I am Jeff Chin. I am the National President and co-founder of Ascend and a retired partner from Ernst & Young. I would describe myself as a family person wanting to give back to the community.
So let me tell you a little bit about Ascend. I co-founded Ascend a little bit over 12 years ago primarily because I became very passionate about diversity and inclusion. While at Ernst & Young, I was lucky enough to get onto the diversity and inclusion task force and to see how the Pan-Asian population was doing in Ernst & Young. I noted that we were bringing a lot of people in, but not promoting a lot. I was looking left and right of me and seeing that there were many not very many Pan-Asian partners in the firm. I was probably one of the few at that time. So, I started the employee resource group within Ernst & Young. Though, I knew that in order for an internal employee resource group to be successful we needed to find an external group. We couldn’t find an external group so we decided to start one. And as I would say, the rest was history.
Ascend has grown very rapidly in the short twelve years that we have been in existence. We have reached over 60,000 people, we’ve gone international, we have two chapters in Canada and we have a membership base of over 8,000. Most importantly, we have connected with a lot of our corporate partners to help their Pan-Asian community, their Pan-Asian professionals, and helping Pan-Asians to become the leaders of today and tomorrow.
So how are we doing that? We are a life-cycle organization where we have members that are students all the way up to board level. We provide professional development, networking opportunities, role models, and help the young professional with mentoring. To me, we are a full service life cycle organization and, at each level, we provide different aspects as it relates to needs. But, the important thing is that we’re bringing everyone together because there aren’t that many Pan-Asian leaders in the US and in Canada. So it is very, very powerful when we’re able to bring them together and have those all work together to make a difference and to help the younger generation.
I want my legacy to be that I want to make a difference. I want to make an impact to help the Pan-Asian community and to help out Pan-Asian members to become successful in their careers and to become the leaders of today and tomorrow.
Tell us about your career journey.
I’ve always been in a fast-paced environment, growing up in Queens. I went to Stuyvesant High School at the age of 16 and graduated college at the age of 20. I started working in a public company in the Controller’s Department, got my MBA and then went to Ernst & Young (EY) where I spent most of the years of my career becoming a partner.
During that timeframe, I worked very, very hard and I basically had a lot of the typical stereotypes for a Pan-Asian. This included things like that I would work very hard, speak only when I’m spoken to, and just let my work speak for itself. I was very lucky with EY, I was able to connect with people above me. And at that time, there weren’t that many Pan-Asian partners or leaders. Nevertheless, a lot of them took me under their wings and helped me to be the person who I am. I am forever grateful about that because I would have never developed and learned the leadership skills and the business skills that I needed in order to be successful. That was the great thing about Ernst & Young. Even though it is an accounting firm, what it really teaches you are leadership skills and business skills so you’d be successful outside of accounting.
I’ll tell about how even though I did all the work and went all the meeting, I wouldn’t participate because I would only speak when spoken to. The company didn’t like that, so they said that I was going to now get involved and make sure that I talk about what I did. They had me present things – and I could tell you at the very beginning, I was pretty bad at it. But, you get better as time goes on.
The company also helped me in terms of guiding me along in my career, as it relates to what I refer to as the “unwritten rules.” For instance, one thing the things is that I am pretty humble, although this may not sound like it. In order for you to get to the next level, you always have to do what’s known as a self-appraisal. Their evidence to me when they read mine was that I better rewrite this and that at the end of the day, after I read it, that I’d better walk on water. They continued to tell me that if I didn’t believe myself, no one was going to believe in yourself. It’s things like that, that helps you to progress, move ahead and be successful. If you build relationships with mentors, sponsors, and people that are above you, the reality is you get a lot more leeway.
As I indicated, I made it to partner in under eleven years which back then was pretty fast and I was able to progress within the firm. Though, I would say that my “aha” moment was when I was lucky enough to get on the inaugural EY diversity and inclusion task force. At that point in time, I noted the statistics about our Pan-Asian professionals. A lot of them were coming into the workforce and they were not getting promoted upward. And as I looked to the left of me and the right of me again, there weren’t that many Pan-Asian partners that made it to the mainstream business. And so, my focus was that I wanted to help the younger generation so I said, “Okay, let’s start an employee resource group for the Pan-Asians.” And as that was being formulated and built, we knew we needed to have an external network. So, we went to look for one, couldn’t find one and then I got a few of the senior partners around the city together who also noticed that we had the same issues and wanted to make a difference along with the fact that they were passionate about the cause. We then formed the predecessor to Ascend. Ascend, as I indicated before, has grown very rapidly since we went to the marketplace. And again, as I say it, the rest was history. People are saying, “Where have you been?” and that we complete the three-legged stool of ethnic diversity. We have now partnered with a lot Hispanic organizations and African-American organizations to keep this three-legged stool of diversity.
How has your background influenced your success?
I am, what I refer to as a one-and-a-half generation Asian American. My father was born here in Boston and my mom, although born in Mexico, was from China. So we have very humble upbringings. My parents didn’t make a lot of money. They were what I would say is the restaurant and laundry generation. They came into the US to open restaurants and open laundries. They worked very, very hard. They might not have had a high level of education but they had the passion. They had the desire to succeed and they had the desire to want their children succeed.
My generation was the first to go to college. My parents wanted me to become a doctor, but I didn’t like the sight of blood! So I decided to go into accounting and my brother became the doctor. But that background helped me become who I am, in terms of working hard and wanting to be successful.
If I had to talk about my mentors, my father although he didn’t grow up in the corporate world, was a very good businessman. He helped me to become who I am today. I would say from my many, many, many mentors, he’s one of my main mentors and board of directors that helped me to guide me to where I am. But, I would also say that he instilled the importance of giving back and helping others as well. So, I carried that forward and carried that forward to Ascend.
What are your top accomplishments?
My three top accomplishments are all family-related. They include my family, my Ernst & Young family, and my Ascend family.
The biggest accomplishment to me are my two kids. They’ve grown up to be excellent human beings, knowing the importance and having the values to help the next generation to be successful. And now, there is also my grandchild, who is to me also a top accomplishment as well!
The next accomplishment is Ernst & Young. Getting into Ernst & Young was a tough journey primarily because my parents didn’t come from corporate backgrounds, so there was no one that would be able to help me better understand how to navigate corporate America. The reality was that the first pass to get into the public accounting, I failed miserably. Really, I wish I had an organization like Ascend back then to help guide me because of all the trouble I had with everything. When I went to the interview I just naturally thought that my resume would speak for itself, but not knowing I needed to get a haircut, not knowing I needed to wear a suit, not knowing I had to prepare and make it look like I knew what the company was about – all of the type of things in order to have a successful interview. But, there was no one there to help me. Then becoming and rising to a partner.
My third accomplishment is helping to co-found Ascend. Ascend is what I want to be, what I’m best known for in terms of leaving a legacy, helping the Pan-Asian community and helping the Pan-Asians become the partners and the leaders of the today and tomorrow.
What are your thoughts on the P.O.L.I.N.G.® Principles?
The P.O.L.I.N.G.® framework is perfect in terms that it all coincides with what Ascend stands for. We instill all of those aspects in what we do at Ascend. For instance, at Ascend, one of the thing we want to do is bring as many people together, convene, and work together because there is power in numbers. It’s all about the networking and to bring them together. Whether it’s at the board of director’s level, executive level, the student level or at the major level. We bring them together so that we can network regardless of whether it’s for business purposes, helping to finding a job, or to just share knowledge to be a mentor.
The P.O.L.I.N.G.® principles also ties right into what Ascend stands for. What our priorities are - this includes helping others, leading, inspiring, building networks and helping professionals grow with their careers and to become successful leaders.
Now, if I were to go through each one of them, all of those are priorities involve helping others whether we’re helping them through mentoring, through professional development or by supplying role models. We are leading in that we are the largest Pan-Asian leadership organization where we have aggregated many leaders to help the younger generation and to make a difference in the Pan-Asian community as well as in their companies. Our tagline is to connect, inspire and Ascend. We are helping the younger generation and everybody to be inspired. Ascend truly believes that we want to share the passion and so it is really, really rewarding to me that when we hold our events a lot of people leave truly inspired and truly passionate and truly wanting to give back, join and make a difference. We formed Ascend to build a network. We truly believe that there aren’t that many Pan-Asian executives out there and that we need to bring everyone together. The Asia Society said that one of the biggest things youngest professionals look for are role models.
We recently brought together 80+ Pan-Asian corporate board members, which was the first-ever and one of the largest gatherings to convene in Palo Alto, to get to know each other. We wanted to network so that way we could work together in terms of helping pipeline and getting more Pan Asians into corporate boards, to help the younger generation become board-ready and also to be advocates to help us spread the word since there’s only somewhere around a 2% representation of Pan-Asians on corporate boards and 80% of corporate boards do not have a Pan-Asian.
And the last piece, of course, is growing – which is what we’re all about. We want to help everybody to grow to Ascend, to be all that that it could be and become successful leaders. Most importantly, we want to give back and to help the next generation.
What do you think about the P.O.W.E.R. Framework?
The P.O.W.E.R. principle, as it refers to managing what’s important, the priorities are the same as what they were in the P.O.L.I.N.G.® principles. We also have to meet our obligations, which to me are very very important. To me, obligations are the same as meeting your mission, meeting your goals and helping others.
It has to be worthwhile, so to me, it’s very important that you love what you do. At Ascend, I am the National President but I do so as a full-time volunteer and I do it because it is my way of giving a back. It is what I believe is worthwhile, and it is something I truly believe must be done. We all must band together, we all must lead, we all must to help the Pan-Asian community and help Pan-Asian professionals to be successful.
From an energy point of view, it is important that you have a high degree of energy. You need to exude the energy in terms of doing what you need to do in order to get things done. The energy is sort fed off of what you do, which is the worthwhile piece. Because it’s so worthwhile and because it’s something that motivates you. The energy is self-generating and the passion helps drive you, helps make you more determined to move forward and get things done.
In terms of resources, it is important that the power is spread among everybody; that is the importance of the resources. Knowing how to lead and knowing how to bring people together, you have to share the resources and the missions to get people to help us to move things forward. It’s a distributive or delegating approach of sharing resources.
The P.O.W.E.R. principle also helped me on focusing on how I manage my bandwidth and timeframe. Time is very, very precious. When I retired, I had actually set goals and time frames as to how I was going to spend my time. A good piece of that was Ascend, but there were definitely other pieces. And as time developed, you learned to adjust. And one of things I did was that I adjusted so I could spend more time on Ascend.
To have Ascend be more than it can be and to do more, I had to spend more time bringing more people together and I am truly, truly grateful that we have a lot of senior advisors that are very dedicated and passionate. I’m glad we share the same visions and goals that I have and helped to make Ascend different and differentiate us from others.
Who have been your greatest influences?
There are a lot of people that have influenced me throughout my life. I have mentioned my parents, people within Ernst & Young, there are others - too numerous to mention. Though, I will mention one person in particular.
Back in EY, I was a workaholic. I spent a lot of time working and being devoted to client and firm matters. So, I was lucky enough to have the firm hire a life coach and that life coach helped me to reset my priorities. He worked on the concept that a healthy professional is a more productive professional. So from that point of view, he helped me to set my priorities as to what my goals are, five years, ten years, and fifteen years down the road but more importantly, he also helped me to focus on things that I would not have focused on in a short-term period. Primarily, that included things such as a healthy lifestyle. He helped me to eat better, become more physically fit, helped me get a physical trainer, and helped me from a financial point of view – even though I’m a financial person by background. I was so busy, that I hardly ever focused on my own personal financial matters. All these things brought into perspective that work is not everything and that even though I threw myself into the work by focusing on all of these and doing other things differently within the work, I’m still able to accomplish a lot more and be a lot healthier for the years to come.
What challenges have you faced because of your background?
I have had many, many challenges and a lot of it has to do with changing myself and changing the way of how I operate. The one thing I learned is that you must adopt and you must change. One of my major challenges back early on was that I would work way too many hours and take too many jobs. And as I progressed I would take the approach that if you want to have something done right, you have to do it yourself. And so, in that type of environment, you cannot succeed. That was a major challenge for me because I sort of let things slip through the cracks even though I worked as many hours as one possibly could. Thus, the one thing I had to learn was how to delegate, how to let go, and I could tell you that was very difficult in the beginning. But, in the end, it was very enlightening. I learned to let go and now, I’m probably one of the biggest delegators there could be.
Though, the other challenge and a mistake I also made was that as I let go and delegated, was that I still didn’t learn to say no. So I took on more jobs and more jobs. Thus, I had one of the bigger books of business in terms of work that I had to manage.
The challenges and as it relates to my background was that I was raised to be a hard worker. I was raised to do things and to only do things right. It was just my nature, so I struggled to understand the concept of teaming and not understanding the concept of delegation, I just figured the best person to do it was myself and that if I wanted to do something right, I’d have to do it myself. That’s been part of my cultural upbringing, learning to work hard and that your work will speak for itself – and if you want to be successful, to do as much as you can. Though, in the environment that we live in corporate America, that is not a value that will help you succeed. You need to be a team player, a leader, a manager, and you need to help and share responsibilities.
What advice would you give your younger self?
The one career advice that I would give to my younger self is to join an organization like Ascend. I was not lucky back then when I was growing to have such an organization and because of such, I made a lot of mistakes in my career journey. There was no one there to guide and there was no one there to be my mentor and to help me better understand the journey to be successful or even how to get a job. As I mentioned earlier, my parents did not work in a corporate environment, so they could not help me.
What is your call to action for individuals?
We started Ascend to be the advocates for the Pan-Asian community. So, we are out there in terms of promoting the importance of getting more Pan-Asians into leadership positions. We advocate for our professionals through thought leadership but we also advocate to professional development and through working with our corporate partners. It is very, very important that both sides work together. So we work with our corporate partners to help them better understand their Pan-Asian professionals. We work with our Pan-Asian professionals through professional development to help them better understand the soft skills necessary to be successful.
Your hard work won’t just help you succeed, you’re going to have to develop essential skills which includes risk-taking, branding yourself, building relationships, managing up and finding mentors or sponsors as well as power influence to help you to be successful in corporate America.
So a call to action for the young professionals as well as the more seasoned professionals is that it is a two-way street. You need to better understand what it takes to be successful in corporate America and it’s not just the technical skills that. It is the essential skills that you need to navigate the companies.
What is your call to action for organizations?
The call to action for companies would be to better understand their Pan-Asian professionals and to get rid of the unconscious bias as it relates to how they perceive the Pan-Asian professionals. Along with that, they should take the right approach in terms of building pipeline, identifying the strengths of their Pan-Asian professionals, to be inclusive, to have them in the mix, and to create a level playing field so that there is equity in terms of a chance in getting the leadership positions.
What are your thoughts on the iD community?
I see Inspiring Diversity (iD) to be a very important aspect of advocacy in terms of sharing the knowledge, sharing the principles of what it takes to help make a difference and getting more ethnic minorities into leadership positions along with getting them a seat on the table so that we could all help others and make a difference.
What is something no one would guess about you?
The one thing that most people would not know about me is that I am an introvert. Public speaking is not one of my favorite things but it is a necessity and I do it to make sure that our voice is heard and that we help the Pan-Asian community along with Pan-Asian professionals.