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Women on Top in Tech – Janet Brunckhorst, Principal Product Manager at Carbon Five

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(Women on Top in Tech is a series about Women Founders, CEOs, and Leaders in technology. It aims to amplify and bring to the fore diversity in leadership in technology.)

Here is our interview with Janet Brunckhorst, Principal Product Manager at Carbon Five. She works across product, process, and strategy to get things done.

What makes you do what you do?

There are two main things I love about what I do: working with developers to solve complex product problems and developing teams that can create successful products.

I’ve always enjoyed collaborating with developers. Cross-functional collaboration is very satisfying. You can figure out things together that you couldn’t do individually. And I’m passionate about developing strong, effective cross-functional teams. As a consultant, I get to work on a wide range of products across industries, and I get to build a new team with every project.

How did you rise in the industry you are in?

Like most people in product, my career is largely accidental. I started out as an editor at Lonely Planet but had an opportunity to join the IT team. From there I made the jump into digital, doing a combination of product and project management for B2B products. Those were the early days of mobile apps, and I spent a lot of time doing QA on different devices!

My big leap came when Lonely Planet was acquired by BBC Worldwide and we undertook a huge web relaunch project. On such a big project there are opportunities to lead no matter what your role. I was able to demonstrate my skills and flexibility, and towards the end of the project, I became Head of UX, leading the digital design team.

Why did you take on this role/start this startup?

I joined Carbon Five as a Product Manager just over three years ago. Prior to myself and one other PM joining, there was no product competency at Carbon Five, so it was up to us to define and grow the new practice. The overriding reason for me to join Carbon Five was that I knew that the people were exceptional and the culture was extremely supportive and healthy. I knew that I would be set up for success in any project I took on at Carbon Five, which helped to give me the confidence to take on the challenge of establishing the Product role.

Do you have a mentor that you look up to in your industries or did you look for one or how did that work?

I have a few informal mentors, though no formal ones. I have been very fortunate to work with several female managers and senior leaders who actively focused on my development. I also have a couple of former coworkers who I like to check in with when possible to talk about ideas I’m working on. And the Carbon Five partners are all very experienced, skilled practitioners and leaders. I know that I have amazing resources to talk over challenges of any kind.

The hardest part for me in seeking mentorship is asking busy people for their time. I’ve found it helpful to be very focused and prepared when asking for advice or coaching so I can use the time efficiently.

Now as a leader how do you spot, develop, keep, grow and support your talent?

I think this is one of the hardest things about leadership. At Carbon Five, I don’t manage a team directly, but I take a leadership role in my projects. That means that I’m focusing both on the project team (both Carbon Five and client team members) as well as my coworkers. On a project, I ensure that I’m constantly working to monitor and measure how the team is doing, and then applying a rigorous process to understand how to make improvements. Within our product team, we do peer coaching to ensure that we are supporting each other and providing feedback to our fellow product managers. We have diverse backgrounds, so whatever people’s level of “seniority”, we can all learn from each other.

We actually built a tool at Carbon Five called the Product Dartboard that we use to assess how product teams are doing. It’s helpful to have a way to pinpoint areas of focus so you can really prioritize what you need to improve.

Do you consciously or unconsciously support diversity and why?

I consciously support diversity. Partly this just aligns with my personal values. But from a business perspective, more and more research is showing that diverse teams are more successful. It’s a huge conversation in tech now, which is a good thing – the more we talk about it, the more aware people are of the issues and how we might address them. I saw Ellen Pao in conversation with Code 2040 founder Laura Weidman Powers recently, and it really helped to galvanize me into action.

What is your take on what it takes to be a great leader in your industry and as a general rule of thumb?

As outdated as it sounds, I really believe in servant leadership as a model. While I think there’s a place for visionary leaders, in my experience, they always need a sidekick who focuses on people, teams, and process. Leaders should be creating the conditions for success for individuals and teams. That means something different depending on your company, but it holds true for leaders in any industry.

Advice for others?

My advice is twofold: First, stop thinking about “hard” vs “soft” skills. It’s a false dichotomy and causes people to value “soft” skills less. You can bring as much rigor to leadership and team-building as you do to any product decision. And second, read and listen, listen and read. You can learn so much about how to be a leader by listening, not just to other leaders but to the people on their teams and yours. And as a compulsive reader, I think it’s essential to read widely in order to improve your skills. Not just business books. Some of the most insightful works on leadership and teams come from explorers, for example. Which is a great excuse to read books about Antarctica and space!

For me, the next step is to continue to build our data-driven approach to creating great product teams at Carbon Five.

Callum Connects

Mikyung Kim, TV Commercial Producer

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Mikyung Kim is a savvy producer who runs her own TV and print production business, based in Hong Kong.

What’s your story?
I am a TV commercial and print producer working with advertising agencies and brands to bring their communication needs to the screen. My background is in film production and I started my career in Hollywood working with Oscar winning directors Michel Gondry and Alejandro González Iñárritu. Before starting my own company last year to produce content directly with agencies and brands, I was with Ogilvy & Mather Hong Kong for nearly five years as the Senior Producer and Head of TV running the film production department.

What excites you most about your industry?
How it’s constantly evolving! Every day is different and it’s certainly never boring. I love that it’s a creative industry and that my job involves talking to people with creative minds on how we can bring a story on paper to life. It’s exciting that the advertising industry places high value on the creativity and effectiveness of content. I’ve produced a few commercials that creatively push the envelope with fun and sometimes wild ideas that have converted into positive brand awareness. Ever heard of KFC Finger Lickin’ Good…Nail Polish that yes, tastes like chicken? https://www.adweek.com/creativity/kfc-just-made-edible-finger-lickin-good-nail-polish-yeah-tastes-chicken-171245/

What’s your connection to Asia?
I was born in Seoul and raised in Hong Kong until graduating from high school at HKIS. I spent my university years in Boston at Emerson College and worked in Los Angeles at Anonymous Content and Partizan Entertainment. But on a brief visit back to Hong Kong in 2010, I decided to move back and continue my career here, and it was the best decision I ever made.

Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
Hong Kong is my home so it will always be my favourite city for business and for me personally. What I love about Hong Kong is that while I am based here, I can actually work with agencies and brands from anywhere in APAC. If I need to attend an important meeting, I can just hop on a quick flight easily. I spent most of 2017 working in Seoul with Korean agency Cheil and Samsung, and currently I am working with Japanese agency ADK and Toyota based in Singapore.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
“Fake it until you become it,” from Amy Cuddy’s TED talk. Worth a watch. This helped me early in my career when I felt like I was under qualified for the job I was in. I learned to fake my confidence and fake a powerful body language until I truly felt that confidence became something real. It was nerve wracking at first but it worked and now I don’t have to fake it.

Who inspires you?
My friends. Noelle who worked part time jobs while being a full time student to pay her own tuition while we were in college together. Osti who is a lawyer focused on supporting developing nations and a board member of Redress, an environmental NGO working to reduce waste in the fashion industry. Vanessa who runs a real estate company, co-owns the gym Crossfit Asphodel, started a health foods business called Quo and NGO The Keep Moving Project to promote wellness in our community. Cathy who will be the first Asian woman to direct a big budget superhero film starring Margot Robbie with Warner Bros and DC. And too many more to name!

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
5.2 million plastic bottles are thrown away in Hong Kong every day. Plastic pollution is a major issue for the environment and we as responsible citizens can do our small part by reducing our consumption of unnecessary plastic. I do mine by having a water filter at home and carrying my own reusable water bottle with me everywhere I go. I love the brand Hydroflask because the stainless steel material keeps water hot or cold for hours, so I don’t feel tempted to buy a cold water at 7-11 on those hot, humid days we have here.

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
About five years ago I purchased my very first stock and put one month’s salary into it, which at the time was a lot of money for me. Knowing how that stock has performed now, I would have put all my savings into it.

How do you unwind?
Exercise is essential in my daily life to help clear my head and de-stress. My go to is a workout at Crossfit Asphodel, running outdoors, yoga and hiking. But a glass of red wine and live music at Soiree in Soho on Sunday night works pretty well too!

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
One of the best trips I ever took was to the island of Lombok in Indonesia. Two girl friends and I did a 3 day 2 night hiking and camping trip to summit the Mount Rinjani Volcano. It was physically challenging but mentally relaxing. There was no cellphone reception, no distractions, we had the company of nature and nights with skies full of shooting stars. It was pretty magical. We then went to the Gili Islands for a few days of scuba diving, yoga and sitting on the beach doing nothing but sipping on coconuts. That was pretty relaxing too.

Everyone in business should read this book:
“Nice Girls Don’t Get the Corner Office” by Lois P. Frankel and “Lean In” by Sheryl Sandberg. Essential reads for every working woman and/or man who wants to know how to support the working women in their life.

Shameless plug for your business:
I am a TV commercial and print producer that can plug into an existing advertising agency or brand team to produce their communication needs. Many advertising agencies these days are scaling down so they have creative directors and account services but may not have an in-house producer, so I can fill that gap by becoming a part of the existing agency team. For brands that want to produce content directly without involving an agency, I can also bridge the gap by bringing my production knowledge in-house and working as part of the marketing/brand team and liaising with the other departments in the company such as product team and ecomm.

How can people connect with you?
They can email me at [email protected]
or visit my website at mkimproducer.com

This interview is part of the ‘Callum Connect’ series of more than 500 interviews

Callum Laing is an entrepreneur and investor based in Singapore. He has previously started,
built and sold half a dozen businesses and is now a Partner at Unity-Group Private Equity and Co-Founder of The Marketing Group PLC. He is the author two best selling books ‘Progressive Partnerships’ and ‘Agglomerate’.

Connect with Callum here:
twitter.com/laingcallum
linkedin.com/in/callumlaing
Download free copies of his books here: www.callumlaing.com

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Callum Connects

Renne Ballard, Owner of Renée Ballard Communications

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Renne Ballard runs a social media agency working with business women, helping them find their business’s voice.

What’s your story?
I began my career in PR/communications ten years ago in Australia, after arriving home from two years in Dubai. In Dubai I was working for Emirates Airlines as a flight attendant and flying around the world non-stop for two years. This really sparked my interest for how people communicate. I started out as a community manager for an online advertising company, then moved into the corporate world of outdoor advertising, managing internal and external PR and communications. After having a baby four years ago, I decided to leave the safety net of corporate, and stride out on my own. I now run a social media agency and I specialise in working with business women, helping to find their business’ voice so they can use social media to achieve their business goals.

What excites you most about your industry?
I love the open accessibility online provides. It’s free for businesses to get online and connect with their target audience. Twenty years ago, advertising and PR was insanely expensive and quite elitist, but through incredible platforms like Facebook or Twitter, any business can connect with who is looking for their product/solution. Social media is particularly effective for small businesses because they have the edge when it comes to authenticity and a clear voice.

What’s your connection to Asia?
I’m in Hong Kong because I’m a trailing spouse. I know it’s such a daggy term, but I love it, it makes me sound so dedicated to my husband! Alas, we came to Hong Kong for my husband’s work. He’s the Design Director of Asia for an international retail design agency. We’ve been here for almost two years and it’s been a huge learning curve in terms of business and culture. We love the fast-paced nature of Hong Kong and the fact that everything is open late – it suits me perfectly because I’m nocturnal.

Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
That’s easy, Hong Kong. It’s the perfect blend of start-ups and mothership-sized institutions. I love the small business side, watching the collaborations between workshare spaces with galleries, networking groups and foodies; it’s a hothouse of creative partnerships here.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
When you’re are feeling scared about your next step, lean in and feel the difference. Is it fear mixed with excitement? Or fear mixed with dread? Always go with the former and cut loose the latter.

Who inspires you?
I love Tamara Mellon (Jimmy Choo founder). She has created multiple empires and she never stops trying new business models and pushing her limits. It helps that I love shoes too.

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
I just turned 40 years old. At best, I’m probably halfway through my life. It makes me constantly question, “Am I where I want to be?”

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
I would have asked more questions to the people I looked up to, and listened less to the people telling me I won’t achieve my goals.

How do you unwind?
In this day and age, it’s scandalous to say, but I love sunbaking. At any chance, you’ll find me poolside, laying in the sun in a trance-like state.

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
Northern Danang in Vietnam. We were there at Christmas, at the foot of the mountains and it was beautiful. Heaps of wildlife and jungles and enough five star resorts that I was never parched once.

Everyone in business should read this book:
‘The E Myth’ by Michael Gerber. It’s an oldie but a goodie because it succinctly outlines how to transition from a one person operation to a global business like McDonalds. Once you see how important systems and processes are, you can recognise shambolic companies a mile off.

Shameless plug for your business:
Renée Ballard Communications is a social media agency that works with business women who are ready to make social media work for them. We create effective, powerful social media strategies that are tailored to the people who will be breathing life into them. We hand on heart promise to never use annoying, marketing buzzwords and that we value laughter above everything else.

How can people connect with you?
[email protected] or www.reneeballard.com or +85296670115

Twitter handle?
@ballard_comms

This interview is part of the ‘Callum Connect’ series of more than 500 interviews

Callum Laing is an entrepreneur and investor based in Singapore. He has previously started,
built and sold half a dozen businesses and is now a Partner at Unity-Group Private Equity and Co-Founder of The Marketing Group PLC. He is the author two best selling books ‘Progressive Partnerships’ and ‘Agglomerate’.

Connect with Callum here:
twitter.com/laingcallum
linkedin.com/in/callumlaing
Download free copies of his books here: www.callumlaing.com

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