An interview with Jenny Lee ('05)


Jenny Lee (‘05) attended TAS from 1993 until graduation, when she attended Wellesley College and received a Bachelor’s degree in Economics and East Asian Studies. After working for five years as an analyst and associate at Deutsche Bank in New York and Hong Kong, Lee found her current position in 2014 as the Head of Growth at Hong Kong corporation WeLab. Under Lee’s direction, the company, which operates online lending programs, has grown from its founding in 2013 to be one of the world’s top financial technology corporations.
For her work, Lee made the Forbes 30 Under 30 Asia List in Finance & Venture Capital in 2016.
Did any particular courses at school impact decisions for your career later on?
It wasn’t a particular course, but it was more about the overall experience. I think when you’re young and have the luxury of having a well-rounded curriculum like what TAS has you just naturally want to do everything. For example, I was in Journalism, I was in IASAS Dance, I was in jazz band, I was interested in learning different languages so I studied both Spanish and Japanese at the same time, so I just grew up finding a lot of topics very interesting. I think this kind of environment that provided a variety of opportunities, showed me how I could pursue anything I wanted to later on.
How did growing up in Taiwan at TAS affect your life and the way you see the world?
I think being in between two cultures does shape how you see the world and interact with others. When I was there, it felt like a normal experience, but once you leave it, you realize that you’ve actually had a really unique one. Whether it was in the US, or now in Hong Kong, I’ve always felt that I can bring a different perspective on a topic or contribute a different skill-set to a team. I think the unique experience of getting a fairly liberal education within the confines of a conservative Taiwan also made me appreciate the tension of mixing cultures and generally makes me more open-minded and tolerant of differing viewpoints.
What experiences or lessons from your time at TAS have affected you most?
Everyone in life is presented with opportunities and I learned that being able to stay open to these opportunities got me to where I am today. It’s also about being open to challenges, which was something I learned at TAS. The TAS environment always pushed students to be better, self-motivated and ambitious, and that still resonates with me today. I remember auditioning for the jazz band without knowing anything about jazz music, and auditioning for a school play without any acting experience. But these new, unfamiliar experiences allowed me to grow more as a person than I would have if I just stuck to what I thought I was already good at. I also remember a community service trip I went to in Cambodia, which I thought was just going to be about building houses, but instead turned into a history lesson about Cambodia and how the Khmer Rouge rule from decades ago still affected the people we were helping. It made so much of an impact on me that I ended up writing about it for my college essay. So I think the TAS experience and my life in Taiwan has mostly taught me how to step out of comfort zones.
Where do these lessons appear now in your work or personal life?
I realized recently that being intellectually curious has been a very important theme in my life and my work. In my current role as WeLab’s Head of Growth, I wear may hats and have to be responsible for a lot of different functions. When I joined this company, we didn’t have a marketing person, but I ended up doing marketing without any prior marketing experience. We also needed someone to go over our legal documents—and I’m not a lawyer, at all—but because I was the most fluent in English I ended up reviewing contracts. I was also responsible for fundraising with investors because of my prior investment banking background. I believe I was able to take on such different roles within the company so quickly because I’ve always liked learning new things and could appreciate a good challenge, something I’ve been doing since my days at TAS.
What’s something that you wish you had known when you were younger?
It’s okay sometimes to be spontaneous! I remember when I was in high school I was such a planner. In some ways, I still am, but I was much more serious in high school than I am now. I remember that when I got my college catalog in the spring of my senior year, I had immediately mapped out how I would spend all four years; and I pretty much completely followed that plan. I don’t regret doing so much preparation: I probably would have been a lot more stressed out if I didn’t plan, because planning was my way of relaxing myself at the time. But I enjoy having the room to be flexible now. If a friend came up to me and said, “Let’s go to Japan tomorrow,” I would be ready to pack and go.
A version of this article appeared in August’s print edition of The Blue & Gold, titled “Jenny Lee (’05) reflects on childhood, her cultural influences, and life after TAS.”