheng shared several maxims she believes helped her in her career success and can help others. The first was “Honor thy parents, but do not obey them,” which she related to her efforts to move beyond the professions her parents had laid out for her.

The second, “Assess your abilities, find your passion, be good at it,” she related to her early efforts in the media and the realization that she wanted to tell stories about things she cared about and about things that impact the community and her efforts to find a role in television that would allow her to do so. One big move: transitioning from trying to be an on-screen reporter when she realized she was better suited to work in production behind the scenes.

Cheng encouraged conference attendees to act on their passions with her third statement: “The reason why so little is done is generally because so little is attempted.”

“We’ve got to believe in ourselves. We’ve got to have confidence in our abilities. We cannot be perfect. No one can be perfect,” Cheng said. “If you don’t experience disappointment, if you don’t go for it and make mistakes and fail big time you will miss out on life’s most important lessons.”

Author: Sam LiuPaul Francisco, managing director and head of diversity consulting and sourcing programs for State Street Corp.

Similarly, she called for risk-taking with her fourth insight: “Be adaptable — pitch ideas, experiment, volunteer to do new things.”

“It is too easy for us Asian Americans to put our heads down, work really hard and hope for the best, hope the boss will notice, but why not lift your heads up to examine the many opportunities all around you,” she said. “Proceed outside your comfort zone. If you volunteer for something new, what is the downside? You will learn a lot, you might discover a new skill or find a whole new direction in life.”

Cheng also called for giving back with her statement: “We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.” In this regard, she cautioned conference attendees about thinking it is too early in their careers to start giving back. She said it is never too early to start giving back to the community so they should start doing so now.