Kiu Leung: A global Madisonian

Leung taught bioscience at two prestigious research universities before building a career in the private sector.
Kiu Leung in front of a map

Kiu Leung was a teenager when he left Hong Kong, and he is still drawn to places that offer the kind of multicultural atmosphere of his hometown. With international students and faculty at the University of Wisconsin–Madison and other diverse cultures represented throughout the local area, Leung says Madison offers that global vibe on a much smaller scale.

And while Leung is focused on running his business, he also keeps abreast of world affairs, especially the civil unrest and protests in his native homeland.

At a Glance
Name and title: Kiu Leung, president and owner of Renaissance Executive Forum, a franchised global organization
Racial ethnicity: Chinese
Birthplace: Hong Kong
Education and Career: Earned bachelor of science, master’s and doctoral degrees in biochemistry from McGill University in Montreal, Canada. Completed postdoctoral training at Dartmouth Medical School in Hanover, New Hampshire. Was on the faculties of Rutgers University and The Ohio State University. Worked for 20 years in the U.S. biomedical industry
Came to Madison: In 2003 to work as a quality assurance vice president at a biotech company
Family: One adult daughter

How did growing up in Hong Kong influence who you are today?
Even though Hong Kong predominantly has a huge Chinese population, it is a very international city because previously it was a British colony. So if you visit Hong Kong, you experience a lot of international cuisine. I mean, it has some of the best steakhouses. And so even though the population is predominantly Chinese, the people there are exposed to non-Chinese culture.

There have been protests in the streets of Hong Kong in recent months. How did that strike you?
I read The New York Times daily. I still have contacts in Hong Kong and they told me that The Times’ articles give a very accurate portrait of Hong Kong’s situation. Observing at a distance, I was pleasantly surprised by the courage and integrity of the folks in Hong Kong of all ages, especially the folks who were born before or shortly after 1997, when Hong Kong reverted back to China from British rule. You would think that because of the proximity to China that they would be more pro-China. It was a total surprise to people, including me. I was also very surprised by the local elections for district councils. Of the city council’s 18 districts, 17 of them were won by pro-democracy candidates, which was a landslide. A lot of young people registered to vote and it used to be that they didn’t vote much. The turnout was quite amazing. Seven of 10 registered voters turned out to vote — a better rate than a lot of other countries, including ours in the U.S.

What is it like to be a U.S. citizen and have concerns about what’s happening in your homeland?
I think people who used to be residents of Hong Kong can’t help but feel for the residents there now. They inspire me. They have courage. It’s not easy when you’re facing the guns of police and tear gas on a daily basis. They didn’t have to, but they went out to the streets to demonstrate. I think the election on Nov. 24 really showed that democracy works, which is also inspiring to a lot of people around the globe.

How do you view Madison?
It’s a lovely city. I’ve lived in quite a few cities: Montreal and cities in Tennessee, Minnesota and California. What I like about Madison is that it’s a university town. Invariably in my experience, a university really helps the city to acquire the character, students, scientists from overseas, or people from overseas to come here for training. That has an effect on the restaurants and markets. To me, diversity is a good thing to have.

You had a long career in the biomedical industry. What made you decide to switch to working with executives?
The “medical” part of the biomedical industry is regulated by the Food and Drug Administration, or FDA. That’s for good reason, because the drugs we take and the devices we use have a safety issue. We don’t want to take some drug that is hazardous to us. If there were any issues with product safety in the medical product industry, the FDA would hold two people accountable at a site, or at a company. It doesn’t matter what size the company is. The responsible people could be the site manager, or the CEO, the president, the owner, or the head of quality assurance. So people in the quality assurance sector within the medical product industry take it very seriously because we don’t want to go to jail. So I’m used to working in different companies, used to playing the role of quality assurance. And to play that role well, you can’t sit behind a desk all day long. You literally have to walk throughout the company and try to talk with every employee and make sure he or she is doing the work well. Otherwise, your neck is on the chopping block with the FDA. So in that role, I was used to coaching executives and I liked it. And to do it well, it takes a lifelong dedication to learn about leadership skills.

So because of your experience in coaching your bosses, you gained leadership skills that you decided to share with others?
Yes, absolutely. Soft skills, like leadership skills, in my experience at least, are the toughest skills to learn and master. Leadership skills are not a hard skill, like being an electrical engineer or a mechanical engineer, where you get a certification. There are classes given by various universities and by independent people on leadership skills. And even if you get a certificate, it doesn’t mean much. You have to practice it. It’s a lifelong practice and lifelong learning.

You are in a role of helping others. Where does that desire to help others come from?
I think part of it comes from the Chinese heritage. I’m sure you know Chinese culture emphasizes learning. Teaching is the most respected profession in the Chinese society. You don’t have to be a university professor; you could be a high school teacher or a primary school teacher. If you go to Asia you see it very easily. They command respect.

Karen Lincoln Michel is president of Indian Country Today and a former publisher and executive editor of Madison Magazine.