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Egg freezing, giving up her salary, etc: how Jane Sun, CEO of Trip.com Group, inspires her staff

From taking up 2 jobs to fund her university education and riding 7km to school, Jane Sun now leads China's largest online travel agency, Trip.com Group.

When Jane Sun was recommended by her mentor to be one of the first international students to study in the University of Florida more than 30 years ago, she was overjoyed, but also apprehensive. “At that time, my parents could not afford my study and living expenses in the US,” Sun shares.

So, she took up a teaching assistant role and worked in a local restaurant on the weekends. It was a miserly wage – $3 an hour – and she had to clock 12 hours a day. But, it enabled Sun to fund her university education.

She didn’t waste the opportunity. “I got up every morning at 6am so that I could ride 7 kilometres to school by bike and grab a seat in the first row in the classroom,” reminisces Sun. Her professors noticed her drive. One in particular, Professor Baldwin and his wife, invited Sun to live at their house and treated her like their own daughter.

Sun is eternally grateful to them and has expressed her desire to take care of them many times. “But Mrs Baldwin told me, ‘You don’t need to take care of us, but in the future, please help those young students who need help just like you.’ Every period of my life has taught me different lessons, and this was one of the lessons that shaped who I am today.”

Sun is definitely making an impact in the world. She was recently named as one of Fortune‘s Most Powerful Women in 2020. During this pandemic, she also led the group’s “Live for Trip” campaign, part of its “Travel On” initiative to help bolster the recovery of the global trade industry. It also coincided with the company’s 21st anniversary. Last month, a marathon livestream event managed to generate a cumulative transaction volume of US$56 million and a viewership of over 19.4 million.

The CEO of Trip.com Group, China’s largest online travel agency and one of the largest online travel service providers in the world, shares her thoughts on leadership and her belief in equality.

(Related: How a simple trishaw ride taught Keith Magnus about life and leadership)

In February 2019, Jane Sun travelled to the Middle East to visit the refugee centres.

In February 2019, Jane Sun travelled to the Middle East to visit the refugee centres.

Giving Up Her Salary During This Pandemic

The chairman and I wanted to lead by example, giving up our salaries since March, but we were also joined by our wonderful senior management team who voluntarily gave up a portion of their salaries indefinitely for the health and continuity of the business. In spite of the hit to business, we made sure that our employees in customer service, who have been so essential in helping to guide customers through this very difficult and challenging period, remain fully compensated, with opportunities for pay increases, as a form of encouragement and a testament to the value of their work.

This will be the case till the industry fully recovers, but I see this as a positive example of the unity and spirit of excellence that we’ve built up within the team and I could not be prouder.

The Power of Female Representation

Although there has been some progress in recent years, women continue to be underrepresented in leadership roles. Trip.com has achieved an overall female representation of over 50%, compared to an average of just 20% among Silicon Valley technology companies. Of that, women make up 29% of Trip.com Group’s technical staff, 41% of its middle management, and 33% of upper management.

I’m constantly working to cultivate an even stronger work environment that provides equal opportunities and treatment for all employees, with added benefits for pregnant employees. One of our company policies encourages working mothers who are breastfeeding to bring their babies on business trips.

Jane Sun participating in Trip.com's Sports Day with her colleagues in May last year.

Jane Sun participating in Trip.com’s Sports Day with her colleagues in May last year.

Trip.com also previously allocated RMB2 million to help female employees freeze their eggs, so that they can build their career before starting a family. We also have work benefits for pregnant women in our company, such as taxi services for free, welcome gifts and cash subsidies for the newborn child’s education.

I feel strongly about the need to give back both as an organisation and in a personal capacity, and always encourage my fellow female colleagues to put themselves forward for leadership roles. It is so important to encourage females to have their own voice. I believe that having more women in leadership will help set a model example for aspiring women in their various fields.

(Related: Christine Amour-Levar is empowering women all over the world to reach their full potential)

Sun’s Leadership Mantra

I believe having a female CEO adds a layer of good communication between female and male workers. With me, they open their hearts. When they talk to James (the Chairman), he’ll say “This is right or wrong,” and it’s a short conversation. When they come to my office, they will burst out laughing or crying.

We recently launched the Baby Tiger programme. In the past, decision-making was from bottom-up, as it was with most other companies. This new programme gives each business unit autonomy over recruitment and resource allocation to expedite product and service innovation. I believe that when you empower people with autonomy, you end up with wonderful results. Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, concerned citizens can change the world.