Hong Kong MBA

From Secretary to CEO: Carmen Lam Delivers Commencement Speech

July 25, 2013

Carmen Lam commencement speechGood morning esteemed guests. It's my great honor to be here.

First of all, I would like to congratulate the soon-to-be graduates. I am very happy for you. Today is a very special day to turn a new page in your life. I bet you won't feel lonely on the weekends to come when you have no more class to go.

As an alumna, I was in your position seven years ago, picturing what would I become and how should I move forward after my graduation in Iowa. When I was preparing this speech, I reflected on my career path, from a secretary to a CEO in the last 20 odd years. I started to realize that there are a few important qualities that I am so fortunate to have developed, and these qualities not only have brought me lots of accomplishments at work, but also a fulfilling life with lots of joy and fun. I'd like to take this opportunity to share with you.

Firstly, people around me always wonder why I am willing to let go of something that I built so hard and move on to a greater challenge. I think my destiny has a lot to do with the fact that I never stop making an “impact” as what Dean Sa-Aadu has just mentioned. When I was a secretary, I just simply wanted to make a positive impact on my boss, to help him achieve what he wanted to achieve. The result was, he couldn't do his job in my absence and that made him entrusting me a management role for his appreciation of my work. Since I never wanted to stop making an impact, I aimed at being the kind of manager that received the least complaints. We ended up developing a corporate culture that was endorsed by the workforce. It also contributed me an opportunity to move to the front line leading the business. Being a Hawkeye, my MBA training sharpened my management skills and drew me closer to share the same management philosophy with my top executives in Iowa. Yet, the management of Principal Financial Group entrusted me an opportunity in 2011 to develop a brand new entity that is PrinCorp Wealth Advisors in Hong Kong. However, this was one of the most difficult decisions I ever made in my entire career. It was because I was already holding an acting CEO position in a well-established firm, and I was the mother of a 7-month-old baby. Nevertheless, a strong desire to change the business practice and further promote the industry's professionalism had urged me to take up this challenge as a mission from God. Today, two years after I took over this position, we start to see the impact we are making in the industry.

How did we do this? I believe it's because the company and I are sharing the same core value, which is the second quality I want to share with you -- integrity. This is something I learned from my career and my study, and I could never sacrifice my integrity in any circumstances. Although I forsake some short-term gain, power, monetary reward, I insisted to uphold this quality when dealing with people and in my business; in exchange, I earned the trust and endorsement from people I encountered over the years. And through this, I have maintained a very valuable social network. When we started this new organization, we experienced lots and lots of difficulties. We were so desperate to recruit the talent we wanted. Fortunately, people kept referring me talents and clients. Industry players endorsed me to be the sub-committee member sitting on the board of the regulator. Without trusted friends, colleagues from my MBA class, and business partners who I met in the past, I wouldn't be able to accomplish the job that I am doing today.

Thirdly, having the courage to let go of the past glory and moving onto the next challenge of winning me uncountable rewards. When I quit from my executive position to pursue my study in Iowa, I had to take a risk that my income level of my next job might not be able to catch up with my previous one. After graduation, it took me lots of courage to let go of a golden opportunity to work for PFG in Iowa and come back here in Hong Kong purely for a gentleman who claimed that he had been waiting for my return. Now, this gentleman is my husband today, and I'm back to Principal again holding a higher position. When I look back in my life, I cannot deny that these life qualities have brought me lots of achievements and benefits in my career when Henry B. Tippie School of Management brought me to a different stage of life. Most importantly, they bring me a fulfilling life with my family and my volunteer work.

Class of 2013, I encourage you to be courageous to chase after your dream, uphold your integrity, and never stop making an impact. Each one of us is gifted with unlimited potential. It's just a matter of whether we are willing to live up to our “calling” and uncover our unique talent. When you are about to turn a new page in life, may I wish you all the best in your future endeavors. Once again, congratulations!