Fiona Wong, 36, is a TCK who grew up in Taiwan, Hong Kong and Singapore. The University of Rochester graduate now lives in New York and is the Director of Corporate Leadership Development at PepsiCo, the $57 billion company that owns Frito-Lay, Tropicana, Quaker, Gatorade and Pepsi-Cola.
1. You grew up internationally – what’s the story?
I was born in Hong Kong. My father worked for a British pharmaceutical company so we moved to Taipei, where I grew up and attended Taiwan American School. In ninth grade, I moved to Hong Kong, and then to Singapore in tenth grade. I still keep in touch with friends I met in Asia. It’s crazy what Facebook has done. Those are the strongest friendships because we see the world a little differently.
2. How did you get to where you are now?
After internships with New York firms Burson-Marsteller and Bausch & Lomb, I ended up working in the human resources field. If you’re in HR, you want to go to PepsiCo. People here are phenomenal. I see very young talent that some day will surpass me. I joke with them and say, when you become CEO, remember I had something to do with it.
You have to work hard, but I’ve been very lucky to have encouraging managers who took chances on me when I was young in my career. When people say they’ve never worked a day in their life, I understand it now. I’m so energized. You have to care whom you work with. Don’t be in it for the money, all that stuff will come. Find a place you really enjoy. If you’re smart, intelligent, recognized, all of that will come.
3. What are you most passionate about?
I’ve never told anyone this before, but selfishly, what I’m doing is gaining as much as I can to help others. My parents gave me a lot. How do you give it back to people? So maybe it’s helping women who have just entered the corporate world and need coaching. Whatever gets me to that goal of being able to give back.
4. You’re now the Director of Corporate Leadership Development at PepsiCo. What does your typical day look like?
I work as part of the global talent organization, which is a new organization at PepsiCo. I recruit at top business schools for globally mobile talent. We offer general management “career-pathing,” and give well-rounded experiences for them to become the CEO of the food business, or the CEO of the beverage business.
For positions like Chief Financial Officer or Chief Technical Officer, it takes a lot of planning to prepare them for assignments. We rotate them through critical experiences. Also, every year, we have a leadership forum. They step out of the day to day to talk to people, and think.
5. Tell me more about developing leaders. How much do you think leadership is nature versus nurture?
Leadership comes in different forms. Some in the true sense are servant leaders. But leaders come in different forms, and the role you’re in may require different styles. The nurture piece is that you can groom a passion for it. The nature piece is, do you have something to improve upon?
6. What were some tough lessons you learned during your first years in HR?
Oh, there are so many. You have to fall down a couple times to build thick skin.
Early on, I was asked to present to the head of HR at Bausch & Lomb. I could have done a better job of preparing. I learned that you need to know your material when you’re presenting at that level. You need to be fully prepared. You can’t assume. You have to anticipate questions.
The second lesson came from having to close down a plant in Florida. Even as an HR executive, you need to have empathy for employees. How you do things says a lot about who you are as a company. That comes with experience.
The third lesson, and I’m still working on this, is that it’s OK to make mistakes and it’s OK to ask for help. By thinking you know everything is not the best way to learn.
7. How does being a TCK benefit your career?
I think we see the world differently. You assimilate a lot faster. It’s not all about the U.S. It was a gift to experience what we did growing up. Understanding cross-culturally, it’s harder to learn that if you didn’t grow up that way.
8. Is there anything about being a TCK that held you back or created challenges in your career?
No, not really. I don’t know if I’ve relied on being a TCK to help my career. It’s just who I am. It’s helped me, allowing people to recognize me for who I am.
9. TCKs often have a unique perspective on adaptability. What does that mean to you in your role at PepsiCo?
When we were young we didn’t value the differences. Now, I tell people to appreciate differences more. It’s not about being the same. In corporate environments, it would be boring if everyone were the same. And it’s too tiring to be someone you’re not.
10. What advice would you give to TCKs who want to become leaders in their field?
Being a TCK in the U.S., you can expand people’s purview. Be yourself, be genuine. Being open to opportunities that come your way. But do it for the right reasons, not just reasons you think are right. Make decisions based on intrinsic reasons, not extrinsic, then you’ll know it’s the right decision.