Building Bridges Across Cultures

Publish Date

26 FEB 2024


Hong Chow, Executive Vice President, Head of China & International, EMD Serono, leads with empathy and uses her diverse knowledge to build bridges across a wide geographical scope.

I am fortunate to call two countries and cultures my home; I was born in China but moved to Germany at age 12. Since October 2021, I lead a wide geographic scope of regions including Japan, China, Asia Pacific, the Middle East, Africa, Russia, Latin America and Europe at EMD Serono. I am passionate about building bridges between different cultures and am very proud of our committed teams as they work together “As One for Patients” to help create, improve and prolong lives.

Can you tell us how your experience living and working across various cultures has shaped the way you approach work today?

My experiences living and working in both developed and developing countries has compelled me to approach my work with a strong sense of purpose. I strongly believe in the importance of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DE&I), not only in the workplace, but also when it comes to Health Equity. When I worked in China, I had the opportunity to contribute to the healthcare reform and could see the impact expanded access to healthcare could bring to society. These experiences have ignited a passion in me for ensuring that our patients receive the best treatments and have access to the best ways to receive a diagnosis, independently of where they live. I believe that with patients and customers coming from across the globe, it is important that our own workforce is a diverse representation of the people we serve.

How has your cross-cultural experience impacted your leadership style?

I think my experiences have made me an inclusive leader. Because of my diverse background and as a female leader, I can relate to others especially those who are a part of underrepresented groups. My natural sense of empathy allows me to lead with care. When I travel to different countries, I often meet with people from our employee resource (ERG) groups and engage in authentic conversations. For example, women can find it a challenge to balance their career and a family. I have shared how I was able to build a successful career alongside being a mother. By sharing my own story, I hope to be able to inspire and encourage people from underrepresented groups to be bold in their pursuit of their careers.

Can you give an example of a time when you witnessed people coming together and using cross-cultural knowledge/awareness to drive meaningful actions?

In our recent Patient 360° Summit, organizations from across the US, Europe, and China came together to share valuable insight. The conversations we had during the summit challenged us to use our cross-cultural knowledge to drive meaningful outcomes. For example, I thought using digital tools can democratize access to health information. But during the summit, one of the patient organizations shared its experiences with the digital divide. It brought up how there were patients who were not digitally savvy, illiterate or didn’t have access to the Internet. The safe space that we created allowed us to have transparent conversations, give honest feedback, propose genuine recommendations, and bring to light actionable ideas.

From a global perspective, how have you seen the diversity of our workforce contribute to our joint success for our customers, patients, employees, and society?

In 1888, Willy Merck, a member of the eighth generation of the Merck family of entrepreneurs, visited China during a trip around the world. In a letter to his mother, he wrote fondly about the future business opportunities he saw in China. At the time, many western companies would not have thought of going east, but Willy Merck did. When I first joined Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany and read this letter, I was so impressed to see how the companies' ancestors had a vision to explore international markets, and this is how we became a global player.

As an international company, we needed to act on DE&I. The diversity of our workforce creates better business decisions and leads to more opportunities. As we continue to emphasize our commitment to DE&I, our leaders “walk the talk” demonstrating to our customers, employees, and the broader community that to us, DE&I is not “a-nice-to-have,” it’s a “must-have” because it's embedded in how we operate and our business success. 

As a company with over 64,000 colleagues from 66 countries and representing 139, what do you believe is the most important thing to keep in mind as we come together, across sectors and geographies, to create a global culture?

Our High-Impact Culture (HIC) behaviors guide us to come together as a company. But with our HIC behaviors, it is important to be aware that these behaviors may be expressed differently across cultural contexts. For example, when living the HIC behavior of “Disagree openly, Decide, and Deliver,” people from Asian cultures may need to find other mechanisms to speak their opinions rather than by openly challenging ideas. Recognizing that we need to assess our HIC behaviors in cultural contexts allows us to continue to come together across the globe. I see our organization living this daily.

Along with this, our purpose at Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany, “curious minds dedicated to human progress,” unites us across all the business sectors. To drive human progress, we need innovation - and innovation comes from the creativity that is generated by our diverse global organization. By coming together, we can create a culture that challenges the status quote and allows us to discover new solutions, engage in open dialogue, and deliver solutions to some of our toughest challenges.