By V. Shuman

"Love people for who they are, instead of judging them for what they are not," goes an anonymous quote on the internet.

Penang-born Sudesh Thevasenabathy can attest to this as he was recently listed in the OUTstanding LGBT+ Role Models 2019 list.

The list by INvolve, and supported by Yahoo Finance, celebrates the work being done by executives, allies, future leaders and public sector executives across the globe in promoting diversity and inclusivity.

INvolve is a global membership organisation and consultancy championing diversity and inclusion in business.

Having moved to Hong Kong 12 years ago, Sudesh, 42, now heads the Customer Care Transformation division of AXA Insurance for the Hong Kong and Macau region, where he has carried out key projects in inclusivity, particularly with minority and the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) groups.

Speaking to Astro Ulagam, Sudesh said in Malaysia, he has experienced being "visually discriminated" due to his brown skin colour.

"Growing up in that space, not given equal opportunity, and access to education, employment, was a challenge.

"We had to try a lot harder just to be on par (with the other races).

"When you grow in that space, you only have two options - go with the flow, or fall through the cracks, and be the scum of the society," he said, adding he "thankfully" did not become the latter.

Going to Hong Kong opened up a whole new world of acceptance and fairness, he noted.

That's when he decided to "give back" by working on the diversity and inclusion agenda.

Sudesh also rubbished claims Hong Kongers are racist.

"Often, foreigners or even other ethnicities are treated differently because the locals don't know how to talk to them, due to the locals' poor command of English.

"It appears racist, but it's not," he said, adding that the fact he can speak Cantonese has also helped his family thrive.

Treat everyone equally

In AXA Hong Kong, Sudesh is a founding member of the Diversity & Inclusion Council, which deals with 5 pillars - gender, differently-abled, multi-generations, origins (racial diversity) and LGBT. He leads the latter two pillars and also founded the Pride @ AXA ally community.

Through these groups, Sudesh has organized events like the LGBT+ fireside chats during Pride month, mini-LGBT+ awareness sessions at departmental town halls and an in-house Pride Party. He is also developing the first transgender policy for employees.

In April this year, Sudesh was gifted with the 2019 Hong Kong LGBT+ Ally Award and earlier this week, he sealed a name among the global players.

According to Sudesh, he is "really happy" with the global recognition, but said it all boils down to basic human manners of treating everyone fairly and equally.

"We are all humans, we have the same set of challenges - at home, at work, paying bills and so on, so it is only fair to treat everyone equally.

"To those who are 'oppressed', do not take people looking down on you. Fight back to regain what is rightfully yours," he said.

Take challenges head on

Sudesh is no stranger is tackling challenges head on. After all, he landed in his current job in the insurance industry despite having an engineering degree in electronics and computing, and spending a sizeable number of years in banking.

The 1997 financial crisis hit his family hard and his plans to further his studies in the United Kingdom were shelved.

In 2000, Sudesh secured a job as a test engineer with Ericsson Malaysia. After two years, he realised it was not his calling.

Hoping for a change, Sudesh took a huge paycut to join as a management trainee with British American Company (BAT) Malaysia in 2002, in the supply chain and logistics.

After three plus years there, he joined HSBC Malaysia in 2006. Soon an offer came to relocate to HSBC in Hong Kong in 2007, at the height of yet another financial crisis.

Sudesh decided to move to Hong Kong anyway, after selling all his possessions. He now lives there with his wife, and two children aged 9 and 2.

"It was a make it or break it situation for me, and I decided to make it," he recalled.

In 2013, he took another bold step in making the move from the financial sector to the insurance industry, to join AXA Hong Kong, where he has been the past 6 years.

His advice for those yearning for change - Just take the plunge.

"Don't fear the unknown. If you do what you know, your world is small. If you do what you don't know, new doors will open up."

Photo source: Sudesh LinkedIn,