Ling Fang is a woman on a mission, and as Senior Vice President of transport solutions giant Alstom Asia Pacific, what she’s achieving is nothing short of inspirational. Not only is Ling slamming home runs with the company’s performance, but she’s also shattering glass ceilings and proudly leading diversity in the sector.
Alstom is recognised globally as one of the leading suppliers of integrated transport systems and offers a complete range of transport solutions including systems, equipment and services. The recently revised company brand, ‘mobility by nature’, reflects the Group’s goal of being “the leading global innovative player for a sustainable and smart mobility”.
Alstom has been in the Asia–Pacific region for more than 60 years and has been involved with many iconic transportation projects in the region including the construction of almost all metro lines in Singapore, the recently inaugurated Sydney Metro in Australia and metro projects in Chennai, Kochi and Lucknow in India. Today, Alstom Asia Pacific represents 11% of the Alstom Group’s global revenue.
Having worked for more than 20 years in the region, Ling has a clear understanding of the different markets and cultural needs. With Ling providing leadership and strategic direction to support growth in the major Asia–Pacific markets, the company is in safe hands – the results speak for themselves.
Born in China, Ling studied in both China and Franceper, where she graduated with a master’s degree in finance and business administration from ESCP in Paris, one of the country’s top business schools. In 1995, Ling joined Alstom in Paris as an internal auditor. “It was a great experience, as it allowed me to get a deep knowledge of Alstom’s different business units,” she says.
After several interim roles in finance, Ling was appointed as the first Vice President of Finance for Asia Pacific. “This was a positive experience, as it enabled me to work with many different cultures and teams and build a strong foundation as the first person in this role and region,” she reflects.
Her first role outside finance came with her appointment as the Managing Director of China in 2010. In 2015, her mandate expanded to include other countries in Asia–Pacific such as Singapore, Korea, Japan, Taiwan and Hong Kong.
“We developed ventures with greenfield countries where Alstom hadn’t previously been represented including the Philippines and Vietnam,” Ling recalls. “We significantly increased our business volume in China and East Asia as a result.”
In 2018, Ling was appointed to the role of Senior Vice President for Alstom Asia Pacific, covering the region including Australia, New Zealand and India. “In my 24 years with Alstom, I’ve been grateful for the opportunity to move between roles and countries – my scope is continuously increasing,” Ling says. “It’s very rare in the sector for someone without an engineering background to be in a global senior management role.
“I feel very honoured and proud to be the first woman and the first Asian to lead the Asia–Pacific region. It shows that the company recognises we have capable people from Asia–Pacific for executive roles. It also reflects the company’s willingness to consider internal promotion and mobility rather than looking to external candidates. For the team in Asia–Pacific, it’s a powerful motivator to see that, as Asians, they can have a future as a leader of tomorrow.”
With demand for rail transportation continuing to grow due to rapid urbanisation and government support, the Asia–Pacific market is positioned as the fastest-growing and one of the largest in the global transportation sector.
“Asia–Pacific is a booming market and represents a huge potential for growth,” Ling says. “All the market drivers are very positive. Asia–Pacific has the largest urban population in the world and the growing rate of urbanisation has resulted in increased demand for urban transportation. More governments in the region are pushing rail transportation as a priority for public transport.
“We’re also seeing an increased focus on green transportation,” she adds. “New transportation services have much less CO₂ emission, which will increase the demand for more advanced, environmentally friendly options.”
At the same time, economies in Asia–Pacific are experiencing the strongest and fastest GDP growth in the world with the region representing the world’s most dynamic market, accounting for nearly two-thirds of global growth. As a result, regional governments are willing and able to invest in transport infrastructure.
“Alstom is very well positioned to grow – we have built a strong industrial footprint, particularly in India, where we have a primary focus on engineering and manufacturing,” Ling says. “India is becoming a global delivery centre for all of Alstom and is enhancing our worldwide competitiveness.”
As part of the Make in India government initiative, Alstom is currently executing the largest Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) project for Indian Railways to manufacture 800 electric freight locomotives.
The company is also growing rapidly in Australia, and in 2019 completed the Metro North West Line – the first fully automated rapid transit system in Sydney. Alstom recently secured the contract to supply driverless trains and a signaling system for the Sydney City & South West metro.
In addition, in the largest train procurement initiative for Western Australia, Alstom will manufacture and maintain the next generation of C-series trains for the Public Transport Authority of Western Australia with a €800 million (US$890 million) contract.
“Alstom Asia Pacific has been very commercially successful in this region and we want to continue this path,” Ling says. “We have strong, relationships with our customers and partners here.”
Alstom is committed to offering customers state-of-the-art transport services. “There’s satisfaction from knowing we’re contributing to global mobility so people can comfortably travel and arrive safely on time on reliable, efficient equipment,” she says.
“I feel the reward of what we do as a company – I travel widely throughout the region and see how we contribute to the economic, social and environmental development of a region.
“When you go to Vietnam and see people still riding scooters and motorbikes everywhere, it’s satisfying to know that when Hanoi Metro Line 3 opens, it will fundamentally change people’s lives. For me, that’s personally rewarding and exciting.”
In the transportation sector, Alstom has the largest footprint in the region with a 6,000-strong workforce and a powerful management team. “Most other international companies have a centralised management structure; however, Alstom empowered the Asia–Pacific team, so we really have our own responsibility,” Ling explains. “This also means we’re closer to our customers and understand them and that gives us a competitive advantage.”
Alstom, Ling says, has the most locally accredited team and a very high presence of expertise from Asia. “We have a good mix of international and local talent in Asia–Pacific,” she says. “This is critical for understanding the local market and how we adapt to it. Our customers are at the heart of our business and we need to listen carefully to their needs, which can differ by country and even by city.
“Innovation is also how we differentiate ourselves from our competitors – innovation and technological leadership are at the heart of everything we do.”
“Innovation and technological leadership are at the heart of everything we do.”
Green and sustainable mobility is a priority for Alstom with the company’s eco-design strategy delivering environmentally friendly solutions that meet a strict set of criteria for green transport.
The company has featured in the Dow Jones Sustainability Indicies (DJSI) for nine years and ranks in the top 4% of companies recognised. In 2019, Alstom was named as one of the 100 most sustainable companies in the world.
Green or sustainable transportation describes modes of transportation that use renewable energy sources rather than relying on diminishing natural resources such as fossil fuels. Announced in June 2019, Alstom in Motion is the company’s response to the role it can play in environmental sustainability.
“We’ve put green and sustainable mobility at the heart of our business,” Ling says. “Alstom in Motion has three priority areas for green mobility. The first priority is developing green traction solutions.
“The second priority is electromobility – The Coradia iLint is the world’s first hydrogen-powered passenger train, and Aptis is a game-changing electric bus and a new standard in e-mobility. Lastly, our third priority is with eco design and manufacturing.”
Priorities for the company outlined in its eco-design policy focus on energy efficiency of rail transport systems, use of clean, recyclable and natural materials, reducing noise, vibrations and air emissions and end-of-life product management.
“With air pollution a concern for a number of cities in Asia–Pacific, our green transportation solutions are changing the lives of people and the transportation services they offer and the good they bring to the environment,” Ling says. “We’re very proud that our company is committed to social and sustainable responsibilities.”
Alstom Asia Pacific has a large and strong network of global suppliers and local partners. “Because of our company’s success in Asia–Pacific, Alstom’s international partners are choosing to establish a presence in the region so they can continue to work with us here,” Ling says. “This may be through innovation sharing or core development of key components. We’ve helped them establish their local presence in the region.”
Alstom Alliance is a program offered to premium strategic partners providing collaboration opportunities for geographic expansion, innovation sharing and core product development. “At the same time, we’re focusing on growing purely Asia–Pacific suppliers,” Ling adds.
“These local suppliers are often less experienced than international suppliers. We offer our strong technical support and walk alongside them as they develop to ensure that together we succeed.
“Establishing long-term, stable partnerships with our suppliers is one of the cornerstones of our business. If we want growth, we work in partnership to grow our suppliers as well. Supplier development partnerships have proven successful in China and India in the past and we’ll now apply the same model in other countries such as Australia.
“Working with local suppliers also provides a way for Alstom Asia Pacific to give back and support the local economic and social development of these communities.”
Leading for success
Ling’s regional and global reputation as a strong and capable business leader precedes her – everyone knows if Ling commits to something, she’ll deliver. “Our team has built very strong credibility inside the Alstom Group,” Ling notes.
“We’ve developed a delivery culture and are seen as a team that can be trusted.” More importantly, Ling says, they have built a strong reputation for their Asia–Pacific region in the eyes of the Group.
“I try to find a good balance between having a strategic and global picture and having a more detailed hands-on involvement with the team when needed,” Ling explains. “I delegate to empower my team, but I’m also there to support them.
“People are my priority. We are a young region and we’ve grown very quickly – I have a duty to bring the teams in Asia–Pacific to the next level. I want to motivate them, give them visibility and provide the right environment for them to become the leaders of tomorrow. We want to sustain our company’s growth and, at the same time, develop our teams, people and talent.”
With a broad geographical base, Alstom Asia Pacific provides long- and short-term international assignment opportunities for its employees. “Alstom supports its people with training, mentoring, coaching and the opportunity for international assignments,” Ling says. “We offer every employee the chance to succeed.
“Our values are strong and we encourage our employees to be agile, inclusive and responsible. We have a strong culture around ethics and compliance. Alstom is such a wonderful combination of so many things and that motivates me.”
“Alstom is such a wonderful combination of so many things and that motivates me.”
Alstom Asia Pacific offers the Future Management Programme, which identifies and develops new talent in the business as tomorrow’s leaders. “We are here not only to grow the business and deliver projects but also to value our people and celebrate the talents they offer the company,” Ling points out. “I want to bring the team to the next level of maturity and provide the means to help our employees grow and succeed.
“To sustain our success story, people are key. I’m a passionate person and have a strong commitment to complete my mission, but, more importantly, I’m surrounded by a strong team and we have the support of the global Alstom Group. Behind every success, there is tremendous work from many individuals, teams and organisations.”
What does Ling like most about her job? “Diversity – the countries in our region are all so different as are their cultures,” she says. “We work with a wide range of customers and the people in our Alstom teams are all unique as are the diversity of projects we undertake. Every day, I’m learning something new.”
“I want to tell women in our industry to seize opportunities and have the courage to say, ‘Yes, I want,’ and ‘Yes, I can.’”
Alstom Asia Pacific wears its diversity badge with pride and honour, with 45 nationalities represented in the company and 40–50% of the region’s management team female, which is higher than anywhere else in the Group and other companies in the sector.
“As the first Asian woman to sit on the Alstom management committee, I feel this demonstrates that Alstom values diversity and believes in offering opportunities,” Ling says. “I’m an example for other females that we should have more confidence, more ambition and we should not hesitate to seize opportunities to show we can do it.
“I want to tell women in our industry to seize opportunities and have the courage to say, ‘Yes, I want,’ and ‘Yes, I can!’”
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