Mentors have made a huge difference in my career. I still remember the words of my first manager and mentor: “Deb, you’re great at what you do, but it takes more than just being good to advance. You need to make your influence felt!” That advice has stayed with me, helping me maneuver successfully through the corporate world.
Finding the right way “to make my influence felt” has often been difficult. It has been tricky to navigate between my Asian values of self-effacement, and the workplace expectations of self-promotion, in order to succeed. It is trickier, still, to balance both against the stereotypes of women, and in particular, Asian women, in business. Making my influence felt hasn’t meant dancing on tables to draw attention to myself—it is about leadership. For me, that means “quiet” leadership, the many ways I choose to bring out the best in people, whether directly or indirectly.
I started working with my second mentor, the director of internal audit for a multibillion-dollar paper company, when I helped develop the organization’s first processes for auditing financial software. This mentor became my champion and helped me move into a core business unit. When I was accepted by the Harvard Business School, but lacked the money to attend, he persuaded the company to provide me with a full scholarship. It was a major turning point in my career.
After obtaining my MBA, I decided that I wanted to run a company, so that I could have significant impact on a business. To do so, I needed other skills and experiences, especially in sales and marketing. Again, I was fortunate to find a mentor who was willing to guide me, and who ultimately recommended me to the board as his successor to the CEO position. In this way, I got my shot at running a company, and I eventually took it public. I am forever in debt to these wonderful people who invested in me. I truly believe that great leaders are selfless, as were these gentlemen. I only hope that I can do for others as they did for me—look for the best in people; seize opportunities to coach, facilitate, and develop them; and remove any barriers that might prevent them from reaching their potential.