Samuel Mok: A true leader ‘by reference’ BIO
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@ chinadailyusa.com and firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.