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Cheuk Nang chair puts gay prejudice aside to promote daughter

Cheuk Nang chairman Cecil Chao made headlines in 2012 when he offered a dowry for any man that could persuade his gay daughter to marry them
Press Association

An expert on inclusivity and diversity in business has praised the leadership of a father who, having openly rejected his daughter’s sexuality in the past, has now announced he would like her to succeed him at the helm of the family-controlled Hong Kong property empire.

This week, Cheuk Nang chairman Cecil Chao announced he wanted his daughter, Gigi, to become vice chairwoman of the family business, and would be taking his proposal to next month’s board meeting.

Chao, 78, is famous for in 2012 offering a dowry of HK$500 million (€47.1 million) to any man that could persuade Gigi, 33, to marry them, despite the fact she was in a long-term relationship with another woman. He later doubled the offer to HK$1 billion when no suitors could achieve the task.

Stephen Frost, visiting fellow at Harvard University and principal of inclusive leadership practice Frost Included, said gay women faced a “double whammy” in the business world because they could be discriminated against based on gender and their sexuality.

Frost praised Chao for not letting his personal views cloud the decision-making process, and making the appointment based on merit instead. “Presumably this woman is a brilliant businesswoman who can really run a company, so why wouldn’t she run [Cheuk Nang]?”

Gigi’s focus for the remainder of the year, Chao told reporters at a press conference this week, would be the tender of Cheuk Nang Plaza – the 32-storey office building where the family empire is headquartered.

According to the South China Morning Post, the indicative price for the building is HK$880 million.

Gigi is the eldest of Chao’s three children, and already serves as an executive director on the Cheuk Nang board, alongside her half brother Howard, 28.

While Chao, whose empire is partially listed, was able to put his personal prejudices aside when it came to the planned appointment, Frost argued that many private companies are lagging their public counterparts when it comes to diversity and inclusion.

“You now have openly gay women in senior positions in quite a lot of major global companies, but I don’t know of many in private companies,” Frost said.

Leaders of large corporate companies dominated a list celebrating the success of LGBT business leaders, released last year by OUTstanding in Business.

Women in the list included: Beth Brooke, global vice chair of public policy at EY; Claudia Brind-Woody, vice president and managing director of intellectual property at IBM; and Mary Jo Abler, president of dentistry and orthodontics at 3M.

Frost said public companies were placed under greater scrutiny by shareholders, the media and the government when it came to creating diverse and inclusive senior management teams and boards, but in private companies the lack of external checks and balances meant many were lagging in this area.

Studies by the likes of gay and bisexual charity Stonewall and public policy think tank the Williams Institute show LGBT employee productivity increases in a more inclusive environment.

A report released by the Center for Talent Innovation last year, revealed 35% of gay and bisexual employees in the UK reported an upswing in productivity after coming out to their colleagues.

As Frost explains: “When someone’s in the closet [at their workplace], they’re having to spend time and energy covering up. For example, explaining what they did in the weekend, who their partner might be, how to deal with social functions, and how to deal with all that stuff.”

He added that openly gay business leaders could act as role models for young people who may otherwise perceive themselves as abnormal and believe they have to “adapt to the norm”. 

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