Cover Susanna Lee (Photo: Courtesy of American Express)

Susanna Lee, managing director of Hong Kong and Taiwan, and general manager of Insurance Asia at American Express, shares details of the Centurion Card, her leadership journey and advice for aspiring businesswomen

The status symbol for the ultra-rich, the Centurion Card from American Express—aka the “Black Card”—has long been the embodiment of a luxury that’s coveted by many for its exclusivity and lavish perks. 

Available by invitation only, the card has no spending limit and extravagant benefits that go beyond material goods—think exclusive travel itineraries and bespoke entertainment experiences tailored to the client’s individual needs. With very little information available about how to receive an invitation, the card has been shrouded in mystery since its launch in 1999. 

We had the chance to sit down with Susanna Lee—managing director of Hong Kong and Taiwan, and general manager of Insurance Asia at American Express—to discuss the lesser-known facts about the card. Over the past 35 years, Lee has overseen the company's consumer card products and insurance business in Asia, and has actively engaged in the Women’s Interest Network of American Express Hong Kong—a company initiative which aims to promote work-life balance and empower women in the workplace. She also talks about her career trajectory and the importance of work-life balance, and shares some insightful advice for emerging female leaders.

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Tell us more about the Centurion card membership.

The Centurion card is available by invitation only to those who meet a certain income requirement. It’s our long-standing policy not to share the details of the membership, but it’s worth noting that we have our own set of standards to follow when curating the invitation list.

In terms of exclusive benefits, cardholders enjoy a 24/7 personal concierge service managed by a highly dedicated team of professionals; travel perks such as access to VIP airport lounges and priority boarding; and a wide spectrum of arts and cultural experiences. In Hong Kong, we also have a designated Centurion Lounge at 1881 House in Tsim Sha Tsui, where members can enjoy a respite from city life over top-notch wines and delicacies.

The Centurion card has a new design—what’s special about it? 

The Centurion card has long been synonymous with sophisticated living and five-star hospitality—and the card's design reflects the luxury benefits it offers. The card, which is best known for its simple, sleek all-black design, has been given a makeover to mark a new stage in the brand’s development. Clients will now be able to choose from new designs created by renowned artists, including Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas and American painter Kehinde Wiley, in addition to the classic black design, each of which features unique patterns and is accompanied by a wearable card designed by Prada. 

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What are some of the experiential benefits the Centurion card has launched along with the new face-lift?

The new designs signified our determination to make bold moves in the credit card industry. We have a programme called Centurion Living where members can enjoy exhibitions and concerts hosted by world-famous artists; unconventional travel experiences such as castle and whisky tours in the Scottish Highlands; and other VIP privileges including Michelin-starred dining experiences across the globe and exclusive access to our Centurion Yacht. All benefits are specially curated to offer our clients a new perspective on luxury living.

How did your career start in journalism help you prepare for your role at American Express?

I majored in Management Economics and Finance at the University of Guelph in Canada, so it's clear that my study background provided me with a solid knowledge to prepare for a role at a financial institution. I worked at the South China Morning Post for a short period of time prior to joining American Express, where I learnt the importance of building good relationships with clients and media partners. I was also able to grow my project management and communication skills which I brought to my new role at American Express. 

The experience of working with different personalities in the journalism industry also allowed me to successfully organise events to promote American Express’ products and services, including the American Express Explorer® card which we introduced to the public at a press conference last year during the pandemic. 

Tell us more about your work at Women's Interest Network (WIN) of American Express Hong Kong.

Women’s Interest Network (WIN) is one of the many meaningful employee initiatives at American Express, which first launched in Hong Kong in 2006 before other markets in the APAC region. 

Aside from educating staff about the importance of maintaining work-life balance, I’ve also been actively taking steps to promote gender diversity in the workplace. As the executive sponsor and media spokesperson at WIN of Hong Kong, I work closely with the committee members to implement policies and organise networking events, hoping to empower female employees to claim their rights to receive equal opportunities to grow professionally at work. 

In addition, we also host seminars and invite female leaders from different industries as guest speakers to share their inspiring stories about the successes, challenges, and growth they’ve experienced. While my main focus has always been supporting female employees to bring their authentic selves to the workplace, I think everyone should be respected and deserves equal opportunities to contribute and learn, regardless of gender.

What does work-life balance mean to you?

Having work-life balance is easier said than done, especially today when work-from-home is the new normal. In my opinion, it’s important to stay organised and be self-disciplined when it comes to allocating time and resources to work and personal life. No matter how busy our schedules are and how much we love our work, we should always try to make space to recharge and make time for ourselves. There are many ways to enjoy some me-time, and this can be as simple as working out, attending interest classes or even just spending a day doing nothing.

Since the pandemic, hiking and leisure walking have become an integral part of my wellness routine to de-stress and find peace amidst a busy life.

Go with the two P’s—positivity and passion. You have to keep an open mind to new ideas and learn to approach things with a positive outlook, no matter in life or at work. Don’t stop moving forward and always be prepared for future opportunities.
Susanna Lee

What advice would you give to aspiring female business leaders?

It’s challenging to be a working woman, and being a mum just adds another layer of responsibility to the already demanding experience. Finding balance between your personal life and business can be frustrating at times, but everything doesn’t have to be ideal. You can always slow down or take breaks—just make sure you have confidence in yourself and do not be afraid to try new things and seek the advice from the people you trust when needed. 

As a leader, it’s important to cultivate a culture of teamwork and be mindful of your actions and responsibilities when guiding people. Practice good habits and learn to be a better role model at work, and never forget to express appreciation to your team for their contributions.

Lastly, go with the two P’s—positivity and passion. You have to keep an open mind to new ideas and learn to approach things with a positive outlook, no matter in life or at work. Don’t stop moving forward and always be prepared for future opportunities. You have to love what you do and do what you love.

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