10 Dec

Lindsay Hong revisits KEHS

We were delighted to welcome Lindsay Hong (OE 2002) as our special guest speaker for this year's Speech Day.

Lindsay is the COO of Locaria, a leading provider of global online content services across all digital channels. In layperson’s terms, Locaria translates the online presence of major brands to suit local audiences, helping them to maximise their effectiveness over varied international territories. They do this for the world’s top brands across numerous industries, in more than 50 languages, across more than 90 markets.

Lindsay described how her 'KingEdwardsiness' helped her to follow her passions and develop this fantastic career. Here's what she had to say to the forthcoming Class of 2020 upon finishing their GCSEs.


Firstly I want to congratulate you all on your success. I know last year was another fantastic year for King Edward’s and hope you all feel proud of the GCSE results you have achieved. Indeed I still clearly remember the revision plans, the highlighters, the feeling of sitting in the hall with an aching hand from all the exam writing and indeed the elation when it was all over!

Much of what you achieved last summer, and will go onto achieve in the next few years, will be defined by your own hard work, passion, tenacity and ambition. It is an inescapable fact that nobody can read those books for you, write those essays for you, run those experiments, sit those exams etc. And you should take enormous pride in your individual achievements.

In addition to your exam results, indeed perhaps even in spite of them, you have also developed some key qualities through your education at KEHS that are arguably even more outstanding. In years to come when nobody talks about what you got for your GCSEs any more, it will be these qualities that mark you out. I know you have this because I see it in every alumna of KEHS. I saw it in the intern we had last summer, who my team begged me to give a job to. I hear it in the conversations at alumnae events that challenge and inspire, and I witness it in the incredible achievements of my old class mates.

I wish I had a better name for these qualities, but the best I have come up with so far is “KingEdwardsiness”.

So what exactly is this KingEdwardsiness? I think there are three key qualities that come to define it and that have helped me with my career since leaving KEHS. I was asked to talk a little bit about my career today so I will try to bring to life how these qualities have helped me with some real examples.

The first quality is intellectual curiosity

Why did I pick a Chinese degree when I could have done Classics for example (Mr Cooper may disagree of course!)?

I was lucky enough to visit Hong Kong aged 15 and was fascinated. Compared to trips to Europe where I could generally get some meaning out of the sign posts, here was a language I couldn’t even begin to understand, and an amazing ancient history to boot. Rather than being intimidated, I wanted to learn more, thinking that if so many Chinese people could learn English, surely I could learn Chinese. I realise in retrospect that not many people would think it a good idea to do a degree learning something quite hard from scratch, but it never occurred to me at the time. In fact, I enjoyed and continue to enjoy learning so much that I never wished I had chosen something “easier”. This love of learning sprang from a school where teachers were passionate about their subjects and pupils took pleasure in expanding their knowledge and skills. I was encouraged to take on the intellectual challenge and don’t think I would have had such confidence without the support of KEHS.

The ability to speak Mandarin has opened countless doors and always stood out on my CV. It also allowed me to meet my husband with whom I now have a child. I don’t think I would have enjoyed these benefits if I hadn’t been to King Edward’s.

Sometimes intellectual curiosity can be a handicap. My desire to learn about many things certainly did not help when it came to choosing a career. I was interested in everything and so terrified of picking something and missing out on other things that may be equally or more interesting. With a languages degree there is not always a clear path and I struggled to know what to do. My mother was keen for me to pursue law (I think she still is, right mum?), but the FOMO that resulted from picking a traditional profession was something I couldn’t get away from.

As a result I decided to pursue a career in Management Consulting, believing that this would give me exposure to many different functions and industries, and from there I would find a path. In practice, this meant working on several projects that I did not actually have much passion for, but at least that clarified what I didn’t want to do! As a result, I pushed to get on a project at Burberry, where I began to interact with website translation and tech teams, leading me into a job at the luxury ecommerce retailer Net-a-Porter.

I would never have guessed that I would end up working in the online sector, but it was really a result of wanting to learn about new things, and eventually finding a sector that was evolving at such a pace that there would always be new things to learn.

The second quality I can thank King Edward’s for is courage in debate

Net-a-Porter was experiencing a period of exceptional growth and I was asked to work on a project to open their Asia Pacific operations. During that project, I had to meet with the CEO to explain the various options for a same day delivery service to Hong Kong, the associated effort required and timelines. It was not an easy meeting, as the costs and timelines were not pretty. The CEO wanted same day delivery to all locations, with a quick launch, but the technology around post codes could not support this. Despite being a junior employee, I still believed I knew the situation better than the CEO, so rather than cowering in my seat and agreeing to deliver something impossible, I stuck to my guns and struck a compromise. As a result the CEO remembered me and I eventually got to oversee one of the group’s businesses in China, reporting into the MD of The Outnet. That project unearthed some difficult issues for the business, but they knew that I would be brave enough to make those issues transparent and debate with the wider team, even when that was not the easy option.

The environment at KEHS was one where debate was encouraged and hierarchies, even between staff and pupils could be very flat. Being respected on an intellectual level by my teachers gave me confidence to challenge others’ opinions, even if they were senior to me, as long as I had done my homework. It was only on leaving KEHS that I realised how rare this flat hierarchy and mutual respect can be, and I believe it to be an invaluable environment.

Lastly, a KEHS imbued in me a high regard for excellence

I remember having some music on in my room at university and my new friends being amazed to learn it was a recording of my school orchestra, prompting questions of “sorry which school did you say you went to again? In Birmingham?”. Apparently it was not usual to have a school orchestra that played concertos with Peter Donohoe in Symphony Hall, but it took leaving school for me to realise it!

I spent many hours in rehearsals when at King Edward’s, and was certainly not a star performer, but at no point did anybody say “Well this is already much better than most other schools can produce, so let’s just leave it there.” Instead we were encouraged to do the absolute best we could, and to continue to push the boundaries every year. It was only when I went to university that I realised what we had achieved.

This isn’t to say there weren’t any failures and that excellence didn’t come at a cost. I remember dropping the hand rest from my bassoon onto the floor of the stage at the ABH during a recording of Elgar’s cello concerto for Radio 3. It happened because my palms were so sweaty at the thought of an upcoming solo, which I then promptly fluffed, much to my dismay. It took a lot to come back onto the stage for the second half after that, but I never forgot to properly screw my hand rest in again!

A high regard for excellence doesn’t mean making yourself unwell with stress by trying to be perfect, it means continuing to strive to do the best you can with what you have been given and not giving up. It recognises that trying to do something really well is a noble act and creates positive energy that has an effect larger than ourselves. Other countries are pursuing excellence and increasing the competitive environment, so it is increasingly important that we continue in this regard.

It may not be fashionable to say, but excellence is still highly valued. After all, everybody wants to see the best available doctor and nobody wants to get on a plane with a pilot that is “just ok” at flying! This high regard for excellence is what has allowed my current company Locaria to grow in the last few years. We innovated a new approach to localisation that ensured the content we created was more effective than that which traditional translation agencies could provide, by building in data from search engines. Our clients come to us because they want excellence in digital media localisation.


Intellectual curiosity.

Courage in debate.

A high regard for excellence.

These qualities that KEHS alumnae have is something you should be as proud of as your qualifications, and they will show through in whatever path you take. Don’t hide these qualities but value them, as they are in short supply, and you may be surprised to find how rare they are, even in the top universities, grad schemes and research institutes. By staying true to these qualities you will continue your success.

Lindsay Hong - Class of 2002