We were thrilled to have the inspiring corporate banker and leader, Stella Choe, join us for our first ever [virtual] fireside chat in June 2021.

Stella set out to have a career in the public sector but, as she puts it, “ended up falling into banking.”

Stella is a senior banking executive with more than 20 years of experience in the international banking sector working with some of the world’s largest companies. After making her mark at JPMorgan, Morgan Stanley and HSBC in the UK, the US and Asia, Stella joined Citigroup in 2014 as Managing Director, Head of Financial Institutions and currently is the Head of Corporate Banking for Australia and New Zealand.

Remarkably, in the middle of all of that, Stella managed to take a sabbatical year working for UNICEF at its regional headquarters in Bangkok, was an Advisory Committee Member at the Royal Opera House in London and, if that’s not enough, even volunteered in the kitchens at Meals on Wheels.

In a lively Q&A hosted by our CEO, Chris Jewell, Stella touched on her experiences in banking in New York, London, Hong Kong and Australia, presented insights on leadership and diversity, and confirmed a rumour about one of her favourite ways to wind down and disconnect.

Here are a few gems from Stella’s chat by the digital fireside

On Developing Her Leadership Style

When I was coming through the ranks back in the 1990s and early 2000s, there were very few female leaders I could see as role models. There were a couple of female heads of divisions or MDs, all emulating the 1980s ‘Gordon Gecko’, Wall Street, supercharged personalities and behaviour types. And that always seemed a little awkward to me.

You get to a point where you think, maybe that’s just how they have to be to make it.

Stella Choe

So, for a while I ended up kind of taking on that ethos as well. But it took a while for me to realise that, actually, that doesn’t work for me and I can’t lead in that way. I can still be myself, embrace being feminine and don’t need to shout and pound the table to lead a team successfully.

On Diversity in the Workplace

Diversity is incredibly important. 

Before it became a hot topic and an obvious, conscious focus for companies, I’ve always had an innate feeling that having diversity in teams was really important. So I always built teams of diverse people and backgrounds, and that’s always benefitted my businesses.

I’ve never had a down year in any business I’ve run. And I think that’s largely attributable to the diverse, talented people that all share a common goal, are motivated, but empowered to achieve it in a way that feels authentic to them. 

On Resilience and Confidence

I’m pretty good at asking for help, but there are times when I’ve really been tested, and they’ve been big turning points in my life.

Those experiences develop a quiet confidence that you can actually get through a lot of stuff. That you have much more capability than you give yourself credit for, or even think that you had.

That realisation really changed who I was. I’m not one of those people who has too many regrets. I keep looking forward.

On Unplugging from Corporate Life

Fun fact: To get away from it all, Stella goes fly fishing—a pastime she developed during her years in the UK.

That’s my time away. I usually go someplace where there’s no WiFi. So it’s not just a break for me, it’s also a bit of a digital detox. And everyone needs that.

More recently, Stella’s taken up saltwater fly fishing. Why?

It’s really fun. You can go to very remote places, there are lots of different styles of fishing when you’re in the salt water, and a huge variety of fish. It’s exciting, and you can catch some pretty big and interesting fish.

Is anyone surprised that this inspirational business leader’s favourite escape is really just a hunt for bigger fish to fry?

Not us.