Lucy Liu is the Co-founder and President at Airwallex. In this role, she oversees the ongoing business operations with an emphasis on global marketing efforts.
Can you tell us about your career progression into your current role?
After university, I worked at an investment bank in China for about 2 years as an investment consultant. I later moved to Melbourne and came up with the idea for Airwallex alongside other Co-founders, which we’ve been running for about three and a half years now.
Currently, we have approximately 320 employees globally, with around 50 in Australia, 180 in China, and the rest spread between Hong Kong, Singapore, London, and San Francisco.
Having worked in Shanghai, Hong Kong, Melbourne, and lived in New Zealand, how did the cultural differences affect you?
Growing up Asian in Australia/New Zealand, I somewhat embody both cultures, to a point that while the Australians see me as Chinese, the Chinese view me as something different.
I think the benefit in that is my understanding of both cultures, which became a strength when I started my own start-up, allowing me to better balance the working cultures between the 2 offices.
We are currently encouraging our employees to travel to other office locations, for them to see what the differences are like in terms of culture and practices. For example, the Chinese are used to working long hours and don’t tend to separate their personal life as much when compared to Australians. I think people are starting to be more understanding of each other and finding a way to work collaboratively without getting into arguments.
Are there any cultural differences you've noticed in the various offices?
The team building aspect is quite different. In China, we have these annual parties. Everyone would come together to have dinner, in which both the management and employees would perform on stage. As for Australia, we would do weekend trips to the beach instead. Another thing we realised is that it’s quite common in China for colleagues to share hotel rooms when they travel together, however the same cannot be said about Australia. These are just small things that we picked up along the way which we try to adapt our own styles to.
How do you balance long hours with your personal life successfully?
I try to power through as many tasks as I can, it is not about the number of hours you put in but much rather the amount of work that you’ve done. And when I have spare time, I would spend it with my family.
On top of that, I also go to the gym during lunch breaks. It’s always good to take your mind off things for some time. And whenever I travel long distances for business trips, I would take the weekend off to allow myself the time to clear my mind and do a bit of meditation.
Do you have any advice for working mothers on how to progress and succeed?
I’d say it’s not for everyone. It really depends on the work and personal situations, for example whether there is support from the company and family, and if domestic help is an available option. Having support from the people around you and those who you work with is very critical.
And while we have suggested working hours, we also allow flexible working and leave it to the teams and individuals; as long as you are reachable, it shouldn’t be a big problem. We actually have a lot of working moms at Airwallex, which is quite surprising given that we’re a tech start-up.
And do you find the situation differing depending on the job functions?
It’s definitely more difficult when it comes to operational or compliance roles which require you to be on standby; for roles like business development, they would be slightly more flexible. But overall, roles that require a lot of travelling would be quite hard on working mothers.
Do you think your gender has ever hindered your career progression?
Since all my other Co-founders are male, having that female touch really helps, so I’d say no.
I have actually encountered more problems because of my age instead of my gender. When I co-founded Airwallex, I was only 26. Sometimes while dealing with regulators or more traditional clients, I can tell that I am being perceived differently. It’s one of those scenarios where you just have to demonstrate what you know and show that you are serious about what you are doing.
Does Airwallex have any diversity policies in place when it comes to recruitment?
We’ve been lucky so far to have not required specific quotas or diversity policies. Our teams are already pretty diverse in terms of race, gender and background, and we can definitely see the advantages of this diversity.
Is there a Women in Leadership program at Airwallex?
Not really. At Airwallex, we emphasise more on the individual’s capabilities. We have had someone who started off in a junior position being promoted to a senior role managing a team of 20-30 people 6 months later because they know what they are doing. That is the magical thing about start-ups, people can grow with the company. We definitely promote our female leaders, but we’ve never had that gender or diversity thinking because we are quite adaptive and flexible despite our size.
Have you ever had a mentor or someone that you go to for advice?
I would say our investors, they are always there for us when we go to them for advice. They’ve seen many start-ups and high growth companies, they know what works and can often at times provide us with insightful advice.
Do you have any advice for young women who are graduating and about to enter the workplace?
There are going to be people who are prejudiced, you just have to not let it get in your way. It’s really just a process of proving to others while improving yourself at the same time. Once you have built up your knowledge base and proved to others that you’re serious, people would be more accepting, both personally and professionally. Of course, there would always be people who are opinionated regardless of what you do, but that’s just how it is.
Airwallex is a financial technology company that offers integrated solutions to businesses for cross-border transactions and is the latest tech startup to enter the billion-dollar “unicorn” club.