Pamela Bow says nothing represents her life quite like her favorite dish, Pad Thai. The notion might seem silly, but as Bow begins explaining it, it starts to make sense.
She offered the interpretation for a speech she gave at last year’s MBA World Summit, with the idea, probably correct, that there’s no better means for capturing an audience’s attention than food. As she talks, it all comes together perfectly — kind of like the delicious stir-fry dish itself.
She says each element of the foundational Thai dish represents a small part of her life. The long rice noodles represent her capacity for travel and exploration; throughout adulthood, she’s lived on various continents and in places far from her home. Born in Bangkok, Thailand, Bow later moved to the UK to study economics. As a consultant for Bain & Company, the world’s highest-ranking consulting firm for the last three years, she worked with clients across Europe; later she moved back home to work with clients in Southeast Asia, displaying a nimbleness for navigating at times confusing cultural differences between Western and Asian societies in what she describes as the “male-dominated” consulting world.
In May, Bow will graduate from London Business School, having specialized in digital transformation.
FILLING THE GAPS
Bow says she has known forever she wanted to get her MBA. Her background and communication skills offer strengths in bridging cultural divides between a diverse range of businesses. Because of this, she felt she had a lot to contribute in business school. She learned while working that instead of being intimidated by conference rooms made up almost entirely of men, her perspective was an asset that represents a different voice.
When applying to B-schools, she says, she “just felt ready” — but a world-leading program like LBS quickly became the education of choice for its “head-spinning internationalism.” Joining a global network felt not just really important for her, but a logical next step.
“At the same time, I was also aware of my gaps,” she tells P&Q. While getting her MBA, she wanted to know more about digital transformation. In the future, her lifelong goal is to create resources for underprivileged communities and women’s rights through technology, more specifically bringing these features to life in an app.
But immediately upon graduation, she is hoping to bring more digitally transforming tools to work at Bain.
HER TALK: ‘RISING TIDES AND POWER TO EMPOWER’
Bow was one of 25 inspiring MBAs to lead a session at the summit during November 2022. The summit was held in Milan at the POLIMI Graduate School of Management and boasted providing a “best-practices platform” full of speeches, networking, reverse mentoring, workshops, lab sessions, etc., over a three-day span.
Bow’s talk centered on rising tides or the ability to believe in creating positive change that empowers. She spoke about her work focusing on bringing more opportunities to promote female livelihood and women’s health. She is a board member of the Pan-Pacific & Southeast Asia Women’s Association, and a lot of her work has entailed working in developing countries. And in another instance, she and the organization visited around 30 prisons across Thailand to teach female inmates on finance and other skills for re-entering life after prison.
In Thailand, for example, she says there is a huge issue when it comes to unsafe, teen pregnancy, and that is a problem she aims to tackle down the line in her career.
She wants to eventually create an app that specializes in bringing education about reproductive resources for women. Another app she wants to create so couples can create a household plan for a pregnancy. She says there’s virtually no maternity leave for women in Thailand, and she aims to create a platform for couples to plan their finances and implement their work schedules, allowing both partners to equally divvy the care and time off for a new baby.
Her talk at the summit came with array of photos, many illustrating scenes from the neighborhood where she grew up. As she points to a photo of the street, she confides the city is full of underprivileged neighborhoods, yet it is not uncommon for large, luxurious skyscrapers to located in direct vicinity.
“I grow up with a society that kind of expects or ignores there is a possibility for creating a change and reducing a gap in inequality,” Bow says.
She summed up the presentation through an exercise where she asked peers in the audience to imagine the theme of a problem. Climate change, racial inequality, the stability of rights for LGBTQ+ individuals, income inequality. Then to imagine a headline portraying the theme in five years’ time if no action is taken to address it, then in ten years’ time and in twenty years and so on.
The second part asks participants to consider and envision the rising tides they could create to prevent that from happening and lastly, what are the new headlines they envision?
WHO IS PAMELA BOW: WHAT THE EGG MEANS IN HER PAD THAI
If working for Bain is the protein in her Pad Thai – the backbone of her early career and work – then she best describes herself as the egg in the dish, or the ingredient that “holds everything together.” There’s plenty to learn from her story. Not only is she refreshingly honest, in the same she admits issues and idealizes possible solutions, finding positives in either, she doesn’t seem to stop planning for improvement. No problem seems large enough to be incurable, just another mere factor of motivation.
Bow’s journey conveys much more than comparisons to a wonderfully flavored dish. As she flips through slides showing photos of her childhood, friends, family, she reminisces on one important chapter in her past.
When her family didn’t have the money to send her to school abroad, she says, she had someone who believed in her and who provided a scholarship.
SOME WORKPLACE BARRIERS SHE EXPERIENCED IN CONSULTING
For six years before LBS, Bow worked in London with Global 500 companies, particularly focused in London, Germany, Croatia and a little bit in Switzerland. She then spent three years in offices out of Bangkok with clientele across Asia – from places in Singapore, Thailand and China.
She had to overcome initial perceptions that you needed to be male to really succeed.
“There were times, for example, when I was in London, which is full of white males, it seems a bit intimidating initially, then I realized that I bring something else – and that is a blessing in disguise,” she says.
Early on, she became close with another female colleague at Bain who became a mentor for her. As far as culture, the way societies function differently became grounds for more learning about the uniqueness of business interaction dominated by being people-forward.
“In Thai culture, we were raised since young saying that seniority is super important. You’re not supposed to disagree with someone older than you,” she says.
Whereas, in the western workplace, many are encouraged to offer contradictory points and she says you gain respect by staying true to yourself and often voicing challenges or opinions, with the right justifications, of course.
Adapting to social cues became an invaluable skillset for Pamela Bow that anyone with or considering a career in consulting can appreciate.