Performance arts and Children loom large in Leigh Tung-Chou’s life – from raising her own to aiding budding dancers to encouraging exchange students through the Tung Foundation…
What was your childhood like? Any fond memories growing up?
I was born in New York, but my extended family lived in Hong Kong. I would travel back and forth during the holidays, while I attended Nightingale-Bamford all-girls school in Manhattan. This is the same school author of Gossip Girl Cecily von Ziegesar attended – she was a year above me! When I was 16, my parents permanently moved back to Hong Kong while I continued my education at Hotchkiss Boarding School in Lakeville, Connecticut.
It was a very traditional ’70s and ’80s upbringing. There weren’t many Asian kids in our school. I think there might have been only about five or six of us in Manhattan, including my sister. Every time I would fly back to Hong Kong, I felt a geater connection with the people here – they were more like me. Living in New York then was wonderful, but gritty and definitely an eye-opening experience.
The most enjoyable experiences I had in childhood were travelling from the US to Hong Kong on Pan Am. Flying from Anchorage to Tokyo and then Hong Kong, over the city’s big billboards and neon lights as the plane took its sharp turn on the way down to the landing strip of the old Kai Tak Airport, then stepping off to smell the harbour – that is still very memorable.
What path did your career take?
After university, I spent a year at Beijing University to study Chinese then got a job at Bain & Company, a management consulting firm based in Hong Kong. One of the clients I worked for was The Gap. At the time, there were a lot of market entry work with multinationals looking to come to Hong Kong and China. This developed my interest in strategic planning. They offered me a job to work at their headquarters in San Francisco. Looking for a new adventure, I took it.
After a few years, my family suggested I try my hand at the family business [Orient Overseas]. I was conflicted about moving back to Hong Kong because I had just met my husband in San Francisco while attending Stanford Graduate School of Business. Ultimately, I decided to return with the hope that what is meant to be will eventually work out. After a year or so of long distance phone calls and e-mails, Stanley moved here – a chance he took that I am so grateful for.
At this point, I was presented with the opportunity to work for Dior where I became the Marketing Director of Communications. Having always enjoyed marketing retail, specialty apparel and luxury goods, I took a chance to do something I loved and it was very fulfilling. In those days, Hong Kong was Asia’s regional base for many luxury brands. We managed 13 different countries – a very exciting time to be involved in that industry and an experience that I will never forget.
Any highlights during this time of your life?
I did several projects with various luxury brands, including Bulgari, Fendi and Dior – all part of the LVMH Group. I felt very gratified when I did Fendi’s Great Wall of China fashion show in 2007. There were many moving components that made the project extremely challenging, but it was a great meeting of Eastern and Western cultures. In terms of personal accomplishments, that would be raising my children. My twins have just turned 18 – I can’t believe they are so old already.
What led to your involvement in charity work, particularly in performing arts?
It happened very organically. As the kids got older, I started to feel that I wanted to be closer to home to see them more frequently. I wanted to be more flexible with my time, which I know is not possible for a lot of women, so I really admire women who are able to balance it all.
I never did ballet myself, but my two daughters took lessons when they were really young and loved it. That’s how I got involved with performing arts. I saw how my children were blessed with opportunities to be exposed to different art forms, while many kids in Hong Kong didn’t have that outlet. We need performing arts as a society to be able to feel alive and connected, so I thought it would be a fitting opportunity to get involved and give back to the community through fundraising for Hong Kong Ballet.
We were able to launch a student-ticket scheme for disadvantaged youths. And because of my experience in marketing, I knew a lot of brands that were keen on sponsoring charitable projects with the Ballet, so it worked out well that both worlds could come together.
“My children were blessed with opportunities to be exposed to different art forms… We need performing arts as a society to be able to feel alive and connected”
You are on the Development Committee of Hong Kong Ballet. How did you get involved?
I’ve been involved with Hong Kong Ballet for many years. I started as a comittee member for The Nutcracker Christmas Benefit when my children were still very young. I was asked to co-chair the Hong Kong Ballet Guild, then joined the Board of Governors where I served a three-year term before sitting on the development committee.
Tell us more about the annual Nutcracker Christmas Benefit.
The benefit was founded by Deirdre Fu Tcheng to create outreach in the community and to foster the love of dance to a wider audience. It was a very interesting time, with the arrival of our then new Artistic Director Septime Webre [in 2017] – he’s doing a wonderful job.
It happens every year and has become one of our key fundraisers for the Hong Kong Ballet. A lot of children get involved and have the opportunity to dance with our professional dancers, their families are also invited to watch them perform on stage. It’s a very festive event that kicks off the holiday season.
Any other projects in the pipeline?
This fall, Hong Kong Ballet will present Carmina Burana in conjunction with the HK Philharmonic. My mother has spent many years on the Board of Governors for the orchestra, so it will be very exciting to see two of the city’s most established performing arts groups come together.
Next spring, Hong Kong Ballet will also present the world premiere of a ballet Coco Chanel: The Life of a Fashion Icon. We have more exciting projects coming up and it’s wonderful to see Hong Kong back in action. We cannot wait for the days of social-distancing restrictions to lift entirely and see the city in full force.
“It’s wonderful to see Hong Kong back in action. We cannot wait for the days of social-distancing restrictions to lift entirely and see the city in full force”
You are also Director of the Tung Foundation. Tell us what the foundation stands for?
The Tung Foundation is our family foundation. It was founded in 1979 by my father and uncle to support philanthropic endeavours in Hong Kong, China and the US, primarily through promoting education. The family strongly believes in the power of exchange programmes to create greater understanding between both countries. Because of the pandemic a lot of the cultural exchanges have been suspended, but we’re hoping that these can restart soon. It’s very important to be able to promote understanding through education and shared experiences.
Aside from the Tung Foundation, I have done a lot of charitable activities with the Hong Kong Adventist Hospital Foundation, and a few other works with smaller but equally important charities, such as Bring Me A Book, which helps place libraries in underserved communities to teach adults to engage with children through literacy.
What do you like to do to relax?
We live in the Southside, so I like going for walks with my husband. We used to hike a lot, but I tore my ACL last winter, so that’s not been possible lately.
Family time is important to you. Is there an activity the family enjoys doing together?
Every year we go on a family ski trip, which is a big highlight for everybody. The kids and I really enjoy it though my husband is more reluctant since he doesn’t like to ski as much, but he really enjoys how it brings the family together, especially now that our kids are in the US. Having times like these when we are together are all the more precious as the years go by.
If you could meet someone from the past, who would it be?
I would want to meet my great-grandfather [Wen Ying-hsing]. He was the first Chinese general to graduate from West Point. I would love to find out what it was like to be in a military academy in the US as an exchange student during the Boxer Indemnity Scholarship Program in the 1900s. To understand the relationship between the US and China at the time would be fascinating and very timely in this global climate.
Interview by: Roberliza Eugenio; Photographer: Jack Law; Art Direction and Styling: Jhoshwa Ledesma; Videographer: Jackie Chan; Hair and Make Up: Owen Ko; Venue: Andante