By Barbara Frankel
Focused discipline and a “grand passion for people” have led AT&T’s Anne Chow to great success—and to “pay it forward” for a new generation of Asian women.
Anne’s story emphasizes the importance of rigor as well as the need to be true to one’s own calling. Her parents emigrated from Taiwan “to live the American dream.” That meant very structured activities for Anne, especially in music.
She started playing the piano at age 4 and showed great aptitude, culminating in an acceptance to the prestigious Julliard School of Music when she was 10. “In my peak, I was practicing six hours a day. My parents drove me—and I drove myself,” she recalls.
When she entered high school, her pragmatic side won out and she realized she didn’t want a music career. “People in college who studied music were practicing 12 hours a day,” she says. “My assessment was I was good but not great—and people who were great still might not make it.”
Still, she knew she owed it to her parents to succeed. “They lived their lives for their children. To not make them proud wasn’t even an option,” she says.
From Technology to Sales
Her father had a Ph.D. in electrical engineering and worked at Bell Labs (a former division of AT&T). Anne had summer jobs and internships in the industry and knew she had an affinity for science and very technical work. She enrolled at Cornell University to study electrical engineering.
But she realized that she needed work that involved more interaction with people and continued on to get her M.B.A. in marketing and operations. “Still, every job I’ve done has a relationship to technology,” she notes.
She didn’t start out in sales primarily because she thought she wouldn’t be good at it.
“In the Asian culture, you are hard-pressed to find parents who say their dream is to have a child be a salesperson,” she says.
But her mentors at AT&T recognized her abilities and the need for sales experience if she wanted to be a senior executive. “I tried for five years to get in and was denied because I hadn’t been in sales before but I was persistent,” she says. “After my first job in sales, I fell in love with it.”
As an Asian woman with skills in technology, marketing, sales and operations, she’s been in high demand. “I have had plenty of opportunity to leave AT&T but I have chosen to stay. It’s always challenging. As I’ve gotten older, my purpose has become more altruistic. You can never pay back all the people who’ve helped you, but you can pay it forward. My purpose at this point in my life is to leave this place better than it was before I came,” she says.
What Women Need to Succeed
To that end, she has worked diligently to get more women into Science, Technology, Education and Mathematics (STEM) jobs and to help Asian women move up in corporate America.
“The shortage of women in STEM is not isolated to AT&T,” says Anne, who is the mother of two daughters. “When I went to college in the ’80s, the percentage of women in science and technology was greater than it is today. It’s stereotypes and peer pressure. In Western society, it’s still not viewed as chic and cool for girls to be good at science and math,” she says.
She’s involved with several programs at AT&T and externally to help young women understand the benefits of technical jobs as well as the link to successful sales. She also works with AT&T’s employee resource groups to reach out to young women in different ethnic communities.
As for Asian women in corporate America, Anne says, “There really is a bamboo ceiling. I get this frequently—‘Wow, you have great public-speaking skills.’ I don’t think I would get that comment if I were any other demographic.”
Anne, who aspires to write a book about her experiences and leadership, notes the value of trying different things in your career, especially for ethnic women. “Even if you try something and are told you are not good it, there is immense value in the experience,” she says. “It helps you find your true passion and purpose.”
Senior Vice President, Premier Client Group, AT&T Global Services, AT&T (No. 10 in the DiversityInc Top 50)
• Senior Vice President, Business Marketing, AT&T
• Vice President, Strategy and Planning, AT&T
• Bachelor’s Degree in Electrical Engineering, Cornell University
• Master’s Degree in Electrical Engineering, Cornell University
• M.B.A., The Johnson School, Cornell University
• Board of Governors, Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies
• Board of Directors, New Jersey Chamber of Commerce
• Second Vice Chair, Board of Directors, Asian American Justice Center
• Founding Member and Vice Chair, Board of Directors, Asian & Pacific Islander American Scholarship Fund