Season 2 - Ep. 14 | Bridging Cultures & Building Brands: Marketing CEO Emily Chang Masters Both

Redefiners Podcast
Hosted By:
August 10, 2022 | 36 min
Our guest
Emily Chang, CEO of McCann World Group China

“I think what keeps you going is the most important question, because if what keeps you going is somebody else's gratitude, you may never get started.”

Emily Chang is a master bridge builder, and it’s made her a wildly successful leader in the US and in Asia. As the CEO of McCann World Group China, she bridges US and Chinese cultures to establish brands that are thriving, global, and remarkably agile. In this podcast, we talk about the differences between the two markets, and how brands can succeed in the notoriously challenging Chinese market. We’ll also talk about another kind of bridge—between people—and how Emily literally opens her home to those in need and how that led her to the concept of social legacy, the topic of her bestselling book, Spare Room.

There’s a lot to learn from this leader who, prior to McCann, was a top exec at Starbucks China, InterContinental Hotels Group China, Procter & Gamble, and Apple. We’ll also discuss her model of using head, heart, and soul to choose your next role, and how she creates capacity and takes control of her time—perhaps the most valuable commodity of all.

Here’s a taste of what you’ll hear from Emily in this episode, in her words (edited for length and clarity):

Emily’s Redefiner Moment: Creating kibun

There was a young man named Jaesin from South Korea who was staying with us. One night he sat back after dinner and said, "This house, good kibun.” My husband is Korean, so he kind of nodded. He defined kibun as “comfort for the spirit.”

That was my defining moment because I felt I had the spare room as my purpose—my social legacy. But it's not about the room. The room is only a space. What I want to do is create comfort for the spirit. That's something that so beautifully transcends from home to work.

Comfort for the spirit at work means you walk in and you don't feel anxiety. You don't worry about your schedule. In fact, you go, "I'm so glad to be here. I get to be myself and I know that I am loved and valued for exactly who I am." /p>

On understanding the Chinese market

The first thing is to redefine failure. In China, there's a very, very thin line between failure and learning. In the Western world where I grew up, in 11 years at Proctor and Gamble, we set clear milestones. If we don't prove success at milestone A we do not proceed to milestone B. So by the time we put something in the market, we have a very high likelihood of success.

I think the Chinese mindset is flipped. It is, "Let's get something in market as soon as possible. It's not going to be great. We'll find things that are completely broken, that don't work, but that is the best way to iterate and learn as fast as possible." Where Western culture might deem something a failure, the Chinese will say, "Well, that was a very good way to learn quickly."

On her book, Spare Room: Define Your Social Legacy to Live a More Intentional Life and Lead with Authentic Purpose

We've had 17 kids now over the last 23 years staying in our spare room. Some of these kids have extraordinary stories. I wanted to share those stories because they've changed our lives and the way we look at the world around us.

As I started to interrogate it, I realized people fall in one of two camps. You either know your Offer—what are my resources, my skills, my experience that I can bring to the table—but you may not know where you want to direct them. Or you generally know your Offense—the thing that's really calling to you—but you don't know what you want to do about it.

If you can define your Offer—whether that’s what you want in your career, what you want to do in this job that you have right now—you define your Offer and your Offense. That intersection, the social legacy, is what you want to leave behind.

On creating “micro moments” to manage your energy

Think about yourself in terms of flex capacity. If you're working at 100% and then when suddenly something requires 110, you're tapped out. You'll burn yourself out like that. So operationally, how do you build that space? How do you create, craft, force that buffer into your schedule? It comes from, in my view, micro moments. Instead of 60-minute meetings, book 55. If you build that in, you now give yourself five minutes for biology or to finish that meeting, push it aside, and start fresh in the next meeting, which also makes each of the following meetings more effective.

On her most recent leadership lesson

You should expect to be wrong. We're so keen on creating a veneer of looking like we're right, or that we know better, or that people can trust us—but who's always right? Actually, when you're wrong and you acknowledge and you learn from it, you earn deeper trust because people then understand you're real and they're coming along with you for the journey.



Emily Chang
CEO of McCann World Group China

Having catalyzed a turnaround for McCann World Group China in just over a year, Emily Chang is a true changemaker whose drive for O+O branded experiences and cross-cultural team leadership have delivered record-high results for the agency.

Emily has always positioned creativity and innovation at the center of her business strategy, even in her first two decades leading client-side businesses. So, when she joined McCann World Group China as CEO in Sep 2020, Emily was thrilled to help brands deliver delightful, integrated customer experiences that earn a meaningful role in people’s lives. When working as the CMO for Starbucks China, Emily was responsible for marketing, sales, loyalty, customer engagement, and the digital ecosystem (ecommerce, loyalty, payments, partnerships). Her teams tripled digital tender across stores, helped open the Starbucks Shanghai Roastery, and launched the brand’s delivery program.

Before joining Starbucks, Emily was Chief Commercial Officer for InterContinental Hotels Group, Greater China, where she led all commercial functions across Greater China. Looking after 320+ hotels and a team of 5,200 Sales & Marketing members, Emily spearheaded the market share turnaround of six hotel brands and the contribution mix of three loyalty programs. She also invested in new BI and Digital capabilities and differentiated the group with a focus on Branded Guest Experiences. Prior to IHG, Emily worked for a combined 15 years at Procter & Gamble and Apple.

As a champion of DE&I, she is committed to creating a positive culture of belonging at work and in fact, sees Conscious Inclusion as a core business strategy. Emily injects a ‘positive spirit’ in the workplace, prioritizing wellness, fun and active engagement. Among other significant improvements, McCann has seen “I see opportunity for potential growth” increase +88% and “My well-being is cared for” improve +70% over the last three bi-annual surveys.

In 2022, Emily was awarded “Women To Watch Greater China” by Campaign Asia, one of the most prestigious recognitions in the marketing & advertising industry. She also contributes time to support the industry’s development by delivering lectures like at Tsinghua University, AmCham, and FBIF, and judging awards like New York Festivals AME Awards. Emily sits on the board of SOS Children’s Villages and recently published a best-selling book called “The Spare Room,” also the topic of her first TEDx Talk. She enjoys spending time with Minki, her husband of 22 years, Laini, her thirteen-year-old daughter, Holly Berry their rescue dog, and Scarlett the pygmy hedgehog.


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