Hong Kong lesbian who shunned $65m man tops our LGBT ranking

Gigi Chao’s tycoon father offered men millions to convert and marry her, to no avail

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On a weekday morning in the third tallest building in Hong Kong, the phone is ringing relentlessly in Gigi Chao’s office. “Boss is looking for you,” says one of her staff. Ms Chao dashes out to give a quick answer.

Ms Chao is the executive vice-chairman of Cheuk Nang Holdings, a Hong Kong-listed property developer run by her father, the billionaire Cecil Chao. The 37-year old has also been, since a 2012 media imbroglio, one of Asia’s most visibly out lesbians.

After Ms Chao announced her civil union with her female partner, Sean Eav, her father publicly offered a $65m bounty to any man who could woo and marry Ms Chao. Mr Chao doubled the offer in 2014 but it only prompted his daughter to write an open letter to the South China Morning Post declaring that men “are just not for me”.

“In Europe, one can say being gay is cool. In Asia, we are far from that,” says Ms Chao. She once explained that in Chinese culture, coming out as homosexual is seen as “blatant disrespect to your parents”.

Ms Chao has revealed her identity while many Asian countries have yet to recognise LGBT rights. This year, a Chinese court rejected the nation’s first same-sex marriage case after a one-day hearing, while the Singaporean government warned foreign companies not to back gay pride events.

With her business focused on China and Malaysia, both still conservative about homosexuality, her marital status is usually a “conversation-stopper”, Ms Chao says. “People keep asking me if I have a boyfriend. It’s quite a leap to go from that mentality to say ‘actually, I am gay’.” Searching for ways to “land it softly on them” and “not to seem rude”, Ms Chao usually responds that she has a partner and uses the pronoun “she”.

The embarrassment of her father’s bounty did not stop Ms Chao from becoming one of the most outspoken gay rights advocates in Hong Kong. She is a founding member of the Big Love Alliance, a charity that campaigns for LGBT rights and organises the largest pride event, Pink Dot HK, in the Chinese territory.

She likes to quote the late Harvey Milk, the first openly gay government official in the US, on the “conspiracy of silence”.

“I think it’s important to break through the fear and self-censorship,” she says of confronting one’s LGBT identity, adding that people in Asia disproportionately worry about how difficult it is to come out in the professional world.

Ms Chao started in her father’s business but says she was fired because she was paying too much attention to her public relations company side project. This she went on to run full time and succeeded in acquiring clients that included Rolex and Montblanc.

She returned to Cheuk Nang in 2011 and works alongside her 80-year-old father, overseeing various projects in Asia.

The multi-million-dollar marriage offer is no longer on the table, yet her father still believes his daughter was just too young to decide on the right man. Ms Chao describes this as “an interesting attitude”.

She respects her father, she says, adding that “we will always have things we have different opinions on.”

That is “something I came to terms with,” Ms Chao concludes.

Top 100 LGBT Executives

1 Gigi Chao executive vice-chairman, Cheuk Nang Holdings Limited

2 Inga Beale chief executive, Lloyd's of London

3 Alan Joyce chief executive, Qantas

4 Martine Rothblatt chief executive, United Therapeutics Corporation

5 Stacey Friedman general counsel, JPMorgan

6 David Furnish chief executive, Rocket Entertainment Group

7 Jonathan Mildenhall chief marketing officer, Airbnb

8 Liz Bingham partner, EY

9 Mary Portas executive creative director, Portas Agency

10 Louis Vega chief of staff, office of the chairman and chief executive, Dow Chemical Company

11 Peter Arvai chief executive, Prezi

12 Christopher Bailey chief creative officer and chief executive, Burberry

13 Alex Schultz vice-president, growth, Facebook

14 Vivienne Ming managing partner, Socos

15 Paul Wood chief risk and compliance officer, Bloomberg

16 Angela Darlington chief risk officer, Aviva

17 Brian Bickell chief executive, Shaftesbury

18 David Palumbo partner, Baker & McKenzie

19 David Isaac head of advanced manufacturing and technology, Pinsent Masons

20 Sally Susman executive vice-president, corporate affairs, Pfizer

21 Jon Miller partner, Brunswick Group

22 Arjan Dijk vice-president of marketing, Google

23 Cindy Armine-Klein executive vice-president and chief control officer, First Data Corporation

24 Gerry Stone managing director, Bank of America

25 Robert Hanson chief executive, John Hardy

26 Jan Gooding group brand director, Aviva

27 Justin D’Agostino global head of disputes and joint managing partner Asia and Australia, Herbert Smith Freehills

28 Jim Fitterling president and chief operating officer, Dow Chemical Company

29 Sander van ’t Noordende group chief executive products, Accenture

30 Sara Geater chief operating officer, All3Media

31 Mark Anderson managing director, Virgin Holidays

32 Alison McFadyen group head, internal audit, Standard Chartered Bank

33 Antonia Belcher founding member and senior partner, MHBC

34 Andrew Wilson chief information officer, Accenture

35 Cynthia Fortlage vice-president IT and social business, GHY International

36 Dan Crisp chief information risk officer, BNY Mellon

37 Dennis Layton partner, McKinsey & Company

38 Denny Tu head of strategy and planning, Sky

39 Josh Graff UK country manager and vice-president, Emea, LinkedIn

40 Lawrence Spicer vice-president, personal and commercial banking, internal audit service, RBC

41 Mark Gossington partner, financial services, PwC

42 Michael Sosso vice-president, ethics and compliance, BP

43 Rob Hudson group finance director, St Modwen Properties

44 Andy Woodfield partner, PwC

45 Misa von Tunzelman UK lead director, marketing and communications, JLL

46 Steve Wardlaw chair and co-founder, Emerald Life

Susan Silbermann, president and general manager, vaccines, Pfizer © Getty

47 Susan Silbermann president and general manager, vaccines, Pfizer

48 Kevin Jenkins managing director, UK and Ireland, Visa

49 Adam Rowse managing director, Barclays Business Coverage, Barclays

50 Daniel Gerring partner, Travers Smith

51 Deian Rhys partner, Simmons & Simmons

52 Jeffrey Krogh managing director, BNP Paribas

53 Marianne Roling general manager small medium solutions and partners, central and eastern Europe, Microsoft

54 Crawford Prentice head of service recovery UK, HSBC

55 Bob Annibale global director of community development and inclusive finance, Citi

56 JR Badian vice-president, digital marketing and social media, MasterCard

57 David Levine vice-president, programming, production and strategic development for Disney Channels Emea and general manager of Disney Channels UK and Ireland, Walt Disney Company

58 Deborah Sherry general manager and chief commercial officer, GE Digital Europe, GE

59 Iain Anderson executive chairman, Cicero Group

60 Kayton Bhatia senior director, HP

61 Margot Slattery president, Sodexo Ireland

62 Tim Hely-Hutchinson group chief executive, Hachette UK

63 Shamina Singh president, MasterCard center for inclusive growth

64 Suresh Raj global chief business development officer, Ogilvy Public Relations

65 Masa Yanagisawa director, co-head of Japan equity sales, Deutsche Bank

66 Daisy Reeves partner, Berwin Leighton Paisner

67 Dan Fitz group general counsel and company secretary, BT Group

68 Daniel Winterfeldt partner, Reed Smith

69 Geoff Godwin chief operating officer, AIG

70 Pippa Dale head of global market roadshows, BNP Paribas

71 Siobhan Martin executive director, HR UK and Ireland, Mercer

72 Brian Casebolt vice-president, merchandising and ancillary revenue, Hertz Global Holdings

73 Chris Stening transformation delivery director, Telefónica O2

74 Darren Styles managing director, Stream Publishing

75 Elliot Vaughn partner and managing director, Boston Consulting Group

76 Elyse Cherry chief executive officer, Boston Community Capital

77 Gary Stewart director of Wayra UK, Telefónica

78 John Kerslake operations director, Costa

79 Mark McLane global head of diversity and inclusion, Barclays

80 Tim Millward chief executive, Extrastaff

81 Matthew Hubbard people director, commercial banking, Lloyds Banking Group

82 Orlan Boston senior partner, EY

83 Richard Beaven distribution director, Swinton Insurance

84 Jan Siegmund chief financial officer, ADP

85 Steven Chan managing director and regional head of regulatory, industry and government affairs, Asia Pacific, State Street

86 Steven Cox vice-president, head of public sector and transport, Fujitsu UK and Ireland

87 Bethmara Kessler senior vice-president, integrated global services, Campbell Soup Company

88 Dario Parente managing director, Emea strategic programmes, corporate programme management office, BNY Mellon

89 Mark Baker director, international trade and regulatory affairs, Diageo

90 Kimberley Bird head of group risk systems, Lloyds Banking Group

91 Emma Cusdin people director, Aviva Investors

92 James Murphy, owner and partner, ModMansions

93 Jo Rzymowska managing director UK and Ireland and Asia-Pacific region, Celebrity Cruises

94 Torrence Boone vice-president, global agency sales and services, Google

95 Nir Efrat senior vice-president head of franchises, King

96 James Frost strategy director, Millivres Prowler Group

97 Narind Singh partner, Clifford Chance

98 Roja Dove perfumer and managing director, Roja Parfums

99 Nick Major chief underwriting officer, global corporate UK, Zurich Insurance

100 Saleem Fazal partner, head of real estate disputes, Taylor Wessing

Hall of Fame

1 Antonio Simoes chief executive, HSBC Bank plc

2 Beth Brooke-Marciniak global vice-chair, public policy, EY

3 Paul Reed chief executive, integrated supply trading, BP

4 Claudia Brind-Woody vice-president and managing director, intellectual property licensing, IBM

5 Anthony Watson president and chief executive, Uphold

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