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7 Questions with Emily Chang
helps you in your leadership.
7 Questions with Emily Chang
Name: Emily Chang
Current title: China CEO
Current organisation: McCann Worldgroup
Emily Chang is the CEO of McCann Worldgroup, China. Prior to accepting this new role, she took a year off to write a book called The Spare Room, the topic of her first TEDx Talk. Before that, she served as cmo for Starbucks China, where she was responsible for marketing, sales, loyalty, customer engagement, and the digital ecosystem (ecommerce, loyalty, payments, partnerships).
A strategic business leader with over 20 years of experience, Emily is known for globalization, cross-cultural team leadership, and innovative brand building. Recognized for her ability to drive change and renew organizations, Emily approaches opportunities with an entrepreneurial mind set to establish a culture, set a vision, and build capability. She is known first and foremost as a people leader and team builder. Prior to Starbucks, Emily was the Chief Commercial Officer for IHG, Greater China, where she was responsible for all commercial functions across Greater China and looked after 320+ hotels and an extended team of 5,200 Sales & Marketing members.
Moving to Shanghai in 2011, Emily built a high-performance marketing organization that established the face of Apple Retail in Asia Pacific. She first developed her General Management, Marketing and Brand expertise at Procter & Gamble, with 11 years’ experience across all three Global Business Units: Health & WellBeing, Beauty & Grooming, and Household Care.
Emily sits on the board of SOS Children’s Villages and has spoken at select conferences and events, including the Fortune Most Powerful Women’s Summit in Hong Kong, C2 in Montreal, and has delivered three TEDx Talks. In her free time, Emily loves to teach, read, and write. She challenges herself to learn a new “big thing” every year and most of all, Emily enjoys spending time with family: her husband of 20 years, her 11yr daughter Laini, Holly Berry their rescued mutt, and Jellybean, their pygmy hedgehog.
1. What have you found most challenging as a CEO or executive of a large enterprise?
Joining my new company as CEO during COVID posed a unique challenge. To this day, I've not yet met my boss in person! In fact, I first connected one-to-one with my leaders via video and introduced myself to the organization in a virtual town hall while locked down in quarantine. Some of the personal touches to which I'd become accustomed... like a shared coffee or a warm handshake, weren't available to facilitate relationship-building. And in some ways, these challenges pushed me to go deeper. How might we establish a sense of trust and build meaningful relationships through a computer screen?
2. How did you become a CEO or executive of a large enterprise? Can you please briefly tell the story?
In 2019, I took a #professionalhalftime to write my book (The Spare Room launches April 6, 2021!) The break also enabled me to consider what I wanted to do in the back half of my career. You see, the front half had provided rich experiences across regions and industries, which fed, developed and stretched me.
So, looking into the future, I realized that it wasn't about the industry, the region, or the title. Rather, what mattered most to me was about the head - heart - soul.
Head: I knew I thrived when intellectually challenged, when facing a big, hairy goal in an ever-changing environment.
Heart: I love nothing more than supporting and building into people, so I knew I wanted to be in a place where I could invest in and develop teams.
Soul: Particularly after writing a book all about living with intentionality and leading with authenticity, it was more important than ever that I work for a company whose ethos matched my own.
So, I became the CEO of McCann Worldgroup in China because the job provided a perfect fit to my head-heart-soul framework. I feel incredibly blessed that I wake up each morning to a job I love and working for a leader I respect and admire!
3. How do you structure your work days from waking up to going to sleep?
It's all about straight-up science, discipline, and planning!
I wake up at 6:30AM and meditate for 15min. At 6:45AM, I work out, rotating between pilates, yoga, HIT and biking/running. I'm in the shower by 7:15 and dressed by 7:35. This gives me 10min to spend with my daughter before she heads to school and I go to work.
My 75min commute is often the only time of day I have for individual work. Enabled by my wonderful driver, I have the luxury of an incredibly productive drive, which allows me to start the day on my front foot. So, by the time I arrive at the office at 9AM, I'm ready for a day of meetings and people engagement.
Three days a week, I leave the office by 7PM to get home before my daughter goes to bed. The drive home is almost always spent on the phone. Our family hangs out between 8-9PM, then I get back to work until about midnight. The other two days of the week tend to be late nights, when I don't leave the office until later and line up business dinners/drinks for the evening hours.
In between all that, I drink a lot of water, stretch regularly, and breathe deeply when my Apple watch tells me to.
4. What's the most recent significant leadership lesson you've learned?
It's OK to fail. Truly, this just provides a way to begin again, more intelligently. The world doesn't end, your ego will survive (and quite likely, be less brittlely self-possessed and more softly humbled for the experience). To me, those who pick back up the quickest, with the most self-awareness and clarity on how to move forward, are those who are more likely to succeed.
5. What's one book that has had a profound impact on your leadership so far? Can you please briefly tell the story of how that book impacted your leadership?
I read "Orbiting the Giant Hairball" in one sitting back in 1999 and closed the book with renewed passion and conviction. "Remember the challenge is to move out of the way, to choose not to be mesmerized by the culture of the company. Instead, find the goals of the organization that touch your heart and release your passion to follow those goals." Wise words I still remember today.
Of course, I'd be remiss not to mention "The Spare Room"! My book is intended to serve as a call to action for leaders and rising leaders. Today, social purpose has also become an urgent leadership imperative in the business world. And to be successful, each of us, regardless of industry or functional expertise, must lead with authenticity and purpose. In order to embody social purpose and embed its values in the workplace, we must get clear on our own personal purpose. After all, it’s tough to lead a socially responsible business if we aren’t socially purposeful leaders. I would love nothing more than if people read my book and felt the way I felt when I read "Orbiting the Giant Hairball."
6. How do you build leadership capacity in a large enterprise?
Does it sound like the punchline to a joke if I answer, "One leader at a time"? Because I think it's true. An organization is only as good as its people. So, to me, it's about getting to know, engaging, supporting and building a relationship with each leader. Once we have the right leaders in place who share our vision, we can trust and unleash them to do the same with their leaders, and so on!
One of the most thoughtful and motivating compliments I ever received was gifted to me by one of my VP's who referred to my "3D Leadership." She commented that she loved working for me because I led from the front when needed, worked alongside her when circumstances called for it, and supported from behind, pushing her into the spotlight whenever I could. Now, I don't think I'm a 3D leader every day, but it's certainly what I aspire to be.
7. What is one meaningful story that comes to mind from your time as a CEO or executive of a large enterprise so far?
So, China has managed COVID really well and we've happily been back to work since Summer, 2020. That said, whenever a single case emerges, the entire country jumps into action!
I was incredibly touched in January, when my leadership team heard about an outbreak around 11AM on a Thursday. A government press conference was scheduled for 2PM the same day, and they wanted to get ahead of it with our team. So, while I was rushing back from a business lunch, they convened and pulled together a plan. By the time I returned to the office just fifteen minutes later, they already had a thoughtful proposal in hand. I can't tell you how touched I was by their engagement, care for our teams, and most important, unity!