Managing Director of Templebridge Investments and CEO of Halo Health Asia, a social enterprise dedicated to rolling out a free program to teach lower income kids all about healthy nutrition, Trina Liang is a pioneer and specialist in the Asian bond market securities sector. She has held senior positions in a number of global investment banks in Hong Kong, London and Singapore.
She sits on the boards of the Community Foundation of Singapore, Singapore Council of Women’s Organisations (Vice-President), Victoria Junior College (Vice-Chair), Singapore Repertory Theatre, BoardAgender (Co-chair) and is an advisor to the National Volunteer and Philanthropy Centre (NVPC).
A past-President of both the Singapore Committee for UN Women and the Financial Women’s Association of Singapore (FWAS), Trina has previously served on the boards of Sentosa Development Corporation (Audit), the Singapore Institute of International Affairs (SIIA) and the Economics and Employment committee of the government’s feedback unit, REACH.
Trina holds a Masters degree in Finance and Accounting from the London School of Economics and a Bachelors degree in Economics from the National University of Singapore.
In an exclusive conversation with the Women Icons Network, Trina shares some nuggets on her journey across the corporate landscape.
What shaped your thoughts while transitioning from graduate school to the corporate world?
I was fascinated by the world of finance since I was a teenager having read “Liar’s Poker” and seen the movie “Wall Street”.
They portrayed places that were so far removed from my own small world in Singapore and the Kovan neighbourhood, where our family never travelled beyond Malaysia till I was 18 – that it seemed out of reach. I think more than the money in banking, it was to really see and experience a world so far removed from my own.
My first job at 17 was working in a commodities firm where I had to hand mark huge charts of the daily movements of difference future counters. I learnt a lot about working in a job where no one mollycoddles you – and expects you to do well from Day 1. No honeymoon period.
Transitioning to the corporate world from graduate school was pretty exciting but intimidating as I was not only going to start my new job in a dealing room – a male bastion – but I was starting in London.
Any challenges that you were not prepared to face and how did you tackle it?
Won’t lie – working in a demanding job in a foreign country was tough for a small-town girl from Singapore.
The mid to late 1990s weren’t the best of times for women in male-dominated industries. There wasn’t that awareness of sexual harassment – verbal, mental and physical that there is now.
A lot of misogynistic comments that women had to overlook and pretend we just didn’t hear.
The boy’s club was rampant not just in London but in Singapore and as a woman, you had to know how to not just do your job well, but to play nice, dealing with huge male egos.
Apart from crying my eyes out a few times in the office loo especially in my early years, I grew a pretty thick skin and learnt how to not take negative comments to heart and turn up for work the next day like nothing ever happened.
By 2001, a group of my friends helped set up the Financial Women’s Association of Singapore where we were solid supporters to each other’s career journey – and we remain firm friends to this day.
Choices you have faced, if any, that required you to step back and consider?
As a young associate, I once had a bad performance review which would have greatly impacted my bonus.
Not something young women do, I think I was just 26 or 27 – but I stated my view clearly and in a measured and balanced way to HR and the MD – and I’m happy to say, it worked out in the end.
To young women out there I’d say, if you are convinced there is unfairness – stand up, speak and be heard. Do not be afraid. Have conviction.
A lesson you learned on the job that you always remember
During the Asian financial crisis, there were many people I knew that lost a lot of money in the markets.
The ones who stuck it out or double downed, won big – just 2 to 3 years later.
Markets train you to be patient.
In fact, it was Warren Buffett who said “The stock market is designed to transfer money from the active to the patient”.
How can the industry work collectively to improve the state of Gender Equality @ Workplaces?
In Singapore, many things happen quickly if there is political will.
As it happens, there has been a strong push by the current government to push for gender equality in recent months, with the clarion call coming from Minister K Shanmugam. This has resulted in not just a strong focus on gender equality in workplaces – but a re-examination of our social norms from school age right through being a working adult.