12 WLA Finalists & Their Stories

On Friday 27th May at IPWS Leadership Summit, you’ll be finding out the winners of the Women Leadership Awards 2016, but take some time to read about the excellent collection of WLA Finalists and how they came to be nominated & selected to be in the running for this year’s awards.

Business Leader of the Year – Finalists


GONG Xiangwei – Global BU Director, DSM Hydrocolloids

With a rich career path of 20+ years spanning different industries and functions in Asia, Europe and America, Xiangwei prides herself in her solid business track record in a wide range of leadership positions both in China and abroad, from sales & marketing, supply chain, new business development to M&A, as well as general management.

In 1994, she joined Roche in Switzerland as management Trainee; In 1995, she started four joint venture projects of Roche Vitamins in Shanghai and was Director of Logistics and Supply Chain after JV establishment, and then she became the youngest management team member of Roche China; In 2001, she went to America to pursue further career development, from the position of Commercial Director to regional VP in various businesses – the youngest and only VP of Asian background within DSM USA.

In 2011, she joined DSM Food Specialties in a double role as Regional President DFS Asia and Business Unit Director Hydrocolloids; Most recently in 2012, she came back to Shanghai, then established and is running a new high growth business unit, DSM Hydrocolloids, which is the only global BU of DSM based in China and runs its independent B2C business. Proficient in Chinese, English and German, Xiangwei enjoys engaging people from different backgrounds, and is passionate about helping young professionals with different backgrounds to fulfill their dreams. She is a featured columnist on Lean In Beijing and also a frequent guest speaker on cultural and women leadership topics as well as diversity and inclusion, career development and current events in Shanghai.


Isabelle Chouvet – CEO & Co-Founder, K2 Asia

Isabelle started her career with the MEDEF, the largest employer association in France where she was in charge of developing partnerships in the Middle-East and Asia. She discovers Japan and decides in 2002 to leave France and start her first company: Emotion – an event company bringing French Lifestyle events to Japan. Starting with a small team, most of whom are still with the company today, she progressively builds one of the leading event agency in Japan for the luxury and lifestyle industries.

Encouraged by one of most trusted client, she decides to open Emotion in Shanghai in 2005 and builds it into a 25MUSD/200 people business in less than 10 years. She also co-founded mei.com – an online luxury discount platform that was sold to Alibaba in 2015 as well as a boutique PR agency and one of the most popular restaurant/bar in Shanghai : Unico. In 2014, she attends an executive MBA at Harvard Business School to broaden her perspectives. She is now working on several acquisitions to build a world-class global communication company with offices in Paris, London, New-York and LA – in addition to the existing offices in Beijing, Honk-Kong and Tokyo.

She has two teenage boys and a younger daughter – who have grown up in Shanghai.

Young Business Leader of the Year – Finalists

Paris.Xu_BWsquare Paris Xu – CEO & Founder, MSParis

Paris is now CEO and founder of MSParis女神派, the first and largest O2O designer dress rental platform in China. MSParis believes that women should be able to experience beautiful dresses without having to own them. Their mission is to help women feel great about themselves by giving them access to 1000s of designer dresses for all occasions (weddings, black tie events, cocktail parties, girl’s nights, afternoon tea, work, dates, etc). Before starting the fashion technology business in Shanghai, Paris was a Principal at Harvest North Star Capital in Hong Kong, providing structured finance and mezzanine capital to corporations in China. Paris also had seven years of investment banking experience at Deutsche Bank in Hong Kong, during which Paris had done many corporate finance transactions in China’s internet and technology sectors, including initial public offerings on NYSE/NASDAQ/HKSE and mergers & acquisitions. Some of her projects include the structural finance of Alibaba and the IPO of VIPshop.com. Before moving to Hong Kong, Paris worked in consulting and hedge fund in New York.

Paris received her Bachelor of Science in Operations Research from Columbia University and her Executive Education certificate from Harvard Law School and Columbia Business School. Paris is also a CFA charter holder. Her drive to succeed started from an early age because of two major factors. The first factor is that her mother, who had to quit her job to raise her (grandparents weren’t able to raise her like many Chinese families), taught her how important it was for a woman to have her own career in order to gain respect in a male dominated society. The second factor is her underdog mentality. At every level, she has been overlooked for not fitting the mold of the prototypical mold of a woman who can succeed in China. She started school shorter than her peers and was not as outspoken. After receiving an offer for her first banking job, a female recruiter privately told her that there’s no way she would last more than half a year. When she started MSParis, some VCs told her the business model will never work in China. Where most people would quit, she pushes on.

Paris has taken it as her personal mission to take MSParis to new heights so that she can serve as an inspiration to other women who have big dreams and would like to raise venture capital money as well. (only 5% of venture capital money world wide is given to female CEOs)


Pocket (Yiging) Sun – Partner, SoGal Ventures

At 23, Pocket founded SoGal, which has grown into a global community of over 4,000 diverse entrepreneurs and investors, in over a dozen chapters worldwide. She created a series of high-impact events and conferences to empower and inspire young women, including the annual SoGal Summit and SoGal Startup Bootcamp.

When she found out that funding was often the largest hurdle for female founders, she jumped into venture capital and co-founded SoGal Ventures, the first millennial venture capital firm led by women. She was featured on the cover of Forbes Asia March 2016 issue as a Forbes 30 Under 30 Asia in Finance & VC. She was also recognized as LinkedIn 2015 Top Voices in VC & Entrepreneurship.

Although her current home base is Singapore, she travels to speak at technology and venture conferences across the world, and invests in both the US and Asia.

Entrepreneur of the Year – Finalists

Julia Li 李青青_BWsquareJulia Li – CEO & Founder, HCD Learning

Ms. Julia Li, who serves as a China special advisor to MIT Media Lab, is the CEO and the Founder of HCD Learning. Julia started her career as a Neuroscience research technician in Columbia Medical School. Shortly after, she landed with a Wall Street firm as a investment banker. From HCD Learning Group’s founding in 2003 until today, Julia has worked with globally renowned experts and scholars in various areas and industries to design and to deliver the unsurpassed business executive learning programs in China.

Julia’s clientele includes some of the best-known Fortune 500 and Multi-national tycoons such as Alibaba, Baidu, Tencent, ICBC, GE, Coca-Cola, P&G, IBM, Lenovo, Wal-Mart and etc. In 2009, Julia successfully transformed HCD Learning from a traditional learning program provider to an innovative experiential learning company with a vision of delivering a highly disruptive and transformational experiential social learning model on a global scale. This revolutionary learning model is designed to operate on both online gamification learning platform and mobile learning platform for frontline employees and college students. Throughout the years, growing business itself has become Julia’s own enduring learning journey.

Well-traveled, Julia has spent time in over hundred countries. She is the first Chinese woman went to the space travel; She has dogsled-raced in Arctic snowfields at -40C; hiked the Namibian desert; She also sky dived in Europe and North America; and she spent extensive amounts of focus on cultivating enlightenment through meditation. Julia delights in helping people realizing their true potential and equipping them to make lasting contributions to society. She is awarded as the most influential leader of the learning industry by “China Economy Daily”, “China Business Herald”, and “China Branding”.

Ann_C_James_BWAnn C. James – Executive Director, Urban Aphrodite International

Director, producer, and theatre artist Ann James brings an astonishing array of experiences from film, stage and theater education to Shanghai. Ann has served in numerous theater positions over the past 20 years, including Associate Director at Steppenwolf Theatre, Dallas Theater Centre, and the Tony Award® winning Alley Theatre.

She has owned two theater companies and directed over 100  plays and musicals including Hair, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Medea, Hamlet, Animal Farm,Topdog-Underdog, Dreamgirls, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, Hay Fever, Glengarry Glen Ross,  Edinburgh Fringe First Award-winning play, The New Electric Ballroom and William Shakespeare’s Hamlet at Shanghai Grand Theater..  Along with her directing experiences, Ann has worked as a professional speaker, actress, theater producer, and as a recognized drama instructor and educator on four continents. She is currently the Founding Executive Producer amd CEO of Urban Aphrodite International- the first Shanghai-based entertainment consulting company in China.  Ann hopes to continue collaborating with artists, students and theatre enthusiasts around the world for many years to come.

Innovator of the Year – Finalists


Ivanka Xu – CEO, Merak Intelligent MICE Procurement System

Graduated with MBA degree of hospitality marketing in the U.S. Served as chapter president in American Hotel & Lodging Association. Former Association Regional Vice President of HelmsBriscoe. As a global leading expert in MICE industry, Ivanka truly understands the challenges in procurement process.

She wishes to cultivate superior hospitality service standards and lead professional MICE procurement behavior. As the founder of Merak, Ivanka leads a group of industry elites who share the same vision. Combining the best procurement practices and intelligent algorisms, Merak team built the most sophisticated enterprise software and the most comprehensive market place for MICE procurement.


Swetlana_Thompson_BWsquareSwetlana Thompson – Key Account Director, PepsiCo Asia-Pacific

With German, Russian, and Korean heritage and growing up in multiple countries Swetlana is a true international citizen.

After graduating with a degree in International Management from Karlsruhe University in Germany in 2004 she started my professional career with a trainee program at IMI plc. Swetlana’s passion for Key Account Management and Beverage Industry and worked with Cornelius Company since then. Initially managing her Yum! Account across EMEA and then moving to China in 2009 to manage the business with PepsiCo. Over the past 7 years in China Swetlana progressed to different roles with the latest leading our PepsiCo key account business across Asia-Pacific.

Now still living in China, she is married with two sons of 8 years and 7 months enjoying life to the fullest. The time in Shanghai has tremendously enriched their lives, culturally, socially, and professionally. There have been so many highlights such as exploring sights and remote areas of China, learning Mandarin, and recently completing the China MBA program at Jiao Tong University.

Social Contributor of the Year – Finalists


Genevieve Flaven – Project Leader, The 99 Project

Genevieve is a French entrepreneur and writer who graduated from ESSEC Grande Ecole and started her career as a consultant in IT companies (CSC Peat Marwick, Hewlett Packard). While in France in 2001, she founded Style-Vision, a trend agency specialized in consumer insights and design trends and relocated to China in 2010 to expand her business and currently works with leading Chinese companies in Fashion, Textile or Automotive to support their creative projects.

She writes poetic prose, a weekly chronicle and theater plays, but founded the 99 Project (collaborative storytelling & acting) in Shanghai two years ago, which brings together people from around the world & shares their stories.



Marie-Lucie Spoke – Managing Director, Community Roots China

Marie-Lucie is the Founder and Managing Director of Community Roots China (CRC), a registered consulting company, which functions as an NPO. CRC connects multinational companies to disadvantaged children in the countryside of China. Her passion has always been to support disadvantaged children and give hope to their mothers. Along with her husband, Marie-Lucie lived in Beijing between 1987 and 1990 with the Canadian diplomatic service.  In  2006, she started to live, work and serve this community in China, registering Community Roots China in 2011.

Community Roots China has held a total of 16 volunteer events with an average participation of 150 volunteers at each event for a total participation by 2,400 volunteers.

HeforShe Man of the Year – Finalist

Lin_Richard_BWsquareRichard Chenghao Lin – Managing Director Taipei, Korn Ferry

Mr. Lin’s business career spans over twenty years and he entered the executive search realm in the year 2000, from which time he has been helping global clients build senior management teams in Greater China and the United States. Mr. Lin is the Office Managing Director of Korn/Ferry International’s Taipei office and a Senior Client Partner with the Firm’s Shanghai office. He is responsible for developing the Firm’s China/Taiwan cross-strait practice along with co-leading the Human Resources Functional Practice for Asia Pacific.

Prior to joining Korn Ferry, he was with another renowned global executive search firm where he re-launched and led its Shanghai office and played a leading role in establishing and running its Greater China, functional HR practice. Earlier, Mr. Lin helped build the technology search practice in Southern California for another leading international executive search firm. Prior to executive search, he was with A.T. Kearney in management consulting, where he consulted for Fortune 500 companies in the consumer and technology sectors. He also served as marketing manager for a leading real estate development company based in Taiwan for three years. He began his career in sales management with NCR. Mr. Lin earned a master’s in business administration from the McCombs Graduate School of Business at the University of Texas, Austin, and a bachelor’s degree in computer science and engineering from The University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA).

Martin_Schulenburg_BWsquareMartin Schulenburg – CFO, Board Member, Continental Automotive System China

Martin Schulenburg has over 15 years of working experience in Automotive Industry cross multiple functions including engineering, business development, key account management and finance. Martin started his career with Continental in the U.S. headquarter in Michigan as Key account manager for a Japanese account and reached 10 times sales increase after 3 years on job. 2007 he was transferred to Shanghai and started his international assignment as key account management of a global account responsible for 200 million USD revenue with continuous sales records and profitability improvements.

During the past 9 years in Shanghai, he also worked as head of controlling in different divisions including building up new department, working as head of finance in the largest plant in China and act as board member of one Joint Venture. Now he is the CFO of the division Chassis and Safety Shanghai Headquarter and the board member of the largest plant in China. Martin holds a mechanical engineering degree from GMI U.S. and MBA in finance from University of Denver.


Congratulations to our Finalists for this year’s Women Leadership Awards and we look forward to seeing you all at the celebration on Friday 27th May… and if you’re interested in meeting the finalists, or joining our Leadership Summit, visit the registration page today!