BREAKING THE BAMBOO CEILING
Breaking the glass ceiling as an Asian woman in the corporate world is not an easy task.
I had the opportunity to have a chat with Chris Leong, Chief Marketing Officer for global energy-management and automation firm Schneider Electric on setting her mark on the global stage; she was named as one of the world's Most Influential CMO by Forbes Magazine in 2017.
I started by asking Leong how her working experience in Malaysia and how it had shaped her career path.
“I grew up in Ayer Panas, some people may have heard of it, it is a slightly different environment now compared in the old days”, Leong said with her nostalgic smile on her face.
Born and bred in Kuala Lumpur, Leong started working at a young age; first in Kentucky Fried Chicken in its marketing department.
“I would credit them for giving me my very first mentors that not only gave me the opportunity to grow but also a very strong foundation in customer-focused marketing and operations.”
After five years with KFC, Leong joined the local unit of Grey Group, a New York-based advertising agency. “At that time Grey only had 30 people. Grey gave me the opportunity to work with big marketing brands such as Procter & Gamble, British American Tobacco and many others.”
After which, Leong spent another 15 years with marketing agencies, jet-setting to countries like Hong Kong, London and Singapore for work to work with major clients like Heineken, HSBC and New World Mobility.
Leong also had a chance to do marketing for automaker Ford Europe in which she shared an interesting observation.
“Automotive is a big advertising spender, especially in Europe where there is a huge fixation on cars. There is something about men with driving and the adrenaline rush of a car which is a fantastic area for any brand builders and marketers to tap into.”
Then in 2002, things came full circle as Leong went back to Grey to be President, replacing her mentor who hired her many years ago, to lead a team which has grown to over 200 employees, serving the Southeast Asia market.
Not long after, another big opportunity came along. This time it was a major Finnish telecommunications company that she had served earlier on in her career.
“I moved to Beijing in 2005 to work with Nokia. It was an interesting experience because I have been working on the Nokia brand since 1995 from the agency side. To be honest, before I joined the company, I already felt like I was part of the team.”
Leong worked at Nokia for over six years, during what is known as the the 'golden years' of Nokia.
There needs to be a passion, you need to focus and be true to that passion to achieve your goals. Understanding what your customer needs and applying solutions based on the customer needs is the very basic of what marketing is
“I remember when we had fourteen consecutive quarters of market share growth. The brand was super powerful, occupying 200 million households with very strong customer affinity across the world. When I left Nokia to join Schneider in 2012 it was the end of one era (Nokia)and the beginning of another (smartphones).”
Being a corporate leader, Leong says that it is important to surround yourself with quality teams throughout one's career, as she did.
“I can tell you that today in Schneider Electric, I have team members that have joined me from Nokia and Bates. I think it goes a long way in maintaining good relationships with your employees and clients as some of them have become my good friends.”
As global marketing head at Schneider, Leong oversaw transformation of the 182-year-old French company - one of the largest energy management and automation firms in the world - from a largely 'invisible brand' to become the preferred B2B energy solutions provider.
Being named among the World’s Most Influential CMOs by Forbes Magazine in 2017 is a testament to her influence on the global stage. Forbes' ranking is based on information on 439 chief marketing officers.
The veteran in Schneider shares some advice for those moving up the corporate ladder.
“I do not have all the answers," she starts modestly "I am still learning daily - what I have not done, what else I could do better. The one thing that I have say is that there is no magic pill or formula but there are some fundamentals that I think you need to hold conviction to.”
"There needs to be a passion, you need to focus and be true to that passion to achieve your goals. Understanding what your customer needs and applying solutions based on the customer needs is the very basic of what marketing is and that is what Schneider Electric is achieving currently.
"Being a B2B company, we at Schneider, are enabling our customers to serve their customers better.”
Watch the full interview with Leong below: