From Malaysia to U.S. Department of State account leader for Deloitte Consulting LLP
A Q&A discussion with Winson Heng in celebration of Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month
In celebration of Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month, we sat down with Winson Heng, the lead client service partner for the U.S. Department of State, to learn more about his journey to becoming a Deloitte Consulting LLP (“Deloitte Consulting”) principal serving in the Federal practice and champion of the Washington, D.C. chapter of Deloitte’s Asian Business Resource Group (BRG).
Tell us a bit about your background and your family.
I grew up in Malaysia and came to the United States in 1980 to go to college. My parents are Chinese, and in our culture, remaining near family after you reach adulthood is very important. However, my mother was able to convince my father to let me leave Malaysia to pursue an education here. My parents couldn’t afford to send me to the U.S for four years to obtain my degree. However, they were able to come up with enough funds to pay for my first year of college. Once I arrived in the U.S., I worked to support myself through college to complete my degree. After graduating, I earned my MBA; and shortly after graduating, I decided to serve my country by joining the U.S. Navy. As for my family, I live with my wife in the D.C. area, and we have a son and two daughters, all of whom are adults. My son was recently hired into Deloitte, and my oldest daughter was hired last year from Virginia Tech as part of our campus recruiting program.
What has your career path looked like?
After I left the Navy 20 years ago, I started my career as a consultant at KPMG Consulting/BearingPoint, where I worked on multiple consulting projects for Navy clients. As I progressed in my career, I had the opportunity to help build multiple practices, including one in Pensacola, FL, where I became managing director.
In 2003, I was asked to lead the KPMG Consulting/Bearing Point Asia Pacific Public Sector Consulting practice; I moved my family to Singapore, and it was a great experience for all of us. Two years later, I returned to the U.S. to be part of the Emerging Markets practice; in this role, I helped lead a couple of technology-related projects and pursuits in Southeast Asia and the Middle East. Then in 2007, I was asked to join the leadership team for the U.S. Department of State to help grow the account. Four years ago, I joined Deloitte Consulting as part of the BearingPoint acquisition, and last year I became the LCSP for the Department of State. I’ve had the chance to work with practitioners across all service areas in Deloitte Consulting, as well as cross-functionally, which has been a very enriching experience.
How has your leadership style developed over the years?
I’ve been fortunate to work with people from different cultures and generations, with a variety of competencies – so I learned to adapt and be more inclusive, as well as accommodate different working styles. For example, in Asia I saw a strong tendency for people I worked with to be more reserved and diplomatic, and it was important to remember that criticism could cause people to lose face. Another example is that in the past I might have been more scripted with directions when working with more junior and less experienced practitioners – and part of this had to do with coming from the military, where I was used to a culture of order-taking. But I’ve learned it’s important to empower people to grow and develop. My leadership style today also takes into account that we draw strength from diversity – it’s essential to give people from different backgrounds and cultures opportunities to participate and share their perspectives.
What is the organization doing to help retain and advance our Asian talent?
I believe Deloitte does a wonderful job in leading from the front in diversity and inclusion, especially with the recently refreshed Inclusion framework. We’re doing a lot of different things to help retain and advance our Asian talent. I’ve been fortunate to serve as the Asian BRG champion for the D.C. area, and we have designed programs that support the professional development of our professionals – for instance, by helping them strengthen communications, public speaking, consensus-building, and networking and relationship-building skills, and by helping them build their personal brands and learn how to self-promote. As part of these skill-building sessions, we leverage lessons learned by professionals who have faced challenges similar to those of Asian Americans. Providing these development opportunities in a supportive environment helps our people feel more included and increases retention.
We still have room to grow in terms of engaging our people, but we’re making progress – such as through our mentorship program, a stronger linkage between the Asian BRG and Ascend, and an annual event with the other BRGs to celebrate the uniqueness of individual cultures. We’re also providing more opportunities to engage our people in advancing the conversation on inclusion, such as through an upcoming panel on the “Bamboo Ceiling: Fact or Fiction?” to be held May 29 in the Rosslyn office.
As an Asian American, have you faced any special challenges?
Although I haven’t personally faced any special challenges as an Asian American, I have seen others do so. I’ve heard the sentiment expressed that attributes required to be successful in corporate America are not always the same as those that tend to be emphasized in many Asian cultures. In many Asian cultures, there is a tendency to emphasize deferential behavior and a reserved manner – both of which are seen in corporate America as introvert traits. Communicating effectively, networking, and relationship-building are all seen as essential for success in corporate America, but they are tied to extrovert behavior. When I was growing up, I tended not to speak up, but later I learned to come out of my shell and strengthen my communications skills because I had opportunities to do so.
What advice do you have for Asian/Pacific Americans – or anyone – for being successful?
Spend time building trust and relationships with people. Be passionate about what you do, and be committed to excellence – we have very high standards. Be compassionate with people: Seek first to understand and then to be understood. Finally, don’t assume your way is right, especially when working with people from different cultures – you need to understand where they’re coming from.
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