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Women’s History Month at BORN: Part 2

3 years ago

By Ramesh Patel

BORN is proud to be home to a number of inspiring female leaders who have grown our business to what it is today, and exemplify our goal of being a diverse, globally-integrated powerhouse agency. In honor of Women’s History Month and International Women’s Day, we’re doing a two-part feature on some of these accomplished women, who represent different regions and areas of expertise across our firm.

In Part 2, we profile Sharon Gee and Olivia Yuan, from our Sales and Development practices, respectively.

SHARON GEE, SENIOR VICE PRESIDENT OF SALES, NORTH AMERICA (U.S.) 
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What attracted you to the digital commerce and content space? 

It’s a perfect mix of art and science. I was initially drawn to Marketing and Advertising because I saw it as a field where creative, conceptual, and strategic people could get paid for good ideas. And as the digital landscape matured, e-commerce became of significant interest because it natively offered the analytics framework to help brands and retailers track the impact of their decisions on the business. Also, with greater access to customer data and the ability to customize interactions, the need for personalized content is increasingly important. That’s why I’m at BORN. It’s about strategically advising on ways to achieve real business goals through seamless commerce experiences that are rich with relevant, personalized content. Fun!

What do you find most fulfilling and challenging about your role?

Sales is strategy and problem solving at every turn. That’s the fun part. When a prospective client says “I want to achieve XYZ with these considerations and constraints,” it’s my job (along with a team of brilliant subject matter experts) to create and persuade them of THE BEST solution, because that’s the one that will win. It’s putting together the best team, approach, and short- and long-term plan with the least risk, all for the best timeline and price. There are many different levers to pull in a mature and competitive landscape, which is both challenging and exciting!

Tell us about a major milestone you accomplished last year.

Last year was a great one for me. My husband and I had our first son, William, in March. The transition back into full-time work, and later taking on a new sales role at a new company, was an immense milestone for me. Because of the pipeline-driven nature of sales, taking a 3 month time-out can be very difficult. I was luckily surrounded by supportive people (both at work and at home), and am now galvanized to do what I can to support parental leave policies that make it possible for both men and women to successfully transition through these phases of work and life.

How has your perspective on success changed over time?

First, it’s hard to see success when you’re always operating in a mode of scarcity, so I’m a big proponent of doing whatever you must to pre-empt making decisions based on short-term need.

Second, our definitions of “success” shouldn’t always be win or lose. For example, even if you don’t win a deal, you can still have significant successes in terms of producing assets with ongoing value, gaining competitive knowledge, and improving your own process.

Lastly, we need to celebrate wins along the way, such as good meetings, great follow ups, and weekly milestones. Sales is particularly full of long, arduous processes that occasionally fizzle out, so it’s important to celebrate the “little wins” to keep yourself and the team motivated. Winning is a culture.

What opportunities do you see for women in business and technology?

In my mind, there aren’t opportunities that are only for men or only for women. Opportunities should be for everyone. A growing number of companies (like Google) are realizing that it’s better for their business to implement policies and create structures that enable women and parents to contribute successfully over the long-term. This is excellent progress, but the change is nonetheless slow to catch on. We need loud, supportive advocacy from those established in the business, finance, and technology sectors, to help other companies recognize internal biases and promote equal opportunity.

Who is your female role model?

Like so many other women of my generation, my mother is my role model. She is an amazing example of selfless service, and has been the single largest female influence in my life. I’m incredibly grateful to her.

However, every facet of our lives still boast examples of strong male leadership going back several generations. I find myself looking to our current and subsequent generations of women as role models, because they are growing up in a world increasingly willing to recognize their value. Moreover, they don’t tolerate people who fail to recognize women’s ability to contribute meaningfully. For myself, I’m excited to be a role model and advocate for the next generation of women in business (and I’m thrilled to be at a place that supports women in leadership). Yet I wholeheartedly expect to continue to look to the next generation for good examples of leadership.


OLIVIA YUAN, HEAD OF BACK-END DEVELOPMENT (U.S.)
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What attracted you to the digital commerce and content space? 

My background is in engineering and business, so I wanted a profession in which I could intersect the two. I’ve always looked for ways to leverage technology and innovation to achieve business goals, and e-commerce struck that combination right on the head. I see e-commerce as the perfect merger of business, logic, and technology to have a big impact on how a company grows and how people can interact with it. Back-end development, which is my expertise, is the backbone and connective tissue that creates that digital environment.

What do you find most fulfilling and challenging about your role? 

Back-end technology is the heart of the entire e-commerce system. It’s where you implement changes to grow the operation, reduce inefficiencies, and enable people to manage all the complexity of running a brand online. What I find fulfilling is building the right system to bring ideas to life. It’s about having foresight to solve problems before they occur, and to create an infrastructure that is easy to manage without sacrificing on what the brand needs or what the end-user wants. That’s how I know I’m impacting a business for the better.

One challenge in my line of work is getting the right information up front. Most issues can be resolved by technology and code, but first you need to have the right arsenal of data and knowledge. Once you have that, you can reduce the complexity of your work to only what is essential. Finding ways to simplify and enable scale is my ongoing pursuit.

Tell us about a major milestone you accomplished last year.

I am really proud of having built a global practice for back-end development across BORN’s international offices. I traveled to our main sites in Europe and Asia, to build a strong team of engineers who had to be cross-trained in multiple technology domains. Achieving this required a similar skill-set to what I use with clients, in terms of streamlining workflows, enforcing best practices, and establishing the right governance model. It doesn’t sound glamorous, but I’ve seen the huge impact it has on businesses, and I loved being the person to create that international framework for my own firm.

How has your perspective on success changed over time?

To be honest, my perspective hasn’t really changed. I still see success as establishing a strong foundation for yourself, and then continuously learning and improving. Short-term wins and fails aren’t as important as looking back and summarizing what you learned. You may forget about individual goals, but those learnings never leave you.

What opportunities do you see for women in business and technology?

I grew up in a culture in which there was limited differentiation between men and women, so I didn’t think too much about it until I came to the U.S. I feel lucky to have had that background, because my belief system is that you shouldn’t be evaluated on things you can’t control, like gender. What matters much more is how you apply yourself and cultivate your strengths. From my experience, I never felt held back by my gender—and I think that should be the case for everyone.

Who is your female role model? 

There are quite a few, but I especially admire people who can stay positive in times of stress. Luckily, I’ve worked with quite a few of them. E-commerce is not easy—sometimes we need to work long hours and solve complex problems, but I’ve learned most from those colleagues who reframe negative encounters by focusing on what they’ve done well and what they’ve learned.

In Chinese lore, negatives always come with positives, and vice versa. It’s easy to focus on what isn’t working, but my sense is that the more you focus on the positive, the more you will achieve and discover.

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