Nita Ing has always cut her own path. As a teenager in the 1970s, she was expelled for rowdy behavior from the mostly expatriate Taipei American School. She ended up first at a Massachusetts boarding school, then at the University of California at Los Angeles studying economics. Ing's U.S. experience, particularly the American penchant for openness and institutional accountability, marked her indelibly.
Three decades later, the 45-year-old Ing is still making waves. Issue No.1, she says, is smashing the "black gold," or corrupt links, between Taiwan politicians, gangsters, and big companies, and ushering in a more democratic age. "It affects business, and it affects government policy," she says. As chairman and CEO of the $15 billion Taiwan High Speed Rail Corp., the island's high-speed train program, she considers it particularly important that she set an example by running a squeaky-clean operation.
To demonstrate her desire for change, Ing broke ranks with most of Taiwan's business elite and served as an economic adviser to Democratic Progressive Party candidate--and now President--Chen Shui-bian. Ing felt that Chen, as an outsider who opposed the formerly ruling KMT, would be best suited to clean up Taiwan's corrupt practices. She now serves on a blue-ribbon national strategic development committee and maintains close ties to the President.
Ing is determined to keep the train project on the straight and narrow. The new line, which when finished in 2005 will whisk passengers from one end of the island to the other in 90 minutes, is one of the world's most costly. Ing is instituting a series of anti-corruption measures for the embryonic project, ranging from competitive bidding to seminars aimed at inculcating an anti-graft culture. She has learned about gangsters and extortionists firsthand, running up against them in her other role as president of Continental Engineering Corp., a construction company founded by her father. She fought those toughs--and she'll keep on fighting them.