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Women of Pearls: Johanna Chua, Chief Economist for Asia Pacific, CITIGROUP

 

Economics is a field that requires long hours, endless research and in-depth study of data and constant updating. it also entails an analytical mind, able to connect the dots and create conclusive “eureka” moments. CITIGROUP’s Chief Economist for Asia Pacific, Johanna Chua has known from the time she was a teenager that economics was her calling. It was after an internship with Lehman Brothers, however, when decided to pursue a career in financial markets. She shares, “The structured framework in analyzing the interplay of economic variables really fascinated me.”

 

Johanna also applies the same thought process at the workplace when choosing investment pieces. She expounds, “I think anything that is worn over and over again, to the point where you have amortized the cost per wear to almost nil, and yet they still look good enough to be worn further out in the future is the definition of a good investment piece.”

 

Photo: Bloomberg

 

What keeps you busy these days?

 

I have spent a lot of time thinking about inflation and monetary policy in the last few months.  Lately, I have been reading up on natural capital and poring through the Dasgupta Review on the Economics of Biodiversity as environmental considerations are increasingly in the mindshare of asset managers.

 

How did you come to find your current career or life’s work?

 

I’ve known I wanted to work in the Economics field since I was 16 years old, when I learned about the topic in High School. The structured framework in analyzing the interplay of economic variables really fascinated me. I wasn’t quite sure what type of Economics-related job I would pursue, but a summer internship at Lehman Brothers in 1999 opened my eyes to financial markets and I’ve never looked back since.  

 

Photo: The Australian

 

What is it about your work or career that you enjoy the most?

 

I really enjoy the research part the most.  I love uncovering or developing an insight, backed by data analysis, that is not widely known, relaying that story, and seeing it monetized.  I also love learning from so many people, and having those “eureka” moments!

 

What do you consider to be the hazards of the job?

The job requires very long hours, and you are only as good as your last good idea. For the first decade-and-a-half of my career, I worked obsessively--sacrificing health, sleep and relationships. Fortunately, I have been able to balance better as I reached my midlife.  

 

Photo: Bloomberg

 

For women who aspire for similar careers, what would be your advice? 

 

Be willing to work really hard, to believe in yourself, to take calculated risks, and to speak up with confidence and clarity. Fear will be your worst enemy.

 

What are the career milestones that inspire you to break the glass or mold?                  

I think the most inspiring parts of my job are being able to have conversations with intellectual giants in my field and getting positive feedback from clients about our research. The latter really motivates me to want to do more, and it can be very addictive.

 

 

How do you balance work and family life?

 

My son and I bond through hiking and our shared love for horror films.  My daughter is more of a homebody, and we enjoy watching our favourite shows together (lately “Gilmore Girls”) and playing board games.

 

 

How do you unwind or rewind? 

 

Listening to podcasts and music, playing the piano and working out are some of my favourite ways to unwind. If I need to rewind, I listen to Kenny Loggins and I am instantly transported back to a happy place!

 

 

How would you describe your personal style?

 

Unfussy and sometimes elegant. I don’t really wear loud clothes. My three wardrobe staples are a white top (blouse, or a T-shirt), black or navy tailored pants and a flattering dress.    

 

What makes good investment pieces

 

I think anything that is worn over and over again, to the point that you have amortized the cost per wear to almost ‘nil’, and yet they still look good enough to be worn further out in the future, is the definition of a good investment piece.  I’m quite harsh on my shoes, but classic jewelry or say my Burberry coat I take with me to countless business trips will probably serve me well far into the future.

 

 

What do pearls mean to you? 

 

Pearls connote understated elegance. It is the antithesis to “bling.”  And of course, they remind me of home.

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