Joyce Pang is the executive director of the Shenzhen (Nanshan) Concord College of Sino-Canada and co-founder of the China South Chapter of the Entrepreneurs’ Organization.
You are famously active across a range of educational and entrepreneurial organisations. How did you first get involved with them?
My involvement with the Entrepreneurs’ South China Chapter started when I was doing my executive MBA. A friend’s husband had started the Hong Kong chapter, so we got talking about entrepreneurs in general. We’re something of a lonely breed. There are a lot of issues that come up that you can’t discuss with friends who are not entrepreneurs.
The important thing about the entrepreneurs’ organisation is that it offers a very private and safe environment. One of the key aspects of it is that it offers a forum discussion format where everything discussed is confidential – you are not even meant to talk to your spouse about it. Within the forum, you are free to talk about anything. You can talk about family, you can talk about life in general and, especially, work issues of course. It helps that you can talk to people who have experience of similar issues and that they can give you advice on what they did – sharing the experience of what they have done in similar situations. It also enables you to address certain issues that can arise when you’re running a family business.
I am also the executive director of the Concord College of Sino-Canada and the international schools. I basically run the behind-the-scenes function of what a school normally does. I handle the teacher-principal hiring and also the business side.
From when I was in school to now, the things that are now taught are very different. Today there is a focus on what we call 21st century learning. It’s all very interactive and not at all textbook based. It’s never a case of just sitting there listening to a teacher lecturing you. You have teachers that are asking more questions of their students and giving them much more freedom to go out and find the answers for themselves. Now it is a case of the kids actually saying to the teachers: “What we want to learn is this. How do we go about discovering more about it?”
Such an approach to learning is very much geared toward each individual student, giving them the flexibility to explore what they are genuinely interested in. There are different types of learners. Not everybody can just gain knowledge from a textbook. Some people need to feel it, some people need to touch it and some need to hear certain things. So it’s very much more catered toward embracing the learning profiles of different kinds of learners.
Sometimes it’s not about studying. Sometimes it’s more about discovering the best way for you, personally, to acquire information.
“I love wearing ball gowns, but people think you are a bit weird if you do it all the time”
For your part, what was your first actual job?
It was an internship. I had this uncle who somehow seemed to believe I wanted to be a doctor. So he arranged a job for me at this very well-established hospital in Toronto. Little did he know that wasn’t my ambition at all. As he had arranged it, I went along there and found myself working with a neurologist. It was an amazing job and I got to see a lot things, but it didn’t pique my interest.
Is there a brand that you would never wear or own?
Hmm… that’s an interesting question. I’m very open to trying new stuff, but maybe Ralph Lauren.
There are certain things he says and also it is a very expensive brand. For my own part, I prefer something much more casual. For the price the brand tends to sell at, I would prefer to wear something else.
What has been your most extravagant purchase to date?
Probably jewellery I would say. And shoes. Lots of shoes.
What was the last movie you saw?
The Secret Lives of Pets.
Have you ever had a near-death experience?
Actually I did. When I was 10 or 11, I almost drowned in a swimming pool of all places. Actually, I may have been much younger, maybe five or six. I used to live in Canada. In summer we would go to a horseback riding camp for half a day and then, for the rest of the day, we might go swimming. Once one older girl said to me: “Let’s go swimming in the deep bay” and I said “I don’t know how to swim.” So she said “It’s okay I’ll hold onto you.” So then we both almost ended up drowning but, thankfully, a lifeguard pulled us both out. We went under for what seemed like a long time but it was probably just a minute or so. Now, of course, I can swim relatively well.
Which clubs are you currently a member of?
The Golden Bauhinia Women’s Association – it’s an entrepreneurs’ sort of club. I have also joined several industry-related clubs. On top of that, I volunteer for Hong Kong Dog Rescue – I love dogs – and Animals Asia. They’re both great organisations.
What’s your favourite accent to listen to?
Australian. And British of course. Actually I like Italian too – they have a very interesting accent. It’s
explosive rather than expressive.
What is your favourite item in your wardrobe?
Ball gowns. They are amazing dresses, but you don’t get to wear them as much as you might like to. You would look fairly weird if you did.
What were your parents’ jobs?
My mother didn’t go out to work. She was very much a stay-at-home mom. Of course, that’s a major undertaking in its own right, especially when you have to handle me and my brother, something that was never going to be easy. My dad, meanwhile, founded the schools that we still have. He’s still working and he still loves it. He travels a lot and now my mom actually accompanies him a lot of the time.
When was the last time you got lost?
Maybe last year on vacation… probably somewhere in Thailand when I was just out walking randomly. I get lost in Hong Kong too. I get lost in Mong Kok, I just can’t get my bearings there. Nowadays, though, you can always find where you are because you have your phone with you and you can just click on Google Maps.
“My advice would be, when choosing your first puppy, always go for one that’s not too hyperactive”
How did your husband propose to you?
Well, with my current husband, we were together for a long time before we decided to get married. So he just proposed at a restaurant that we both loved going to. It was the Oyster Bar in the Sheraton Hotel. It has a lovely view. The funniest thing is he got me a cake. He had the waiter bring it out and he had the question written on the cake. It was a half-pound cake, and then it was like: “How are we going to finish all this cake now?” It was very nice though. I love cakes.
Are you a good listener or a good talker?
I think I’m a very good listener. I like to listen to people, especially friends when they come to me with difficult issues. I always try to analyse what they’ve said and then do my best to help them.
Sunrises or sunsets?
Sunsets. Sunrises are way too early.
Do you have a particularly cherished memory?
That would have to be when I got my first puppy. It was an American Eskimo dog and very hyperactive. I was seven. I had been bothering my parents for the longest time about getting a dog. I made them so many promises… I’ll walk it… I’ll feed it… And, eventually, I got one. It was a super active dog. Looking back, I think when choosing a first puppy, it’s probably better to choose something less hyperactive.
What was the scariest situation you’ve ever been in?
This summer, we went back to Canada. There’s a theme park there with this huge rollercoaster. It was basically like a tower. I mean you could even see it out by the highway. The funniest thing is that this rollercoaster drops straight down and the only thing holding you in is just this bar. I had my eyes open, because it’s even scarier when you close them. The seating is four people per cart, with two in front, so you can see very clearly that you’re going down. That’s my scariest experience, at least over the past year.
Are kid s getting smarter or just more tech-savvy?
Down the line, technology is going to be an increasingly big part of our society. It’s important, then, that kids have the proper tools and the proper knowledge, allowing them to develop along with the technology. We’ve got kids in primary school who are already creating apps.
When was the last time you told a white lie?
Maybe last week when somebody asked me if something they were wearing was okay. It wasn’t bad… it was okay, but I said: “It looks nice.”
What was your biggest mistake?
Nothing pops into my mind as I don’t tend to see things as very big mistakes. For me it’s just a case of it didn’t work out, so you learn from it and you move on.
Given that we are doing this interview in the Mira Hotel where Edward Snowden hid when he first came to Hong Kong, what do you think of him? Hero or villain?
I don’t think we can categorise him as either. He was a hero in the sense that he blew the whistle on the NSA and let everybody know that they were being bugged, a clear violation of our privacy. I don’t think he can be thought of as a villain because, morally, he clearly thought he was doing the right thing. It wasn’t necessarily the right thing in the eyes of the government though.