Run the World: Diana Chou, Chairman of Dragon General Aviation Group, packs her bag with lessons in empowerment and owning one’s choices
Prior to the day of our shoot and interview, Diana Chou was flying in and out of Hong Kong on business trips. She is, after all, the founder and Chairman of Dragon General Aviation Group and bespoke private jet charter broker L’VOYAGE. Now in the last season of a soaring aviation-centric career, she knows what she wants and ensures that her actions reflect who she really is. No less, no more. From the wardrobe and makeup to the interview questions, Chou is all about empowerment.
From the get-go, her strong will is apparent. “I want the interview to focus on my career as a woman in a man’s world,” she instructs us beforehand over the phone. “I want nothing too pretentious where the wardrobe and makeup would not be my style. I want to include my successor, Jolie [Howard, L’VOYAGE CEO], in at least one of the photos. Please.”
With that settled, Chou is the embodiment of professionalism and enthusiasm as our photo session proceeds as discussed. Dressed in a bright yellow power suit and flashing a firm, warm, sunny smile, she manages to shatter stereotypes of how women should present themselves. She is a potent example of how femininity and authority go hand in hand. Above all, women should not have to shed parts of their identity that they treasure in order to be taken seriously at all times – an ethos that she repeats throughout the day.
Revealing another facet of her character before sitting down for the interview, she shows us around her office and her own wardrobe of outfits collected on many varied travels. This is her softer, social-butterfly, fashion-loving side, which many might see as a conflict with her forceful, serious, top-flight business persona. Brushing this erroneous, man’s world-imposed contradiction aside, she champions freedom of choice, complexity and the right to be herself without question or scrutiny.
Diana Chou was born into aviation royalty. Her brother, Silas Chou, instigated the alliance between Sino Private Aviation (founded by the family in 1998) and Canadian business jet manufacturer Bombardier that continues to this day. Her father, textile magnate K.P. Chao, co-founded Dragonair in 1985.
“The Chous are visionaries, we have mindsets of our own and like to take risks,” she declares. “When I was a child, I always looked at the sky and imagined I can fly and visit exotic places, meet people and savour different culinary delights. Well, I never dreamt that I could be in the jet-selling business. I guess, when we dare to dream, our dreams do manifest in our lives in one form or another.”
Growing up in Macau, young Diana had a wholesome, uncomplicated childhood. She attended an all-girls Catholic school where her competitive and studious traits flourished – characteristics that she has carried with her into the present. Significant growth came as part of life’s journey too. A jump from the cosmetics industry to the world of private jets is no usual career path. As radical a shift as beauty to aircraft might have been, she advises young professionals that the world is their oyster. No one else gets to decide their path and they can forge it in whatever direction they want.
“Before all of this, I was working for Clinique as a Brand Manager, but my brother asked me whether I would like to take up the challenge. I accepted it as it is a lot sexier to sell jets than lipsticks and the basic selling skills and marketing principles are the same. I never looked back.”
She founded Aerochine Aviation in 1999, adding L’Voyage in 2013 and consultancy Jet8 Aviation five years later. Her groundbreaking role as the first woman to sell private jets in Asia has significantly impacted the rapid rise of the aviation sector over the past 20 years. She recalls that back then, the market was a blank canvas, the stakes were high and the potential was enormous.
“I told myself if I sell two jets, I will have doubled the market 100%, so I relentlessly started cold-calling all the potential clients on the Forbes list. There was very little information on private jets and the internet was just beginning to take shape,” she says. “Every manufacturer was watching me with curiosity like how this tiny dame with no aviation knowledge can sell a plane. I developed educational tools and came up with an elevated pitch – ‘no money in the world can buy or save you time, but a private jet can’.”
And so, she took advantage of those years when the Chinese economy began to take flight on its own and incubated a group of new billionaires. She also ventured into helicopter dealerships in China and opened the first wholly foreign-owned helicopter MRO (Maintenance, Repairs and Operations) business using the CEPA (Closer Economic Partnership Agreement) scheme for Hong Kong companies. It proved to be an inspired move and she sold the business to US aerospace manufacturer Bell Textron in early 2020 just before the pandemic struck.
Dream Big, Fly High
Even as she steps back from her high-flying career, Chou still has her sights on steering Dragon General Aviation to even greater heights. Her knowledge is vast, her intuition immense and her resilience astounding. She may be petite, but she displays incredible strength. Deserving of respect, her achievements have been duly recognised by her peers. She was named Woman Entrepreneur of the Year by the All-China Women’s Federation in 2010 and 2012, and the 2015 Businesswoman Leader of the Year by the Asian Business Aviation Association. She was also the EY Entrepreneural Winning Woman Asia Pacific Class of 2020.
She is a natural mentor to the next generation of women entrepreneurs. Stressing the important role mentors play in the business world, she notes how they can foster the growth and leadership qualities of talented aspiring individuals.
“Mentors can also help the mentee to get a fuller picture of their personal life, particularly with budding female entrepreneurs, because mentors have been there, done it and lived through similar family and work challenges,” she says. “We all know subconsciously what is best for us, however having a sounding board like a mentor validates our thoughts and actions. My motto to my mentee is ‘Dream big and fly high’.”
Quizzed about her greatest strength, Chou answers with characteristic directness: “My greatest strength is my positive view towards life and everything around me. I view failure and challenges as an opportunity to learn and grow. I don’t waste time lamenting the past because I know I can’t change the past, but I can determine my future.”
In a society where the choice of profession defines people’s life, Diana Chou truly is an inspirational woman. Her ability to ‘fly high’, in what was not so very long ago a man’s world, is a lesson in empowerment and owning one’s choices.
(Interview & Art Direction: Joseff Musa Photographer: Jack Law Videographer: Jack Fontanilla Hair & Makeup: Joenny Lau Venue: L’VOYAGE Office Jet: Gulfstream G100 – exclusive aircraft of L’VOYAGE)