In The Know: Catherine Shiang on Managing a Single Family Office and Her Passion For Tech

Interview by Marta Colombo


Catherine Shiang has been running the capital for her extended family’s Single Family Office (SFO) for about 17 years. A seasoned investor in multiple industries, however, Shiang didn't always envision herself working in finance and wealth managemnt. 

On the contrary, her true passion is - and has always been - tech. Thanks to a degree in chemotaxis, a deep understanding of the sector and, most importantly, genuine enthusiasm, over the years, Shiang has managed to integrate her interests into her daily job by exploring bold investment opportunities rooted in innovation.

With her work at Asia Capital, in fact, she focuses on seed and early-stage venture capital and growth stage private equity with a strong emphasis on frontier and emerging markets.

During our recent chat in Riyadh, Shiang delved into her nearly two-decade long experience at the helm of a SFO, her passion for tech-driven investments and what truly excites her.

As the long-standing managing director of a Single Family Office, what are some of the most important things that you’ve learned over the years?

Confidentiality. Family Offices have to be very confidential in dealing with their business. I don't really think that the strategy should be shared. We’re talking about managing one family's money. If somebody were to look at how you spend your money, you may not want that to happen, right?

There's also the safety aspect, when a family is so wealthy, they want to be able to walk around and not need security guards. That’s why we invest in nominee names, not in the family's name, we sign nondisclosure agreements and we don't talk about the family's principles, it's important that we safeguard and protect them. It's also physical security. We are so pleased that many of our family members can walk around with a backpack like everyone else, and nobody knows who they are.

What’s your background? Did you always want to work in the private wealth management sector?

Not really [she laughs], I’ve been trying to leave this job for a long time, but they won't let me. This was not my passion. I started out as a biochem. I majored at Berkeley doing chemotaxis. One night, I made a bet with my boyfriend at the time. He was a successful lawyer and said that lawyers were smarter than doctors. He then challenged me to get into law school. I got in! Who knew?

After that, I started working on Wall Street and got into corporate finance, buying and selling and dealing with mergers and acquisition. It came very naturally to me and I ended up working for a very wealthy family. They liked the fact that I was finance driven and moved me over from project finance to their Family Office. When they framed me out, I decided I didn't want to do that anymore and I went back to tech, I just thought it was the coolest thing. Eventually, I went back to work for the family - screaming and kicking [she laughs].

Given your experience in the sector. How has your Family Office adapted to new technologies? Both when it comes to investments and practical applications.

This is a really interesting question. Firstly, it’s important to make a distinction between single and multi Family Office, because they're different platforms, and they use different techniques. As a Single family, we built our own bespoke technology to use for our own portfolio construction and management. It has to be this way, as you don't want third parties potentially looking into your assets.

Secondly, when it comes to tech investments, we are global and we are not shy, we are not risk averse whatsoever. We are very aggressive. Space quantum, for example, is where we would like to go because of the imprint of humanity on Earth, we need to be much more resourceful. We must learn a lot more about waste management, recycling and protecting the Earth's resources.

The final aspect is the necessity to use technology to understand how we can use the galaxies and planets and use their resources. There's little knowledge about our space at this time, the universe is expanding, but our galaxy is not. From an investment perspective, we're really stoked about investing into this new frontier and quantum computer.

How important is it to commit to purpose-driven investments?

Everything we invest in has to have some type of positive impact for our community, our global community.

What investment trends have you noticed in the Middle East?

It’s hard to identify common trends, I’d say. The UAE and Saudi Arabia, for example, don’t have much in common, I think the landscape is completely different. The cultures are very different as well. It’s like trying to compare South Korea, Hong Kong, Macau, Japan, and Thailand. They’re all so different, and the same goes for each country in this region. Saudi, for example, has changed tremendously, they are investing so much in sustainable living and I think this place will change so much. I feel very comfortable doing business here. A lot has changed since 2019.

Is there something that you're really looking forward to exploring and potentially investing in? What’s stimulating your curiosity at the moment?

Our portfolio, at the moment, is a lot larger than the venture and tech areas I am most involved in. These are my love affairs, but I also manage the entire portfolio. My passion is and will always be deep tech.

What I am looking forward to is marrying technology and biotech, so that medical care and health care can be democratised. We can, for example, use synthetics for technological advancements. There are endless opportunities.