When Fiona Lian-Ying Foxon graduated from university in 2006, she was offered a corporate job with one of the world’s leading retail companies. But instead of accepting it, she asked for a one-year deferment so she could follow her heart to Asia and volunteer with an organization that helps develop entrepreneurship in rural China. She is now the Asia Pacific regional sales and marketing manager overseeing the Hong Kong operations of Quintessentially, a private members’ club with a 24-hour global concierge service.
1. Where did you grow up?
I was born in Singapore, and grew up in Manila, New Jersey, Hong Kong, Maryland and Taipei. I went to the University of Virginia (UVA) and spent the summer months in Taipei, Atlanta, Beijing and Jakarta. I moved to Hong Kong in the fall of 2006 and have been there ever since.
2. How did you get to where you are now?
I completed my undergraduate degree in East Asian Studies and Commerce from the McIntire School of Commerce at UVA. After graduating, I had an incredible job offer to stay in the U.S. with one of the world’s leading fast moving consumer goods companies, which would have set me up for a nice clear path up the corporate ladder.
But in my heart, I knew my calling lay elsewhere. I decided not to rush into the decision and instead, asked for a one-year deferment to travel to China and volunteer with a non-profit, Ventures in Development, which was in its fledgling start-up stage. Our mission was to incubate social enterprise projects in Greater China.
Starting up a business is challenging, but setting up a non-profit in China with multiple subsidiary businesses was an incredible opportunity. One day I was running a yak cheese factory in Yunnan province, the next, developing the website, and another week traveling to trade shows to promote our incredible products and story.
3. When did you first decide that you wanted to enter your chosen career field?
I’m still deciding my career. I know that I love people, culture, traveling and business. I love sales and marketing and the strategic vision necessary for a well-crafted and executed growth story. At Ventures in Development, I enjoyed setting up businesses that were making a direct impact on the local communities through sustainable development. I have since taken that love for sales and marketing to Quintessentially, a luxury concierge service.
4. What does your typical day entail?
It always starts with a quick scroll through the Blackberry in the morning, followed by some phone calls to check in with my Greater China and APAC Regional teams, usually more emails, with a meeting here and there, and lots of mint and green tea. As a sales and marketing manager, it’s important for me to be across our monthly revenue targets to ensure the teams are working hard to not just meet, but also exceed those goals. I also travel regularly, which I really enjoy as I get to see the people I work with face-to-face. No matter how digitally savvy the world gets, there is no substitution for some quality face time.
5. How did growing up globally benefit your career?
Moving every three or four years gave me the confidence and skills set to work across different cultures and make the most out of challenging situations. Uprooting every so often put my brother and I outside of the well-entrenched social circles so we could jump right in and make incredible friends around the globe.
Growing up between the West and East Asia also means that I identify strongly with elements of both cultures, and can easily navigate between both. In a place like Hong Kong, where doing business involves the hard skill knowledge but more importantly, the soft skills and cultural nuances, it has been an incredible asset to me.
6. Is there anything about being a TCK that held you back in your career?
I actually used my background as a TCK to short-list the types of careers that I wanted to pursue. For a long time, I wanted to be a lawyer, but ruled that out after realizing that I would be bound to one geographic location for a significant period of time. I decided that the life of an international businesswoman was for me instead! I suppose that the biggest challenge for me has been to think about where I geographically want to be long term, and where to call home. For now it’s Hong Kong, but who knows where it might be next year.
7. What advice would you give to TCKs who want to pursue a career in your fields?
For a career in the non-profit world, you have to get out there and get your hands dirty. There is absolutely no point to be in the international development world if you can’t rough it, or don’t want to work directly with the local communities. You also need to be realistic about your financial expectations, as you will never earn as much as your private sector counter parts, but their lives will never be as fulfilling either!
8. What about for the private sector?
For a career in the hospitality industry, you have to have impeccable interpersonal skills, a curiosity for people and cultures, patience and a desire to help others. It sounds terribly superficial, but it’s also so important to be presentable and positive. No matter how crappy your day has been, when you’re at work, you need to be switched on and happy.
9. What do you think are some of the biggest misconceptions that the public has about what your job entails?
When I tell people about my job, people always gush and say they wish they could work at Quintessentially. They say it must be so much fun – and really, it is. But of course, a lot goes on behind the scenes to ensure that the glitz and glamour go off without a hitch, and that’s usually due to a lot of hard work by our front line staff, endless hours of marketing and prep work and even more hours of follow up. It’s all worth it in the end.
10. What’s the best part about your job?
Globally, we have more than 60 offices that mean that anywhere I go, I always have colleagues to learn from and friends who welcome me to their hometowns with open arms.