Nita Ing, 45 Chairman Taiwan High-Speed Railway Corp.
By Anthony Paul

(FORTUNE Magazine) – Ask Nita Ing for her Chinese birth sign, and she will tell you that she was born in the Year of the Lamb. People who know her find this amusing: Ing is a forceful woman who doesn't inspire lamb metaphors. Ing needs to be forceful. She is supervising one of the largest public-works contracts in the world--a $14 billion high-speed railway that will link Taiwan's two biggest cities, Taipei and Kaoh-siung. If all goes well, by 2005 Japanese bullet trains will whiz the 204 miles between the cities in 90 minutes. Work started last March.

The THSRC is a consortium of Taiwan companies, of which Ing's Continental Engineering is one member. In this sense, it could be argued that Ing got her position the old-fashioned way: She inherited it. Her father founded Continental in mainland China in 1944 to repair war-damaged buildings. He came to Taiwan in 1947. Ing grew up with the business; returning to Taiwan in 1977 after a decade in America, she joined it and moved up the ranks. She is now president and readily credits her father with helping her career. "He was flexible when I was younger," she says, "which is unusual in a Chinese family."

Although the THSRC is a state-funded project, Ing is wary of politics. She has been an outspoken critic of corruption for years--to the extent that Taiwan's president, Chen Shui-bian, approached her about becoming premier. She said no: Politics is a wolfish game in Taiwan that this lamb would rather avoid. "The more you understand that [politics] is different, the less you're interested," she says. In the case of the high-speed railroad, she notes, the company has to work with three agencies (interior, transportation, finance), and "once you're dealing with more than two, you're in trouble. But we'll prevail."

--Anthony Paul