Deriving True Wealth from Making a Difference in Other People’s Lives

Norris Lam (IBBA 1997), partner at Forbes Global and a financial industry veteran, has spent much of her illustrious career managing investments with astronomical values. Despite having been immersed in the dizzying world of finance, Norris refuses to be enslaved by money; she would rather create a profound impact with it than amass enormous wealth.

By founding the charity “Youth Arch Foundation”, training local youth and personally visiting AIDS orphans in Mainland China, Norris exemplifies the concept of “influencing other people’s lives with her own”.

Changing Life’s Trajectory

Norris, who was dressed in a simple, white casual dress, has held key positions at various financial institutions in the United States, United Kingdom and Hong Kong over the last two decades, including Guggenheim Partners and HSBC. However, she did not exude the aloofness of a dominant leader; rather, she recounted one life story after another with a warm smile and a gentle but assertive voice.

Before her family relocated to Hong Kong from Xiamen when she was seven years old, Norris’s father had been a doctor and her mother a teacher. On moving to Hong Kong, her parents became factory workers, and they lived in a small sublet flat. This transformative life change taught Norris that nothing is certain in life and that she must work hard to secure a better future. When she was in Form 4, she received the Hong Kong Outstanding Students Award. Norris didn’t attend prestigious schools like the other recipients, yet her unique affability earned her the nomination to lead the Hong Kong Outstanding Students’ Association. “People often say smart people are difficult to get along with,” she said. “Perhaps I lack that arrogance; I’ve always managed to make friends.”

Norris said she enjoys interacting with others, from which she learns to appreciate the strengths of others and acquire new knowledge.

Norris joked that she was a “gifted salesperson” who discovered her talent when she was young. During her first year at university, Norris took a summer job at IBM with a hope to finance her overseas exchange. She was put in charge of calling clients to promote the company’s products and services. In the span of a short summer holiday, she made sales worth tens of millions of dollars. Norris could have made a fortune if she had continued down the route of sales, but she refused to rest on her laurels: “It’s a waste of time doing what you are best at when you are young. If you want to be successful, you must learn a variety of skills. I always reflect on my weaknesses in order to make targeted improvements.”

As someone who is not proficient in maths, Norris deliberately studied various financial subjects to build up her competence. When she graduated from CUHK, she had already received several traineeship offers from investment banks and the HSBC Asset Management global programme. The former would immediately lead to a substantial salary and bonus, whereas the latter had only three quotas worldwide but required her to work in London, New York and Hong Kong, all of which came with their own set of uncertainties. At this daunting crossroads, Norris chose personal development over financial gain: “Going on exchanges in Mainland China and overseas allowed me to see my shortcomings and learn that there are always bigger fish in the sea. I was eager to visit new places, meet new people, learn new skills and broaden my international horizons.” Norris’s humble, inquisitive attitude led her around the world and propelled her to become a pioneer in alternative investment, generating massive profits for her companies while grooming future industry talent.

Making Effective Use of Money to Create Greater Impact

Throughout her decades-long career in financial investment, Norris has excelled at matching investors with projects. She has also devoted her resource allocation skills to charity work, helping a number of organisations secure resources for sustainable development and achieve greater impact with scarce money. When the founder of the Hong Kong Outstanding Students Award, Ms Doreen Leung, passed away in 2009, Norris established the Youth Arch Foundation to give back by promoting youth development and passing on the spirit of philanthropy.

“I firmly believe that giving is outstanding,” Norris shared.

All of this happened organically. Norris acknowledged that, in addition to being a recipient of philanthropy herself, family education played an important role: “My mum was always helping others. When she was a teacher, she used to invite students who didn’t have enough to eat to our home for meals. She would also pay for those who couldn’t afford their tuition.” Norris now teaches her two children the same. She recently took her ten-year-old son to visit an AIDS village on the Mainland. She witnessed his transformation as a result of the trip, learning to be grateful and willing to give: “He told me we should donate our clothes because he saw children in the AIDS village wearing the same clothes for two days.”

Norris believes that instilling the right values in future generations and training their minds can change not only the lives of children, but also the futures of entire families. She has gradually introduced the concept of money to her son as well: “It’s enough to earn as much as you need to maintain your desired standard of living, and a little bit more to meet unexpected needs. Of course, everyone’s ideal standard of living differs; the idea is to define it for yourself.”

Norris, who is currently a director of the Chi Heng Foundation, has been concerned about the situation of Mainland China’s AIDS villages for many years. She frequently takes Hong Kong outstanding students to visit the villages (pictured above). Recently, she visited one with her son to instil empathy in him from a young age.

Focusing on Shortfalls and Investing in the Future

Looking back at her time at CUHK, Norris was most grateful for the opportunity to travel abroad, which opened her eyes and spurred her academic and personal development. She maintained that young people should not only concentrate on what they do well. In this rapidly changing world, they should gain more experiences and challenge themselves. “We should set our sights on ‘what’s next’ rather than ‘what’s here’. Investing in the future is far more meaningful than achieving short-term gains.”

First published in the CUHK Business School Alumni Website on 8 June 2023, this article was republished with permission from the School’s Alumni Affairs and Development Office.