A Rewarding Exchange

Distinguished Graduate Charles Li '91 Shares Insights on His Path from Oil Rig Worker to Chief Executive Officer of Hong Kong Exchanges and Clearing (HKEx)
New York, March 31, 2015—Untangling challenging case law methodology can be frustrating, but it’s also priceless preparation for the complications of real life, said Charles Li ’91, chief executive officer of Hong Kong Exchanges and Clearing (HKEx), in a March 12 conversation with Professor Benjamin L. Liebman and Columbia Law School students.
Charles Li '91 talks with a student.
“All of that preparation helped me become the fastest and most adaptable person in the room when it comes to processing large numbers of facts,” said Li, formerly the chairman of JPMorgan Chase China and president of Merrill Lynch China. “Everything started for me fundamentally at Columbia Law School.”

After an introduction from Liebman, director of the Center for Chinese Legal Studies, Li recalled beginning his career on an offshore oil rig in the East China Sea and working as a journalist in China before coming to America to study at the University of Alabama and then Columbia Law School.

“My generation is the lucky generation,” Li said. “We studied when nothing was going on in China, so there were no opportunity costs, while very few people before us had an education.”

Li practiced law in New York with Davis Polk & Wardwell and Brown & Wood for several years before returning to China to join its burgeoning financial services industry. Since assuming the leadership of HKEx in 2010, he has overseen key strategic initiatives including the 2012 acquisition of the London Metal Exchange and the launch of Shanghai-Hong Kong Stock Connect.

Having landed some of the world’s most coveted and exciting jobs, Li shared a few secrets of power-interviewing, including projecting an air of confidence regardless of the eventual outcome.

“When you don’t have to have it, you have a better chance of getting it,” Li said. “Know your strengths, and sometimes undersell yourself, and then come through with your secret attack.”

Regardless of specialization or career plan, Li advised students to embrace the diversity of New York City and develop a global outlook.

“The fact that you’re here at Columbia is something you should treasure,” Li said. “Cultural clashes and the struggle between identities are a great benefit because they allow you to see between more shades of grey.”

Li’s talk was part of the 2014-2015 Dean’s Visiting Speaker Luncheon Series, which provides opportunities for students to meet with distinguished graduates in a casual setting.
Professor Benjamin L. Liebman, left, and Li conversed with Columbia Law School students.