Photograph: Joel Maisonette
Who or what inspires you, and why?
My maternal grandmother inspired and influenced me the most. She grew up in wartime China and had an incredibly hard life. As a girl, she was not given a proper education. She married young and had many children, but lost most of them at childbirth or at young ages due to illness. After the war, she looked for opportunities to support herself and her family. She learned to read and write in her mid-30s. She found a job in a clothing factory at age 40 and worked there for 20 years. She took care of the family alone for many years while my grandfather worked hundreds of miles from home. After retiring from the factory job, she helped my mom raise me while taking care of my ailing grandfather. Growing up, my grandmother was always a calming force. She was kind, strong and open-minded. The most important things I learned from her are to be resilient, and it’s never too late to learn.
What do you hope to accomplish within the next year?
A big part of my work these days is to help companies implement the accounting changes that are taking effect. In addition to satisfying the mandates, I hope to help my clients see beyond “what has to be done” and design solutions that position them well for “what’s coming next.” I also will continue to volunteer for the Society of Actuaries (SOA) as a section leader and in other capacities to make the SOA a stronger organization and to help fellow actuaries become better leaders.
What are the most important attributes of a good leader?
A good leader should have a clear and committed vision that creates a sense of purpose and guides a team through challenging times. A good leader should be an open and effective communicator. A good leader must have courage to step up during times of need, to make hard decisions, to do the right things when they’re not popular and to take responsibility when things don’t go well.
Is there an experience that shaped your career?
My experience at a life insurance startup for the past five years (before joining my current firm) has changed my perspective of the value of actuaries’ work. As actuaries, we’re already doing some of the most complex and critical work for our employers. Still, we can add so much more value when we go beyond the traditional actuarial practice areas. Our critical thinking and analytical skills stand out when we work with nonactuarial teams, which is highly valuable as insurance companies are going through a transformative time. I found deep satisfaction in collaborating with other teams, solving problems and implementing solutions. Leading multidisciplinary projects has made my work more impactful.
What do you like most about your job?
Solving problems and connecting with people—they go hand in hand. I love to take on complex problems; it’s like solving puzzles. And in this day and age, problem-solving is a team sport. Most business problems involve multiple function areas and require solutions to balance many stakeholders’ needs. I enjoy talking to people about their priorities and concerns, connecting the dots and developing solutions as a team. Along the way, I build long-lasting relationships that benefit everyone involved.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely the views of Ying Zhao and do not necessarily reflect the official views of Ernst & Young LLP. The material has been prepared for general information purposes only and is not intended to be relied upon as accounting, tax or other professional advice. Please refer to your advisors for specific advice.