Last Saturday, the San Francisco chapter of the National Association of Asian American Professionals (NAAAP-SF) held their first ever regional conference on leadership, “Gateway to Leadership.” The last time I attended a NAAAP event was the national conference two years, which was also held in San Francisco.
The first panel discussion I was able to make it to was Asian-American Leaders in the C-Suite, featuring local ABC7 News weekend anchor man Alan Wang as moderator, with:
- Phac LeTuan, CEO of PaceWorks
- Tracy Wan, Chief Operating Officer of Cycle Gear (and former EVP of Finance, CFO, President and Chief Operating Officer of The Sharper Image)
- CC Yin, Owner of 21 McDonald’s Restaurant
- Bill Imada, Founder, Chairman & Chief Collaboration Officer of IW Group
What I got out of this session was: be the best you can be in your job, advocate yourself, find and work with a mentor, and network. The traditional Asian American mentality is to be humble and not toot your own horn, believe in yourself and be confident. Sadly, three out of the four panelists did admit that to reach the top and their dreams, they started their own businesses. As a keynote speaker would say during the luncheon, about 25% of Ivy League schools are composed of Asian Americans (actually, I think that is a bit high – more like 15% to 20%), yet only 1% or 2% of those at the “C” (Corporate) executive level are Asian American. There is a reason why the glass ceiling for Asian Americans is called the bamboo ceiling.
After the first panel was over, it was lunch time. There were some speakers, including the president of NAAAP-SF, Chris Do, as well as a Michael Mau from the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and Patty Chang Anker as the Master of Ceremonies.
The final lunch keynote speaker was Noel Lee, founder and CEO of Monster Cable. To everyone’s surprise, Lee came rolling in behind the curtains in a gold wheel plated Segway and did his whole speech on the segway. But what was more surprising was to listen and learn of Lee’s emergence from an engineer, to a musician, then to an out-of-the-box thinker and entrepreneur to grow Monster Cable since 1979 to the present as a privately held company with an estimated of $500 million or more in revenue and his “secret” of un-commoditizing commodity products, including the creation through the partnership of Dr. Dre, the Beats Audio brand. Lee was a dynamic and funny speaker and really inspiring as well.
The lunch and keynotes ran late, and by the tim the next panel session started, it was probably around 3:00 PM. I wound up attending “Secrets to Startup Success,” which had an impressive number of panelists, including Justin Kan, Nori Yoshida, Hong Bui, Jonathan Teo, Peter Lee, and John Lee as the moderator. I’m not sure this panel differed a lot from a lot of other panels I’ve been to in Silicon Valley, but it was interesting nevertheless to listen to each one of these successful or former entrepreneurs-turned-Venture Capitalists.
The last and final session I attended, towards the tail end of the session (after making my way to the sponsor tables on the atrium floor) was “Asian-American Women in Leadership” with panelists Kimi Hirotsu Ziemski, Elaine Law, Vivian Tan, Margaret Chen, Eugenia Rao and moderator Leslie Yotsuya, who discussed the double glass ceiling of being a woman and being an Asian American. An added dimension of balancing work-life was of course that of taking care of the family, or expectations of doing so and trying to have it all and the elusive “balance” that everybody is trying to find.
I had a long day, so didn’t stay for the social and networking time in the atrium. However, I would have to say that for a first time event, I was quite impressed with the lineup of keynotes, moderators, panelist/speakers and all the effort by the volunteers. Congratulations to all involved!