Sa­muel Mok: A true leader ‘by ref­er­ence’ BIO

China Daily (Canada) - - ACROSSAMERICA - By LIU CHANG and CAI CHUN­Y­ING in Wash­ing­ton

The gen­tle­man dressed el­e­gantly in a suit, rid­ing the el­e­va­tor five floors down at lunchtime, emerg­ing from an of­fice build­ing in cen­tral Wash­ing­ton, and greet­ing po­ten­tial business part­ners he meets in cafes fre­quented by politi­cians and ex­ec­u­tives, could be any man of heart-felt con­fi­dence in the US cap­i­tal.

How­ever, with a con­stantly calm de­meanor, in­domitable spirit, and a warm smile, this is Sa­muel Mok, for­mer Chief Fi­nan­cial Of­fi­cer of the US Depart­ment of La­bor and the first Asian Amer­i­can CFO of a cab­i­net agency in Amer­i­can his­tory.

Mok is owner and man­ag­ing mem­ber of Con­dor In­ter­na­tional Ad­vi­sors, LLC, a con­sult­ing firm that helps Amer­i­can and Chi­nese com­pa­nies nav­i­gate gov­ern­ments and mar­ket­places in both coun­tries.

In Mok’s view, there are only three kinds of lead­ers: elected lead­ers, ap­pointed lead­ers and lead­ers by ref­er­ence.

“Lead­ers by ref­er­ence are the most pow­er­ful ones,” Mok told China Daily in his of­fice. “Peo­ple come to you be­cause they want to, not be­cause they have to.”

Mok said he learned how to lead in the US Army. As a com­mis­sioned of­fi­cer dur­ing Viet­nam War pe­riod for five years, Mok had to deal with sol­diers of all races, so­cial classes and re­gional sub­cul­tures, and he re­ceived spe­cial train­ing in how to com­mu­ni­cate and lead ef­fec­tively.

The rules, in Mok’s view, are sim­ple: “Never write somebody off un­til you get to know them” and “Any­body who is dif­fer­ent from you, they are also pos­si­bly as good as you.”

“So, you open your mind and ac­cept the per­son un­til proven oth­er­wise. There­fore I al­ways look for good things in peo­ple first,” said Mok, who came to the United States from Hong Kong with his fam­ily in 1963 upon fin­ish­ing his high school there.

The ap­proach has served him well. Out of Army and with an ear­lier bach­e­lor’s de­gree in ac­count­ing from Ford­ham Univer­sity in New York, Mok moved to the pri­vate sec­tor and be­came the di­rec­tor of ac­count­ing at Time Inc’s book di­vi­sion, and later be­came comptroller and the cor­po­rate trea­surer at US News & World Re­port.

When Mok’s su­per­vi­sor moved to pub­lic ser­vice, he per­suaded Mok to do the same. Mok passed the For­eign Ser­vice exam and be­came an ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer in the Bureau of East Asia and Pa­cific Af­fairs at the US Depart­ment of State in 1986.

Then a de­cid­ing mo­ment came, which tested Mok’s strength and per­sis­tence and led him to even big­ger things.

One day in 1986, at 4:30 pm Mok re­ceived a phone call from the hir­ing man­ager for US Trea­sury Sec­re­tary James Baker. The per­son said that he would like to see Mok’s one-page re­sume the next day at 9 am. En­thralled by the call, Mok ran to the near­est print­ing shop in a rain­storm, hop­ing to squeeze his orig­i­nal five-page re­sume into one sheet. The em­ployee told him the store was clos­ing in 20 min­utes. In a hurry to get home, the em­ployee re­fused to help Mok be­cause he would miss the last bus.

On the spot, Mok found a way. He of­fered the em­ployee three times the cost of his hourly salary and pay­ment for a taxi, in ex­change for re­do­ing his re­sume. The deal was closed.

The next morn­ing Mok handed his re­sume into the in­ter­viewer right on time. It turned out Mok was the only one who showed up with a re­sume they asked for, out of the five job can­di­dates the man­ager called. So, Mok got the job and it was be­ing the comptroller of the trea­sury depart­ment.

“If you don’t be­lieve in your­self, who else will be­lieve in you? Fail­ure was not an op­tion,” re­called Mok, who later be­came Trea­sury Depart­ment’s chief fi­nan­cial offi- cer, a po­si­tion he held un­til 1992 when George H. W. Bush lost his bid for re­elec­tion

With back­ground in both gov­ern­ment and pri­vate sec­tor, Mok was adept at be­ing a con­sul­tant to com­pa­nies. He es­tab­lished Con­dor Con­sult­ing after leav­ing the trea­sury depart­ment, help­ing USbased multi­na­tion­als with their China mar­ket en­trance strate­gies.

When Elaine Chao be­came the US sec­re­tary of la­bor in 2001, she in­vited Mok to join pub­lic ser­vice again. This time Mok be­came CFO of the La­bor Depart­ment, a pres­i­den­tially ap­pointed po­si­tion that re­quired Se­nate con­fir­ma­tion.

Dur­ing his time there, Mok was rec­og­nized as the change agent who ini­ti­ated a good num­ber of pi­o­neer­ing projects. He re­ceived the Don­ald L. Scantle­bury Memo­rial Award for Dis­tin­guished Lead­er­ship in Fi­nan­cial Man­age­ment Im­prove­ment in 2006 and was named a “Fed­eral 100” re­cip­i­ent by the Fed­eral Com­puter Week as one of the top ex­ec­u­tives with the great­est im­pact on the gov­ern­ment in­for­ma­tion sys­tems.

As a mi­nor­ity, Mok said he en­coun­tered prej­u­dice from time to time on his way mov­ing up, but he learned to not let it limit him.

“If you put bar­ri­ers around your­self, you’ll not get any­where. If you refuse to let bar­ri­ers stop you, the great thing about Amer­ica is the sky is the limit. The only bar­rier be­tween you and suc­cess is your­self. It is all up to you,” said Mok, ra­di­at­ing a youth­ful en­ergy.

Even after leav­ing his ap­pointed lead­er­ship role in 2007, Mok still en­joyed the lead­er­ship brought to him by ref­er­ence. He was elected the na­tional pres­i­dent of the As­so­ci­a­tion of Gov­ern­ment Ac­coun­tants in 2008, the largest group in his field, and the first Asian-Amer­i­can pres­i­dent in its 60 years.

Mok’s gifts also equipped him well as a leader in the Chi­nese com­mu­nity and the larger AsianAmer­i­can com­mu­nity.

In the early years of the civil rights move­ment, Mok helped lo­cal Chi­nese Americans in­te­grate into so­ci­ety, solv­ing many prob­lems aris­ing from cul­tural dif­fer­ences.

He later be­came pres­i­dent of the Wash­ing­ton chap­ter of the Or­ga­ni­za­tion of Chi­nese Americans, the largest na­tional or­ga­ni­za­tion for Chi­nese Americans in the US, and then its na­tional vice-pres­i­dent.

Mok served on the board of many Asian Amer­i­can or­ga­ni­za­tions in­clud­ing AS­CEND, the largest Pan-Asian or­ga­ni­za­tion for business pro­fes­sion­als in North Amer­ica, Fed­eral Asian Pa­cific Amer­i­can Coun­cil and the Asian Amer­i­can Gov­ern­ment Ex­ec­u­tive Net­work, to name just a few. He re­ceived the Pi­o­neer in Pub­lic Ser­vice Award at the Con­fer­ence on Asian Pa­cific Amer­i­can Lead­er­ship in 2011.

Mok en­vi­sions his in­volve­ment in the Chi­nese com­mu­nity as a leader by ref­er­ence. Hav­ing all the knowl­edge and skills in nav­i­gat­ing pub­lic and pri­vate sec­tors, Mok said he is pas­sion­ate about help­ing young Chi­nese Americans to achieve suc­cess.

“Know­ing that they are suc­cess­ful and I have some­thing to do with it is very re­ward­ing to me,” said Mok.

Mok said that what he val­ues most in life and pro­fes­sion is trust. His po­lit­i­cal and business jour­ney has been closely as­so­ci­ated with giv­ing trust to oth­ers and hav­ing trust given to him. “Re­la­tion­ship man­age­ment is ev­ery­where, with trust at its core,” he said.

“I want to share re­la­tion­ships with th­ese young peo­ple. They have their youth and dreams, and if they lack a bridge to achiev­ing their dreams, I am will­ing to help them,” he added. Con­tact thet writ­ers at changliu@ chi­nadai­ and caichun­y­ing@chi­nadai­


Sa­muel Mok, for­mer chief fi­nan­cial of­fi­cer of the US Depart­ment of La­bor, points to the Hon­or­able Dis­charge cer­tifi­cate from US Army dis­played in his of­fice in Wash­ing­ton dur­ing an in­ter­view with China Daily.

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