Run the World: Diana Chou, Chairman of Dragon General Aviation Group, packs her bag with lessons in empowerment and owning one’s choices

Prior to the day of our shoot and interview, Diana Chou was flying in and out of Hong Kong on business trips. She is, after all, the founder and Chairman of Dragon General Aviation Group and bespoke private jet charter broker L’VOYAGE. Now in the last season of a soaring aviation-centric career, she knows what she wants and ensures that her actions reflect who she really is. No less, no more. From the wardrobe and makeup to the interview questions, Chou is all about empowerment.

From the get-go, her strong will is apparent. “I want the interview to focus on my career as a woman in a man’s world,” she instructs us beforehand over the phone. “I want nothing too pretentious where the wardrobe and makeup would not be my style. I want to include my successor, Jolie [Howard, L’VOYAGE CEO], in at least one of the photos. Please.”

With that settled, Chou is the embodiment of professionalism and enthusiasm as our photo session proceeds as discussed. Dressed in a bright yellow power suit and flashing a firm, warm, sunny smile, she manages to shatter stereotypes of how women should present themselves. She is a potent example of how femininity and authority go hand in hand. Above all, women should not have to shed parts of their identity that they treasure in order to be taken seriously at all times – an ethos that she repeats throughout the day.

Revealing another facet of her character before sitting down for the interview, she shows us around her office and her own wardrobe of outfits collected on many varied travels. This is her softer, social-butterfly, fashion-loving side, which many might see as a conflict with her forceful, serious, top-flight business persona. Brushing this erroneous, man’s world-imposed contradiction aside, she champions freedom of choice, complexity and the right to be herself without question or scrutiny.

Independent Woman

Diana Chou was born into aviation royalty. Her brother, Silas Chou, instigated the alliance between Sino Private Aviation (founded by the family in 1998) and Canadian business jet manufacturer Bombardier that continues to this day. Her father, textile magnate K.P. Chao, co-founded Dragonair in 1985.

“The Chous are visionaries, we have mindsets of our own and like to take risks,” she declares. “When I was a child, I always looked at the sky and imagined I can fly and visit exotic places, meet people and savour different culinary delights. Well, I never dreamt that I could be in the jet-selling business. I guess, when we dare to dream, our dreams do manifest in our lives in one form or another.”

Growing up in Macau, young Diana had a wholesome, uncomplicated childhood. She attended an all-girls Catholic school where her competitive and studious traits flourished – characteristics that she has carried with her into the present. Significant growth came as part of life’s journey too. A jump from the cosmetics industry to the world of private jets is no usual career path. As radical a shift as beauty to aircraft might have been, she advises young professionals that the world is their oyster. No one else gets to decide their path and they can forge it in whatever direction they want.

“Before all of this, I was working for Clinique as a Brand Manager, but my brother asked me whether I would like to take up the challenge. I accepted it as it is a lot sexier to sell jets than lipsticks and the basic selling skills and marketing principles are the same. I never looked back.”

Business Class

She founded Aerochine Aviation in 1999, adding L’Voyage in 2013 and consultancy Jet8 Aviation five years later. Her groundbreaking role as the first woman to sell private jets in Asia has significantly impacted the rapid rise of the aviation sector over the past 20 years. She recalls that back then, the market was a blank canvas, the stakes were high and the potential was enormous.

“I told myself if I sell two jets, I will have doubled the market 100%, so I relentlessly started cold-calling all the potential clients on the Forbes list. There was very little information on private jets and the internet was just beginning to take shape,” she says. “Every manufacturer was watching me with curiosity like how this tiny dame with no aviation knowledge can sell a plane. I developed educational tools and came up with an elevated pitch – ‘no money in the world can buy or save you time, but a private jet can’.”

And so, she took advantage of those years when the Chinese economy began to take flight on its own and incubated a group of new billionaires. She also ventured into helicopter dealerships in China and opened the first wholly foreign-owned helicopter MRO (Maintenance, Repairs and Operations) business using the CEPA (Closer Economic Partnership Agreement) scheme for Hong Kong companies. It proved to be an inspired move and she sold the business to US aerospace manufacturer Bell Textron in early 2020 just before the pandemic struck.

Dream Big, Fly High

Even as she steps back from her high-flying career, Chou still has her sights on steering Dragon General Aviation to even greater heights. Her knowledge is vast, her intuition immense and her resilience astounding. She may be petite, but she displays incredible strength. Deserving of respect, her achievements have been duly recognised by her peers. She was named Woman Entrepreneur of the Year by the All-China Women’s Federation in 2010 and 2012, and the 2015 Businesswoman Leader of the Year by the Asian Business Aviation Association. She was also the EY Entrepreneural Winning Woman Asia Pacific Class of 2020.

She is a natural mentor to the next generation of women entrepreneurs. Stressing the important role mentors play in the business world, she notes how they can foster the growth and leadership qualities of talented aspiring individuals.

“Mentors can also help the mentee to get a fuller picture of their personal life, particularly with budding female entrepreneurs, because mentors have been there, done it and lived through similar family and work challenges,” she says. “We all know subconsciously what is best for us, however having a sounding board like a mentor validates our thoughts and actions. My motto to my mentee is ‘Dream big and fly high’.”

Quizzed about her greatest strength, Chou answers with characteristic directness: “My greatest strength is my positive view towards life and everything around me. I view failure and challenges as an opportunity to learn and grow. I don’t waste time lamenting the past because I know I can’t change the past, but I can determine my future.”

In a society where the choice of profession defines people’s life, Diana Chou truly is an inspirational woman. Her ability to ‘fly high’, in what was not so very long ago a man’s world, is a lesson in empowerment and owning one’s choices.

(Interview & Art Direction: Joseff Musa Photographer: Jack Law Videographer: Jack Fontanilla Hair & Makeup: Joenny Lau Venue: L’VOYAGE Office Jet: Gulfstream G100 – exclusive aircraft of L’VOYAGE)

Also Read: On the Wings of Luxury: Private jet-setting in elevated style is the hot ticket across a reopened world

Off the Book: Passion for books shelved teaching aspirations of Bookazine owner Arti Mirchandani

John Lennon famously said, “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” This piece of wisdom from a former member of the Fab Four could be a perfect summation of how Arti Mirchandani’s life and career in books have unfolded. Coming from the entrepreneurial family behind Hong Kong retailer Bookazine, her youthful passion was art, not books, and this love of visual creativity drove her to study art at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT University).

Her parents, Mohan and Nisha Mirchandani started the family business in 1985 with a bookstore in the Hopewell Centre at a time when there were no “big” English-language bookshops in Hong Kong. Mohan had previously moved to Hong Kong from Nepal to work with his uncle and they started off as distributors of books and magazines, initially selling to street hawkers and chain stores.

Young Arti was never much of a reader even though her father would come home with boxes full of books. “He would sigh and say, ‘I am the king of books, and my daughter doesn’t read!’” she relates with a laugh.

The art of teaching

Before heading to Melbourne to study, she worked as an assistant teacher at the Peak School. She mainly tutored a boy who had meningitis as a newborn leaving him about two academic years behind his peers. “While it was a very challenging role, it was also incredibly rewarding when we had little breakthroughs and I felt really good leaving work every day like I had achieved something,” she recalls.

This sense of fulfilment was a light-bulb moment for her first choice of career. “That is when I decided that combining my two passions – art and kids – would be the ideal job for me. I wanted to become an art teacher.”

Early ambition shelved

With nine months to kill before starting a teaching certificate in the UK, she joined the family business “with no real role”. Her father made her start at the bottom, unpacking boxes of books, shelving them and even dusting the shelves. “He told me in order to be successful, you have to learn the A-Z of your business – so as to not be afraid to get my hands dirty. What he meant by that was, ‘Don’t think just because you are the boss’s daughter, you don’t need to do all aspects of the job!’”

Checking invoices, arranging books in beautiful displays, interacting with customers, taking orders, working behind the till, and tallying up the cash at the end of the day were all part and parcel of her learning process.

“It was hard work, but it was the experience I needed in order to gain the respect of my staff today. When I ask them to do something, they can’t say to me, ‘Oh, she doesn’t know what she’s talking about’!” After three months, she started to enjoy working in the bookstore and dropped any idea of teaching.

Also Read: Indra Banga on being one of Hong Kong’s foremost philanthropists

Storybook magic

It was only upon joining the family business that Mirchandani truly discovered the magic of stories and books. She has a special affinity for children’s books, saying: “I think this comes from my love of kids and my teaching experience. I have always loved the illustrations and fun rhyming text. I used to love watching children’s faces light up or hearing them giggle when we read books to them at school. How can you not love something that brings that much joy?”

As she sits in front of crammed shelves in a corner of Bookazine’s flagship store in Landmark Prince’s, she speaks enthusiastically about her role as a buyer of books, toys and gifts. “It’s like going shopping everyday….with a corporate card. I do really enjoy seeing all the new products before they hit the market; I get very excited like a kid in a toy store. I also love watching my customers’ reactions when the products hit our stores.”

Bookazine has seven shops in Hong Kong and has been in Prince’s Building for more than 30 years. The company hosts most of its book launches there and the space is also used to showcase local authors and designers.

She particularly enjoys receiving proof copies of new books ahead of their release – that feeling of having access to privileged information. “It’s like we belong to a very exclusive club; it’s also just really nice to be able to read a book right away after the publisher has just told you a story. You do not have to wait a couple of months to find out how it ends.”

Also Read: Seven must-read books about Hong Kong

Sharing the passion

Mohan Mirchandani established Bookazine to share his love of reading with a vision to become a family-friendly community bookstore. “My father wanted it to be a place where families came and everyone left feeling happy or inspired. I think we have achieved this, or so I have been told,” says the daughter fondly.

His death aged just 58 taught her that life is very fragile and to be grateful for every day, to live for the moment and never plan too far ahead.

Customers (and daughter) know best

Mirchandani is at ease throughout the interview, articulate and well-spoken. It is no surprise that she loves interacting with customers in the store, citing it as one of her favourite aspects of the job.

Many customers have been loyal for 38 years and she feels immense gratitude for their support and invaluable feedback. Her daughter has also been a useful barometer of the latest toy trends, helping her increase the toy offering at Bookazine. “Even though she is aged 14 now, I still ask her opinion on some new trending toys and plush. She has got a real knack for knowing what will do well – except now she asks me if I will pay her!”

Family matters

Like with most family businesses, relationships can become strained. Her mother, Nisha, is the company chair, while her sister, Shonee, is also part of the management team. “Sometimes it’s really hard, and definitely in the early days we used to clash a lot,” she says candidly. A copy of Spare by Prince Harry is prominently displayed on a nearby shelf.

However, business matters now run smoothly within the family, possibly due to maturity or finding the right rhythm to make it work. “I am very close to my family; they are my pillars of support and I feel very lucky to be able to work with them.”

Reading the future

Mirchandani remains confident in the future of their business. She no longer feels that e-books pose the existential threat to traditional bookstores that appeared to be the case when they entered the market. Fortunately for them at Bookazine, the initial drop in book sales did not last long as people returned to reading in the traditional print.

“There is something quite special about flipping the page or the smell of books,” she says. “And then with some bigger online bookstores, the threat is that they can be quite competitive on pricing and things like that. But, you know, at the end of the day, I think everyone needs a good bookstore. I can’t imagine a world without bookstores.”

Photographer: Jack Law Art Director: Joseff Musa Fashion Stylist: Jhoshwa Ledesma Videographer: Jack Fontanilla Hair & Make Up: Owen Ko Venue: Bookazine, Landmark Prince’s

Women’s Resilience: As tough as natural diamond

In times of challenges, Female Entrepreneurs Worldwide (FEW), together with Gafencu and De Beers, worked together to interview several influential women who can inspire us to shine bright, no matter how dark the shadows sometimes seem. We believe that the strength of a woman’s spirit is as resilient as that of a natural diamond itself, born through hard work and under intense pressure.

Women's Resilience As tough as natural diamond gafencu total circle alison chan el azar
Alison Chan El Azar wears Portraits of Nature by De Beers High Jewellery Collection

Alison Chan El Azar
HK Influencer

Alison didn’t always know what she wanted in life, but she knows that she can do something big, something important. She is always working to be a better version of herself – just like a natural diamond – when it’s polished and incorporated into a piece of jewellery, it will transform into a truly one-of-a-kind piece.

Read more here

Women's Resilience As tough as natural diamond gafencu total circle victoria tang-owen Thirty30 creative
Victoria Tang-Owen wears De Beers Jewellers’ Enchanted Lotus High Jewellery Collection

Victoria Tang-Owen
Founder of Thirty30 Creative & Victoria Tang Studio

Victoria understands that “starting a business is tough, especially being a women-owned business. It takes courage and discipline.” I like the touch and feel of rough diamonds, understated yet powerful. Just like in life, some things do not have to be polished or perfect. 

Read more here

Women's Resilience As tough as natural diamond gafencu total circle ruth chao RCS
Ruth Chao wears De Beers Jewellers’ Ellesmere Treasure High Jewellery Collection

Ruth Chao
Founder of RCS

“We are what we think. We become what we do. Creating for businesses with positive impact and meaningful causes is what fuels my fire of creativity.” The strength of Ruth is like the stunning diamond jewellery she is wearing – rare, finite, and extremely difficult to find.”

Read more here

Women's Resilience As tough as natural diamond gafencu total circle diana chou
Diana Chou wears De Beers Jewellers’ Portraits of Nature High Jewellery Collection

Diana Chou
Chairman of Dragon General Aviation Group (DGA)

Diana Chou, the founder and Chairman of Dragon General Aviation Group, (DGA), has over time been a strong leader and mentor for up and coming female entrepreneurs. “When you see a natural diamond, you don’t know its brilliance until you have to shape it, polish it, before it will shine. This is just like a woman going through life, and they need to be polished before they can shine”.

Read more here

10 Tips to invite successful people to be your mentor

Diana Chou is the founder and chairman of Dragon General Aviation Group (DGA) while Anna Wong and Ines Gafi are founders of Female Entrepreneurs Worldwide (FEW). Diana also sits on the board of directors of FEW from the early years and she always shared with them that sometimes we  need to experience setbacks in order to learn and grow – it’s like a caterpillar that undergoes a transformational process to become a butterfly.

Anna: “Diana is a wonderful mentor because she shares her life, experiences, and struggles. She let me see how she manages the ups and downs in her life. She invites me to her business meetings and friends gatherings. She let me see how she runs things.”

Ines: “Diana is a great inspiration, as she inspires us to pay it forward and mentor other younger women. And we are constantly looking for more great business and corporate leaders to mentor our members.”

Also read: Women’s Resilience: As tough as natural diamonds

10 Tips to invite successful people to be your mentor

  1. Do not look like a helpless and miserable young woman.
  2. Dress “one level up” – if you are just a manager, you could dress like a future director in the office; If you’re an entrepreneur, please dress like a successful entrepreneur.
  3. Show them that you have the talent to do it through your work ethic and achievements.
  4. Sell your passion and bring in positive energy to people’s life. 
  5. Demonstrate you’re doing something to drive a positive impact in society, as they want to give back to the society too.
  6. Be genuine. You get to truly love the people you’re with. Try not to make friends with people because of their status or money.
  7. Invite them to a coffee meeting. Tell them sincerely about what you admire about them and want to learn from them.
  8. Join platforms like FEW or other business associations based on your needs.
  9. Say thank you or send a gift for their guidance and trust in you.
  10. No need to rush into any relationship. You also need to know that if you can work and communicate well with the person who’s goingto help guide you.


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