Level Up Leadership: Hiq Lee

Listen to the podcast (FULL TRANSCRIPT):

Level Up is designed to help you get to know the leaders of Experian and gain insight into the skills needed to grow your career.

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As part of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, we spoke with Hiq Lee, President of Business Information Services at Experian. Hiq is responsible for the business unit’s vision and strategy, delivering on growth objectives and overall financial management. During this session, we talked about Hiq’s career navigation as an Asian American woman and how that affects her management style, emotional intelligence, risk assessment and so much more today.

Here are a few takeaways from our discussion with Hiq:

Our upbringing plays a huge part in our leadership style.
Whether that means the culture you were surrounded by or the personal way your parents raised you, you may mimic some of the leadership styles that brought you up. Here are some things from earlier on in your life that might affect the way you lead later on:

  • Whether or not you were taught that individuality was important
  • How much of a priority work ethic was throughout your life
  • The amount of independence you were given
  • Your involvement in a team activity at any age

Ask for what you want.
Oftentimes, we are not being actively passed for that promotion; we simply aren’t voicing our needs and wants for it. For leaders to acknowledge and recognize your potential, it is important you vocalize what you want out of your career. Talk to your manager one-on-one to discuss your career trajectory and what you can do to achieve the goals you’ve set for yourself.

Recognize what others need from you as an ally.
For anyone to be an ally to any disenfranchised group, that person needs to know exactly what is needed from them and what they can contribute to the cause. It’s important to know what being an ally means to the people you are trying to support and what you can do to empower them. Here are a few examples of questions you can ask to demonstrate your support:

  • What do you think is the largest issue concerning your group?
  • Why do you feel excluded or oppressed?
  • What can I do to make you feel supported and safe?

You might never feel ready, but that doesn’t matter.
Did you know that women are much more likely to wait until they feel absolutely ready before taking on a new opportunity such as a promotion than men are? If you wait until you are ready, the opportunity will pass. Hiq herself didn’t feel ready to leave the United States for Canada, especially with so many things changing in her life, but she took the jump and had no regrets about it. If you are confronted with that promotion or that long-awaited opportunity to travel somewhere you’ve always wanted to go, do not wait until you are ready. That day might never come.

You can be the role model.
Implicit biases are hurtful and frustrating. “You’re so outspoken and eloquent for an Asian” comes across as more of backhanded compliment than anything, but Hiq encourages all her fellow Asian Americans to take this implicit bias and create an advantage with it because in the end, what you’re doing is killing the stereotype. You can be the role model of what being Asian American really looks like in the professional world today—it doesn’t look like any, one thing.

We are all just human.
It doesn’t matter if it’s the CEO, a president, an SVP or a manager. We’re all just human and there is no need to create a barrier between upper management and individual contributors. A lot of these high-level leaders can feel like distant “celebrities” sometimes, but it’s important to remember we all started with a “square one.” Don’t be afraid to approach someone and open up your network just because of their title.

We were so happy to have the opportunity to chat with Hiq for Level Up.

Check out interviews with other Experian leaders.

Full Transcript

Mike: Hey everybody. Welcome to the Level Up Leadership podcast. My name is Mike Delgado.
Patty: My name is Patty Guevarra.
Mike: This podcast is designed to help you get to know the leaders here at Experian, and also gain insight into leadership skills and traits needed to grow our careers.
Patty: In this podcast we’ll talk mentorship, career navigation, handling rejection, work-life balance, mental health, diversity and inclusion and so much more.
Mike: We hope you enjoy the show.
Patty: So for this episode we’re going to be doing something a little different. We will be celebrating Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, and we are so lucky to be spotlighting a strong Asian American woman such as yourself. We will be chatting with Hiq Lee, President of BIS. So thanks for joining us, Hiq.
Hiq: Great to be here. Good afternoon.
Patty: All right. So let’s get right into it. So how about you just tell us about your background?
Hiq: Certainly. So I’ve been with Experian 16 years, which is very hard to believe. And prior to that, I’ve worked for very large organizations. Companies such as Bank of America, Ernst and Young and Dun & Bradstreet. And I think throughout my journey, from a background perspective, I’ve done a little bit of everything, which might be unique or not, but I’ve been in operations, sales, business development, consulting, and then clearly general management in terms of P&L ownership.
Hiq: So it’s been a really fulfilling career. I still think the best years are ahead of me, but it’s been a really great run here at Experian.
Patty: It sounds like it. So you’re an immigrant. How did that impact your career development throughout that 16 years?
Hiq: First of all, I know I look a lot younger than I really am, so it has been a long time since my family emigrated, when I was very, very young. As I was really reflecting particularly during Asian Heritage month, what really do immigrants struggle with, and how does that translate into who you become as a person here in America, and also, benefits and, or challenges in the workplace?
Hiq: For me, as I think about the years trying to integrate into a whole new country, new language, new social norms, it’s hard. You’re trying to prove yourself, you’re trying to be relevant, make new friends. And there were at that time a lot of stereotypes. So you had to fight even harder to counter those stereotypes.
Hiq: And so I have a lot of stories related to that and then some very positive, some not so positive. But as I reflect on, how did that translate into who I am today, I think when I think about the big companies that I have worked with, the four of them, I think my ability to assimilate and to integrate myself, because each one of those companies have a completely different culture, different leadership style, all the different roles that I mentioned in terms of sales to operations, these are all very different diverse roles.
Hiq: I do think having to have a different mindset as an immigrant has helped me not just incorporate myself and immerse myself into those different countries, but also my ability to be successful in my opinion, in those different functional areas, which I think rounds out to how I ended up in P&L management. Because you have a flavor of each of those different things. So it’s not to say that somebody who is originally from this country can’t have successes, but I do think there’s something to be said about proving something, and figuring out how you adapt to change.
Hiq: I remember, right out of college, people used to think I was a chameleon, because it was like, I was able to kind of pop around and somehow figure it out.
Patty: Right.
Mike: I want to follow up on that, because adapting to change can be very, very difficult. I know some people … I like to say, I love change, I love to adapt. But then when it comes down to it, it can shake you.
Patty: It can be scary.
Mike: Yeah, it can be very, very scary. So I’m wondering your advice for those of us who actually don’t feel comfortable with change, it kind of rocks your role sometimes.
Hiq: Well let me say this. What comes to mind immediately is that if you are able to embrace that change and just be in that moment, you’re going to become so much stronger, as a person personally, but professionally. And it’s not as scary as it seems. It’s almost like saying, I’m trying to start to think of any example where you need to do it, but you have hesitations or reservations, you have butterflies. But it’s like once you do what you feel so much better about it.
Hiq: We all have those moments and it’s anticipate, anticipate, anticipate. And then when it’s done, you’re like, okay, that wasn’t as bad. But think about what you’ve learned. Think about, if anyone had fears of let’s say, leading and or public speaking, once you do it, you get better and better and better at it.
Hiq: So I think putting yourself out there for any change, whether it’s hey, career change, leaving an organization, moving to a different country. For example, I moved to Toronto, Canada, probably over, gosh, it’s probably been about 13 years-
Mike: Oh wow.
Hiq: And that was a big change and that’s a whole nother story in itself. But I wouldn’t trade it for the world. Most people, I don’t have stats on it, but my gut tells me 99% of the people, have become stronger and better as a result of embracing change, versus getting scars [crosstalk 00:06:05] yeah.
Mike: Can you share a story of maybe something, not here at Experian, something big happened or you sensed change coming, you sensed that hitch and you were just like, yes, I’m going to embrace this moment. I’m going to just go for it.
Hiq: I don’t know if this is going to answer exactly your question. But, going back to the Canadian example, some of you in the audience may have heard this, but, that one came to me as a little bit of a surprise when I was given the opportunity to take an expat assignment to Canada. When it was put in front of me, it was sorta like, whoa, where did this come from? And, there’s a personal story to it, but I wasn’t prepared whatsoever.
Hiq: A, not the role itself, but move to a new country, and then having newly just been engaged. And it was just so much change.
Mike: That was a lot.
Hiq: And, then reflecting in that moment and what was going through my mind is, it’s too much. Because A, … I mean, no matter how confident you are in your capabilities, there’s that moment of truth when you say, am I really the leader who can do this? I’ve never done an international assignment. I’ve never went out and built a credit bureau from scratch, just say that effectively, with the new technology infrastructure.
Hiq: I’ve never been married and therefore now I’m engaged, and how is that gonna work? So in my mind, it’s very overwhelming. But sometimes there’s that voice and there’s just something called intuition when you’re like, I’ve got to seize the moment and I’ve got to figure this out. And the alternative was not to take the risk, not to take the chance, not to have change in my life. And if I hadn’t, I don’t know where I would be today.
Hiq: And you know, you always question would’ve, should’ve, could’ve, would’ve, but at that moment, when you’re faced with that change and that opportunity, you’ve got to just jump right in, and just go for it. And that’s what I decided to do. I probably had 100 reasons why this wasn’t a good idea, but there’s probably 101 reasons why it is a great idea. So, yeah.
Mike: That’s good.
Patty: I’m actually a first generation American, and more often than not, I kind of feel like I have a lot of pressure. I think this has subsided now that I’m in the stable career. But I had this pressure to kind of succeed so that my mom sacrifices immigrating to this country wouldn’t be for nothing. So I want to know what your experience was like with your career and just being an immigrant yourself, not for integration. If you had any kind of similar pressure and how you dealt with that?
Hiq: How much time do we have? That is a very profound question, and I think we each have stories of how we were raised and expectations that our parents set forth. And then for those of you who maybe aren’t as familiar with some of the Asian cultures and expectations, it’s pretty brutal, back in the day. I think now lot’s changed and a lot of the western cultures have been adopted more or less.
Hiq: But I think the stereotypical, and I’m just going to generalize for a moment, is that you work as hard as you can. You pretty much … The parents dictate what you should be when you grow up. And they have a whole different definition of success. Because in my mind, success is if you’re fulfilled and happy in what you do, and forget the money value, you’re successful.
Mike: Yeah, right, right.
Hiq: And you thoroughly, thoroughly enjoy what you do. It’s not like that, back in the day at least.
Patty: It’s unacceptable.
Hiq: It’s not acceptable, and there’s judgment. Because of the pressure, the academics where you go to school, I mean, all of these different things really, are very, very real. And in fact, one of the things I heard recently, this is probably a few years old, is that Korea had the highest suicide rate, because of the immense amount of pressure.
Mike: That’s right.
Hiq: So when I was immigrated here, I mean, I’m the eldest of a family of four. My parents were too busy to pay attention to me. I’m not sure how this ended up this way, but I was sort of left alone-
Patty: Oh, that’s interesting.
Hiq: … Very much. And if I didn’t get straight A’s, I didn’t get whipped with a belt like some of my friends did. Instead, I was sort of left to kind of do my own thing. And how that translates into kind of now is that back then, my parents always instilled in me, I want you to do what makes you happy. I want you to pursue your own career. I’m not going to tell you what to do.
Hiq: But growing up, one of the things I remember was that they’d always put me in front of different contests, whether it was my elementary spelling bee, the national coloring contest. I mean, you name it, I was right there. And through that, I built a lot of confidence on Hiq, you can do anything you set your mind to.
Hiq: So when I graduated from college, I remember it was a very unconventional … I was a marketing and communications major. Not law or med. But the net of it is, my parents rooted me on. Until this day, my father is my biggest fan and supporter. He actually thinks I can be the global CEO of Experian. Because sky’s the limit. And I do think that that influence is significant. And when I meet Asian Americans now, I can tell within like the first 15 minutes in talking to them kind of what influences they had that brought them to here.
Hiq: And so I feel very fortunate that things were not pounded on me, I was a little bit of a free bird. Again, I don’t know how they became that way.
Patty: So I was wondering if the fact that you immigrated with them instead of you being born in America and not really knowing how life was like before you immigrated, if that had anything to do with it? Like the fact that you knew how the culture was beforehand, before coming to America.
Hiq: You know what it is, I have a deep, profound respect for the culture, but also there are things that I don’t implement in my own life. That’s not to say I disrespect it, it’s just we all have our own identities and how we want to raise our children.
Hiq: So to that end, I think being yourself and your authentic Asian American self is, what are those things that you do want to preserve that you think are wonderful? And then what are those things that you don’t need to? And it doesn’t mean like, oh, you have to be this way or that way. There’s beauty in so many different cultures. And I think it’s embracing what works for you in terms of some of that.
Hiq: But there are influences always, because I hate to say this, but I used to think, well, the stereotype was then, but I think that’s gone now. I don’t think that’s true because even in 2019, I still know leaders who will ask me to work with certain Asian American people because they have, I believe it’s an implicit bias. They don’t say it, but I can tell in the way they want me to help mentor certain people.
Patty: Well, you’re Asian so you’ll get along with this other Asian.
Hiq: Right. Yeah. I find that very interesting. But I think the one thing too that has stayed with me, and this is one thing I very much value from the Asian culture is, I mean it’s not just like, hey, work hard because there’s a stereotype that we’re one of the hardest working populations out there. But that ethic of trying your best and really giving it your all is something that is not really teachable.
Hiq: And I do think when you’re born and your parents instill that, it doesn’t matter whether you’re Asian or Hispanic or African American, it’s actually neutral. It’s just those values that stay with you, and it will stay with you from a career perspective. And I think that’s what I would contribute. Part of my career journey is no matter what you touch, what you do, you’ve got to make sure you have a positive print on it. That’s Hiq Lee, you know what I mean?
Mike: Yeah, yeah.
Hiq: Yeah.
Mike: I’m curious now about, looking back at the way you were raised by your mom and dad and your family. Some of the things that shaped you as a leader today.
Hiq: I have a very much of a can do attitude. Nothing is so monumental and so complex and so difficult. I mean it’s not rocket science usually. So I think as a leader, it’s always about we can do it, we can do it. Because that’s what is in my mind from my dad, especially my dad.
Hiq: The other thing is, a lot of immigrants come from a very humble background. I used to not always be humble because there’s sort of that work face that you have to bring. But ultimately when I think about what kind of leader I want to be, you can’t make judgment on people and assume anything. Because everybody has a story. There’s something behind that face, that physical face that sits in front of you, and there could be something much deeper.
Hiq: I come out my leadership and here at the workplace with humility, and recognize that every person can bring something to the table. And it doesn’t matter what your title is. Those are just titles to help shape governance and maybe approvals and decision making. But then every human being has something amazing to offer, and don’t make judgment automatically. Give every person an opportunity to do so.
Hiq: I do believe in terms of my leadership style and how my upbringing is that, I think I have really tough empathy. There’s a saying in leadership like, you have an iron fist in a velvet glove. That’s how my parents were. As much as they left me alone, and they were tough. Believe me, they were tough. With certain things. But there was a lot of love, and there was good intent behind it and there was always apologies. And I think as a leader you have to know when you’re wrong and be vulnerable to admit that. And that’s not always the case.
Hiq: So as I try to triangulate or connect just what I recall from my childhood and just the things, how my parents were, those were the things that kind of stand out to me that I can honestly say, I’m sure I’ve evolved to that person and maybe that wasn’t always there when I first started my career. But, it was just that tough empathy. I have become, I think probably more vulnerable as I’ve gotten older in my career than I was way in the beginning. And I think when people see that you’re vulnerable and you talk about your weaknesses, I mean not like, oh, I’m terrible at this, this and this. But just simply being more exposed to it. Like, hey, I was wrong, or hey, we didn’t get this right.
Hiq: You’d be surprised how real that is to people and the human side of leaders and that, hey, we’re not all sitting in the ivy tower looking at financial statements. We’re actually people that really want to connect with our people. So, yeah. As I was thinking about this, I guess I do owe a lot to my parents because you sort of are the byproduct of how you were raised and how you were fed. With kind words and with encouragement. So I try to replicate that, to the people that I serve.
Mike: I love that. Like you talked about vulnerability and I’m curious, that evolution, you said in the beginning you weren’t so vulnerable because I think you want to protect yourself, and being vulnerable can be very, very scary. And, can you talk about like that journey of becoming more vulnerable and why that is important to you now as a leader?
Hiq: Yes. I think it stems back to being … And this isn’t a ethnic statement, but it’s probably more of a gender frankly. I’ve always been one of the very few in meetings, let’s say. And I was actually commented a few times in my past that always made me feel I had to put up a wall. Everything from, oh, sweetheart or honey. It’s like, oh my gosh, what? And it’s me and 12 male colleagues in a room. This is when I was in consulting and the clients were the CEOs and they were probably, call it 30 years my senior.
Hiq: I remember mentally, it was these little comments that I remember just kind of putting together that I just felt like I had to represent this really strong-
Mike: Right.
Hiq: Woman leader, right?
Mike: Totally, totally and if you’re getting those kind of comments like, well, I’ve got to do everything I can to be masculine. Whatever masculinity is. I’ve got to portray that.
Hiq: And you want to hear a little factoid?
Mike: Yeah.
Hiq: For the first, I’m not kidding. Probably, let’s say I’ve been here 16 years, probably for the first eight years of my career at Experian, no one had literally seen my hair down. If you go back to my, pick my pictures, you’ll see that my hair was always back. There’s a figurative saying like, oh, let your hair down.
Mike: Right, right.
Hiq: Look, my hair is down, it’s been down for years now. But that then it was all about putting up this image and this little bit of a hard ass, and not as approachable. And I don’t think that was really who I am, but that’s how I just came to work. And I don’t know that it was ever like, oh, I’m going to be this. It just kind of built over time.
Patty: It’s kind of what you had to do to be taken seriously.
Hiq: Yeah. And, in fact, I’ve had people here at Experian who have known me for 16 years comment, you are so very different now. So that’s kind of how it started. I thought that was important to point out. But I have to say, I want to say it was six years ago when I first joined BIS. And you’ve got to remember we upgrade leaders here.
Hiq: When you think about putting a new leader in an area, and I asked the question, why am I the best leader for this role now? And so part of that was kind of where the business was at, what type of leader they need. And when I did the assessment of, okay, what’s the current state, what’s my biggest challenge and what’s my biggest opportunity for BIS, everything I needed to tackle as a priority had to do with its culture, the environment in which we breed trust, creating an environment where it’s perceived to be the best place to work, recruiting really great talent.
Hiq: That was a little spotty when I joined. And I felt if I want to really get the business to the things that I want to achieve, for the greater good of Experian, I have to be a different leader. I can’t come in with a wall, because I believe prior leadership was a little bit like that.
Hiq: So I made a very conscientious choice that I was going to be a transparent leader, very communicative, the good, the bad, the ugly. And in order for people to open up to me, I had to be open myself. And that’s how the whole journey started. And I have to tell you, it has been one of the most fulfilling roles I’ve ever had. Because I am authentic and I do bring my whole self to work now. And it feels wonderful, to know that who I am, how I am is valued, and it’s having an impact, and it’s not hard because you are who you are.
Mike: That’s right.
Hiq: And so, there’s always something that triggers that, and it doesn’t mean, hey, I have to be somebody else. I think everybody has different versions of themselves based on their experiences, and then where you choose to bring out more of this or more of that has to do with the situation at hand. And I felt like with BIS, had I not done that, I’m not sure that we would be here today. So hopefully that helps.
Mike: That’s really helpful.
Patty: Yeah. I’m just going off of that, it sounds like you were working at a time when there wasn’t a lot of female leadership and there was a lot of male colleagues. How did it feel being maybe like one of the only women of color who had a seat at the table, and how did you kind of build up your voice and have the courage to speak your mind?
Hiq: You know it’s interesting. If I’m being transparent, I recognize that that is the case because it’s obvious. We all can look around and say, okay, I’m a minority literally and figuratively. But I never felt treated like that, at least here at Experian. And most of my significant leadership roles have been here at this company.
Hiq: And I have to say, you have to just be genuine and know that your voice is going to be heard, and you have to bring forward great ideas. And there’s a saying that a lot of women are taught is don’t wait until seven men talk, but maybe be the first or the second. Because typically what happens is when you are the first to talk, you then become more comfortable in that setting to where you’re going to actually offer up more ideas.
Patty: Okay.
Hiq: And I think the biggest challenge that I see in this type of situation is you don’t know if your idea is going to be better than others. I don’t know why people sell themselves short on that, but you got to believe in the ideas that you have and what you’re representing. And now I feel like it’s those differences in ideas that actually make a really great leadership team, so when you’re sitting altogether. So you do have to be authentic.
Hiq: And I don’t try any harder to be honest. In fact, if I don’t say anything in a meeting, it doesn’t bother me. Because part of you is like, you can’t try so hard either, and it becomes pretty obvious.
Patty: You can’t say things just to say things.
Mike: That’s right. I think it’s actually, I see the call to action for everybody. Because some people are just naturally more introverted, male or female. And I think the job of a good leader, or the people in the room, making sure that they’re very perceptive and making sure that everyone’s saying their piece. If someone’s not saying something, just like nudging them. Hey, Patty, really curious about your thoughts on this?
Mike: Because everyone has a role to play at the table. And if someone’s not talking, they might have something to say but maybe they feel uncomfortable, maybe they don’t feel that their ideas are valuable. But to your point, hearing diverse perspectives is really important. And I think that’s the job of everybody. If you see somebody quiet in the room, just ask them. Because just getting that question will get them to say something.
Hiq: Yeah, definitely. And you know what’s really great is if you do find yourself for those of you out there that, whether you’re a minority women or just the woman, or even in a female dominated industry and you happen to be male, I think one of the things to always remember is that, you can be a role model so that if there are implicit biases and you see somebody who is role modeling some amazing leadership

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