Julia Gouw: Inspiring Women in Banking

As President and Chief

Operating Officer, Julia Gouw has helped grow East West Bank into one of the largest banks

based in Southern California with over 120 branch locations and serving customers from

around the world. I was able to talk with her in her home study about her childhood, her

experience in banking, and what advice she could give to those aspiring towards the same


Gouw, an Indonesian Chinese, was born and raised in Surabaya as, going to Santa

Maria as a student before moving to the U.S. in 1978 to attend the University of Illinois

Urbana-Champaign. Her initial intention to major in chemistry was diffused when she

found her true passion while taking an accounting class, ultimately leading her towards

receiving a Bachelor’s degree in Accounting.

After graduating, Gouw worked at KPMG, becoming a Senior Audit Manager where

she gained most of her experience in performing audits for real estate firms, construction

companies, and financial institutions. When interviewed, Gouw attributed her time there

as, “a great opportunity to gain much of her experience.” It was after this experience, that

she found herself working as a controller in 1989 for a small bank targeting the Chinese

American community in Southern California.

Today, American Banker Magazine has ranked Julia Gouw as among the “25 Most

Powerful Women in Banking” and East West Bank now owns $22.5 billion in assets. Gouw

attributes her success in the industry as a result of her, “focus towards a goal,” something

she hopes other females aspiring for a career in finance will do. Other words of wisdom she

had were to, “always challenge yourself, understand the direction of the company, and do

the right thing.” Gouw saw the potential East West Bank had towards serving both the

Asian and non-Asian community, and challenged herself to take on the task as Controller

before steadily climbing up to become a vital player for the company.

Aside from banking, Gouw’s finds passion in philanthropy and humanitarian work.

She has recently worked with the Asian Women Network to enhance Indonesian cultural

awareness, and serves on the Board of Visitors of the David Geffen School of Medicine at

UCLA where she established an Endowed Chair for Mood Disorders Research. Gouw also

serves on the Board of Directors of the UCLA Foundation, and is the founding Chair of the

Executive Women’s Advisory Board for the Iris Cantor-UCLA Women’s Health Center.

Julia Gouw is an example of how hard work and focus can help someone achieve

high goals. A model for Asian Women interested in the world of finance, she ended the

interview with some important pieces of advice: “build confidence and learn how to build

around your circumstances and adapt.”

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