Nancy is the Chief Marketing Officer at Prestigion Education Group in Malaysia. With the COVID-19 pandemic wreaking havoc on various industries, Nancy shares how it has impacted the education sector and most specifically, operations at her company. On the upside, however, Nancy has been able to spend more time with her family and has perfected her skills to bake a delicious banana cake! Welcome to Women In Marketing
LET’S GET PERSONAL
THANK YOU FOR TAKING THE TIME TO PARTICIPATE IN OUR WOMEN IN MARKETING SERIES, NANCY. LET’S START ON A LIGHTER NOTE. WHERE WERE YOU BORN? WHAT ARE SOME OF YOUR MEMORIES GROWING UP?
I’m from Selangor, Malaysia. Memories growing up include, fun times playing outdoor games, as well as games which we had to make our own tools such as sewing little rice bags for 5-stones and jump rope made of rubber bands.
WHAT WERE YOU LIKE IN YOUR HIGH SCHOOL/COLLEGE YEARS?
I went to a convent boarding school in Singapore during my high school years. The caretakers and nuns were very strict, But the regime certainly moulded me into who I am today. College was freedom after I finished O-levels and I think I partied more than I studied.
So yea I had an interesting blend of being disciplined and going through a process of discovery during my formative years. No regrets!
IF YOU COULD BE ANY ANIMAL, WHAT WOULD IT BE AND WHY?
A dog. Dogs are God’s most beautiful creation – kind, fiercely loyal and love without any condition or expectations. They are compassionate and by far better role models than humans.
WHAT’S YOUR FAVOURITE MEAL? THAT ONE MEAL YOU WOULD FEEL NO SHAME FOR NOT SHARING!
My mum is from Penang, so we grew up eating this authentic Nyonya dish called ‘Assam Laksa’. It is a laksa noodle dish served in a piquant, pungent, sour fish broth, topped with fresh vegetables, chillies and (optional) prawn paste.
It is a family tradition usually cooked during family celebrations however since such occasions are now few and far between, I am lucky that my mum still cooks the original recipe for me. I would WhatsApp photos of the meal to my brother who lives in Singapore just to tease and remind him what he’s missing out. He gets upset with me, of course.
IMAGINE WAKING UP $10 MILLION RICHER TOMORROW, WHAT WOULD YOU DO WITH YOUR FORTUNE?
That’s hard to imagine but, I would balance between:
1. My children’s education
2. Using some to help those in need
3. Supporting family members and friends
4. Place some in savings
6. I will Reward myself if there’s any left … in that order.
WHAT IS THE ONE INTERESTING THING ABOUT YOU THAT WE WOULDN’T FIND ON YOUR LINKEDIN PROFILE? ANY HIDDEN TALENTS PERHAPS? PREVIOUS WOMEN IN MARKETING CANDIDATE, DR. LIEZEL BYGATE SAID THAT SHE IS AN EXPERT HULA-HOOPER!
I discovered my hidden talent during the pandemic lockdown. Cooking was not usually my forte. However, having had months of practice since the first lockdown last March, I must admit that I now make a few mean dishes and a delicious banana cake!
But I suppose the same applies to everything we do. When we put in the time, effort and lots of practice, we will become good at it!
CAREER AND WORKPLACE
WHAT ENCOURAGED YOU TO PURSUE A CAREER IN MARKETING? AFTER ALL, MOST OF US GREW UP WANTING TO BE DOCTORS, RIGHT?
I was never much the academic type and preferred humanities and the social sciences. My parents were quite liberal and allowed me to explore my own interests during university. I liked the idea of mass communication and ended up with a combination of subjects with a major in Psychology.
My first job after graduation was with a media company and from there I moved into advertising then marketing and never looked back since. I enjoy the creativity and being able to connect to the human psyche and emotions.
GIVE US A SNEAK PEEK OF HOW YOU TYPICALLY START YOUR DAY. ARE YOU #TEAMCOFFEE OR #TEAMTEA? OR BOTH? YOU BEAUTIFUL REBEL!
Coffee is my ‘perk me up’ when I start the day. But I also like tea, so I’d say I’m both. I love the smell of coffee and don’t have any qualms taking it espresso, instant or local brew. Funny fact is that I started to drink tea during my pregnancies as I knew I had to avoid caffeine. But of course, this was purely psychological as tea also contains caffeine but at a lower dosage. Moreover, I could have tea in different brews i.e. iced, with lemon, with milk or my favourite teh Tarik (‘kurang manis’ – less sweet) served at the Mamak stalls.
HOW BEST DO YOU MAINTAIN A WORK-LIFE BALANCE?
Working from home during the lockdowns have certainly improved work-life balance for me. It is sometimes hard to distinguish work hours in a home environment. However, I will say that this period has allowed me to spend more time with the family and our dog. It has made me more appreciative of the things that I would take for granted.
I can relax and take a break from virtual meetings. I also enjoy going into the garden and cooking or baking. I am certainly more domesticated and doing more activities with my kids than I ever could.
YOU OBTAINED YOUR BA IN PSYCHOLOGY FROM MACQUARIE UNIVERSITY. YESSS GIRL! ACCORDING TO CNBC, RESEARCH CONDUCTED BY GLASSDOOR FOUND THAT COMPANIES LIKE APPLE, GOOGLE AND IBM (AMONGST OTHERS) OFFER WORK-FROM-HOME JOBS THAT DO NOT REQUIRE ANY FORMAL EDUCATION. IN YOUR OPINION, HOW CAN YOUNG WOMEN UTILISE THE INTERNET TO UPSKILL THEIR CAREERS PARTICULARLY IF THEY ARE NOT ABLE TO AFFORD A FORMAL EDUCATION?
I’m sure there are now more than ever, options of educational and training programs, self-development courses and resources being offered online. The internet has demolished borders. In life, it is up to the individual how far he/she wants to go and not let any reason be an excuse to hamper self-development or growth.
The sky’s the limit. If you have the passion, determination and grit, you can achieve your goals. Importantly, you must have a positive mindset and not give up easily. Change has been accelerated due to this pandemic. Learning will be a combination of face to face, remote and hybrid from now on. It’s easier now than ever before to learn and upskill through the internet.
YOU HAVE A GREAT RESUME. YOU’VE WORKED FOR COMPANIES SUCH AS MCCANN ERICKSON, YOUNG & RUBICAM AS WELL AS MAXIS COMMUNICATIONS. HOW IMPORTANT HAS LINKEDIN BEEN FOR YOU AND WHAT ADVICE DO YOU HAVE FOR YOUNG WOMEN LOOKING TO ESTABLISH THEIR PROFESSIONAL BRAND FOR NETWORKING PURPOSES?
We started off our careers without LinkedIn or social media. These platforms serve to improve our networking and ability to brand ourselves. I would say that one always has to be true to themselves whether in person or on a profile as inauthenticity will show.
SABRA MWAURA WAS A FEATURE FOR OUR WOMEN IN MARKETING SERIES. SHE MADE A FEW GOOD POINTS ABOUT THE IMPORTANCE OF MENTORSHIP FOR WOMEN. WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON MENTORSHIP?
I feel that effective mentorship requires two hands to clap. A good mentor may dedicate themselves in developing others and is willing to share their experiences and commit their time. At the same time, the mentee needs to have a learning mindset, listen and make sure that they too do dedicate their time and energy necessary to be mentored effectively.
It’s effective when there is a good match between the mentor and mentee—whether in backgrounds, skill sets, experiences, roles or facing similar challenges.
WHAT’S YOUR SMARTEST WORK-RELATED SHORTCUT OR PRODUCTIVITY HACK?
I have just read about the Pomodoro technique and putting it in practice. It is essentially a time management method focused on work sessions with frequent short breaks every 25 mins to promote sustained concentration and stave off mental fatigue and maximize results.
JOB HOPPING IS A COMMON PHENOMENA ESPECIALLY IN THE DYNAMIC WORLD OF ADVERTISING AND MARKETING. WHAT’S YOUR OPINION ON JOB HOPPING? DOES IT HURT OR AID ONE’S CAREER?
Job hopping too often can hurt one’s career.
It does not allow enough time for an individual to learn the depth of the business hence the experience is superficial. I think that a career in advertising is often such because one tends to work for numerous accounts and only looks at one aspect of a business i.e. advertising.
In comparison, a career in marketing will enable the individual to learn and be exposed to different areas of a business. These can range from management, operations, finance, sales and HR.
Staying in only one job for your entire career may develop a deep level of proficiency. However, it may result in complacency and a myopic view due to a lack of exposure to how other companies and industries work.
I believe that having a balance of spending at least a few years in one job before switching careers is necessary to provide exposure and experiences that will encourage adaptability, agility and open-mindedness.
FOR IT’S 2019 MOST INFLUENTIAL CMO’S REPORT, FORBES LISTED 31 WOMEN OUT OF 50 CANDIDATES (19 MEN). IT APPEARS THAT MORE WOMEN OCCUPY CMO ROLES COMPARED TO OTHER C-SUITE ROLES. WHY DO YOU THINK THIS IS THE CASE?
Women are more empathetic. Working in marketing means that you need to be able to put yourself in the consumer’s shoes to provide a deeper understanding which yields a better strategy and outcome.
In my experience, women are also better at multitasking and have better attention and eye for detail.
REPRESENTATION OF WOMEN IN MARKETING, PARTICULARLY, IN SENIOR ROLES IS ON THE UP. IN YOUR OWN OPINION, WHAT ARE SOME OF THE CHALLENGES THAT WOMEN STILL FACE DESPITE THESE CHANGES AND HOW BEST SHOULD THESE BE ADDRESSED?
I feel women in high positions are still drawing lower salaries than their male counterparts. Society still practises such gender pay gaps which were traditionally differentiated by level of education and occupational segregation.
It is no longer the case today as women are just as educated and have proven to be capable leaders. To address this gap, we need to understand our market value and pull the bull by its horns. When accepting a new job, women should not shortchange their value and negotiate for what they feel they are worth. Otherwise, one should look for a more gender-balanced workplace.
ONE OF THE LEARNING CURVES FOR MOST ORGANISATIONS SINCE THE BEGINNING OF THE PANDEMIC, IS THE SUCCESSFUL IMPLEMENTATION OF DIGITAL INFRASTRUCTURES TO FACILITATE REMOTE WORK. FOR TECH PLAYERS IN SILICON VALLEY THE TRANSITION WAS RELATIVELY SMOOTH WITH THE LIKES OF FACEBOOK AND TWITTER DESIGNING A FUTURE WHERE THEIR STAFF MAY POTENTIALLY WORK REMOTELY FOREVER. THE ARGUMENT THOUGH, IS THAT THIS IS LONG OVERDUE. IN YOUR OPINION, WHY HAVE COMPANIES TAKEN SO LONG TO IMPLEMENT REMOTE WORK OPPORTUNITIES?
Having rigid digital infrastructure, availability of hardware, software, access to excellent internet connectivity and speed is the main reason for the delay of adoption for remote work or learning. The pandemic has certainly accelerated this growth in 2020. However, the experience may be different for everyone depending on the factors mentioned.
WORKING FROM HOME IS AWESOME! MOST OF US CAN AGREE. HOWEVER, IT IS NOT WITHOUT IT’S SET OF CHALLENGES. EMPLOYEE WELLNESS HAS TAKEN A SIGNIFICANT STRAIN WITH PEOPLE WORKING LONGER HOURS AS A RESULT OF EMPLOYEES BEING ‘ALWAYS ON’ AND NOT BEING ABLE TO SWITCH OFF. HOW CAN EMPLOYERS GUARD AGAINST EMPLOYEE BURNOUT OR IN THE WORST EVENT, LOSING THEIR BEST TALENT?
I always advise my team to space out their meetings and take breaks when working from home. It is so easy to lose a sense of time and space. Working from home may suit some but it’s not for everyone.
For others, it is just the nature of their work that prevents productivity and efficiency. In fact, there is a need to over-communicate when working from home. For my marketing team, I had to get us back into the office despite a conditional lockdown as work deliverables were affected due to communication breakdown and a lack of interactivity.
Besides, there is a need for the team to socialise and get to know each other aside from work.
BCG PUBLISHED ITS INNOVATION REPORT FOR 2020 AND AT THE CORE OF ITS SELECTION CRITERIA ARE COMPANIES THAT HAVE SUCCESSFULLY MARRIED ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE IN THEIR PRODUCTS AND SERVICES. ACCORDING TO YOU, WHAT MAKES SOMETHING INNOVATIVE?
I feel innovation does not only encapsulate technological advancements. A creative or out of the box strategy or execution can also be regarded as innovative as long as it’s smart and no one’s ever thought of it or done it that way before.
HEMAL THAKKAR, BRAND MANAGER FOR BURGER KING INDIA IS A RECENT WOMEN IN MARKETING FEATURE. ONE OF THE KEY AREAS SHE IDENTIFIED FOR CONTINUED GROWTH IS THAT OF INFLUENCER MARKETING. WHAT DOES THE FUTURE OF MARKETING LOOK LIKE ACCORDING TO YOU?
Influencer marketing can be effective in engaging as people crave new content and look for new experiences. The choice of influencer, however, must be relatable to the type of audience we are targeting. A big advantage is leveraging on the influencers’ followers which allow us to attract new audiences and deliver the brand more interestingly and engagingly.
2020 AND BEYOND
IF YOU COULD GO BACK IN TIME, WHAT WOULD YOU TELL YOUR YOUNGER SELF?
Be confident, don’t be afraid of making mistakes and ride through the storm as there will always be light at the end of the tunnel.
WHAT CHALLENGE IS ON YOUR PLATE? WHAT ARE SOME OF THE PAIN POINTS YOU ARE TRYING TO OVERCOME IN YOUR LIFE WHETHER PROFESSIONALLY, PERSONALLY OR BOTH?
The impact of the pandemic is my biggest challenge.
Due to the rising covid infections, the rules and implementation of movement control order in the country are forever-changing. Schools are closed, we had momentarily opened before being asked to shut again. Not only is it extremely disruptive, but parents also are not convinced that remote learning is as effective nor worth paying full price for. Hence there is a constant re-evaluation of rebates, students’ deferment and withdrawals.
I suppose, like everyone else, our pain points are related to the impact the lockdowns have had on our economy and Covid threatening our health and safety. We are facing so many uncertainties and the closure of the borders and travel restrictions disrupts any sort of planning. In fact, my daughter is due to go overseas to pursue her tertiary studies. However, we are not even sure whether borders will open and even so, we hear that the university may only operate online learning.
If such is the case, we prefer to just keep her home. Until physical classes resume, she cannot experience actual campus life.
ANY BUCKET LIST ITEMS?
Professionally, I would like to be able to contribute to achieving the company’s 5-year goals as well as develop a competent and dynamic team so that I can help them achieve their developmental goals.
On a personal level, it’s mostly a travel bucket list. I love travelling. Since all our travel plans had been put to a halt due to the pandemic, I can only dream about where to go next. Once the borders open, I would like to visit Iceland to see the aurora-borealis, go on a Safari experience in Africa, climb the Great Wall of China, celebrate new year’s eve at Times Square New York and experience all parts of my favourite country Japan, during each different season of summer, spring, autumn and winter.
WHO ARE SOME OF YOUR SHEROES?
Wonder woman – I believe her to be strong, intelligent, empathetic and grounded. She can do anything she puts her mind to and she is omnilingual. Princess Diana is also one of my role models. She personifies strength, charisma. She is deeply devoted to her children, committed to charity and is bold to embrace her individuality as a modern icon who was not afraid to challenge the norm.
WHAT ARE YOU CURRENTLY READING?
‘The Leadership Pipeline’ by Ram Charan that describes the transition of different levels of leadership in every company. Where leaders grow through each level, to learn the values and skills on their way to the next level.
I spend a lot of time online, hence prefer to consume information, stories and articles but in smaller bites as reading on devices takes a toll on my eyes.
WHAT WOULD YOU COME BACK AS IN THE NEXT LIFETIME CAREER-WISE? DO YOU THINK YOU MISSED A CALLING?
A veterinarian. I love dogs and animals in general. Having the opportunity to save and change an animal’s life will be rewarding. I also want to tie up with Pet Memorial Services to offer holistic care right through the time they cross over the rainbow bridge.
WHAT IS ON YOUR NETFLIX WATCHLIST?
My recent favourite binges were Queen’s Gambit, The Crown, Sweet Home … I usually chance on interesting titles then binge-watch them very quickly especially during the night to wee hours of the morning.
I am a fan of dark genres and enjoy stories that are satirical in nature. Quiet often concludes with a twisted and deep-rooted meaning or moral behind it that examines human behaviour. Some examples of my favourites are Black Mirror, Breaking Bad, The Haunting of Hillhouse, and I find films by Bong Joon Ho (South Korean director of Academy-award best picture black comedy thriller ‘Parasite’) rather spellbinding.
WHO HAVEN’T YOU SEEN OR TALKED TO IN A LONG TIME AND HOPE THEY ARE DOING OKAY?
Kahlua, my beloved labrador who unexpectedly left us and crossed over the rainbow bridge last February.
She would’ve been 7 and was the most lovely, caring and obedient companion who speaks with her eyes. She was diagnosed with lymphoma last December and left us very quickly and worst of all, I didn’t get to say goodbye as I had just left for a trip to Australia. I told her to wait for my return before I left that morning but I had a funny feeling she didn’t want me to send her off. I am comforted that she is now with her Creator and am sure she’s doing okay.
WE ARE ALWAYS LOOKING FOR AMAZING WOMEN IN MARKETING TO PROFILE. WHO WOULD YOU LIKE US TO GET IN TOUCH WITH?
A UNIQUE MESSAGE FOR ALL YOUNG PROFESSIONALS IN THE MARKETING INDUSTRY
Be patient and always be open to learning. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes and follow your dreams.