#LadiesWhoLead Session Three - Davina Chang

SFive Consulting is excited to announce the launch of our "#LadiesWhoLead in Property Management" series. Our goal is to help our clients, colleagues and followers gain insight on career paths and showcase stories that will empower our future generation. This will be the place to stop if you are also just looking for inspiration from female leadership. These ladies are paving the way and their stories are too good not to share!

This series is hosted and written by SFive's contributing writer, Yardayna Ben-Simon.

Meet our guest: Davina Chang

Title: Chief Marketing Officer

Company: AJAN Management

Currently Reading: Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup by John Carreyrou

Question 1: Tell me a little bit about your current position? What was your path leading up to your current position?

Answer 1:

I’m currently running the marketing at AJAN Management, which is a Property Management company started by Sam Abazari, who I had met at the MBA program HEC Paris. I’ve never had much professional experience in marketing; my only association with it would be my personal food-based Instagram, where I do work with marketing people who reach out to influencers to launch new products and menus. It’s something I’ve always wanted to dabble in because I have this creative side that I never got to showcase in the financial world.

Fast forward into this year, I was looking for a job while finishing up my MBA, which was basically impossible in this Covid environment. It was quite serendipitous because I started reaching out to restaurants and local brands to offer help in revamping their websites to receive some freelancer income. Two days after I made that decision, Sam posted in our MBA student group-chat asking if someone could help build his website. I thought, “OK, this would be perfect for me to build up my portfolio!” While I was doing it, I was inputting content where he was discussing his values and goals of this property management company. I thought it was quite interesting, so I had a deeper chat with him, and before I knew it, I was involved full-time, learning on the job. Like I said, I didn’t have much professional experience, so there was a lot of searching on Google and reading marketing guides online, chatting with others in the Industry. This is why I always tell people AJAN is created with expertise, diversity, and serendipity.

Touching on my career in finance: I went to NYU Stern School of Business, which was 4 years of finance. I didn’t have a clear definition on what I wanted to do for my career, so I followed the “Stern” path and ended up in an Investment Bank because everyone was doing that. I went into Sales and Trading, specifically being a Fixed Income Sales for 2 years in Singapore at a Japanese Investment Bank, Nomura. That was a very fruitful experience and honestly, a great starting point to jump-start my career. For me, it wasn’t just the technical expertise that I got out of it--it was the soft skills because in Sales, you really have to know how to work with people, how to talk to different kinds of people, and how to cater to each person’s personality. That experience really helped me learn about the people-side of things. It also helped pave the way to leadership skills that I wanted to further train-up to in my MBA program, which thankfully landed me this role at AJAN.

Question 2: What has been the most significant barrier in your career?

Answer 2:

It’s my own mindset. I grew up in a fairly conservative environment in Hong Kong; while it’s international, within the family context, I was taught to be soft-spoken and didn’t really use my voice. I was also taught to strive for the absolute best. So that means that when I’m assigned a task, and I’m not confident that I can do it perfectly, I’m really hesitant about it and I start doubting myself. I also was really shy about asking others for help. It’s funny, because I know that I can deliver high-quality work, but only when I’m fully comfortable doing so. Even when I was offered the CMO position at AJAN, I initially turned it down because I thought “I don’t have the right experience, I’m not confident that I have what you’re looking for,” etc. But Sam and the rest of the team are so understanding and patient with me; they created such a supporting environment. Now, I’m more willing to venture out of my comfort zone because I know it’s a learning process for everyone. That’s something they emphasize in our weekly meetings: we’re here for you if you have any questions, and we understand that this is new. I think the people around you are a crucial aspect to help you develop personally as well.

Question 3: What is the biggest risk that you’ve taken?

Answer 3:

Stepping away from my job in finance. I was a Fixed Income Sales Associate at an Investment Bank, which basically means a really stable income and a very clear path up the corporate ladder. When I quit my job, I had no plans for an MBA--I had 0 plans. All I knew was that this was not for me. A lot of my colleagues called me crazy. Others thought it was really admirable. But even for me, I knew I was throwing away what would have been a really comfortable lifestyle to chase an unknown. I know it’s not for everyone, but in retrospect, I know it was the right decision because I value spontaneity and experiencing as much as possible from life. Whether that’s travelling to new places, backpacking solo, or even venturing into new careers and seeing what really suits me as a person.

Question 4: What are your current goals?

Answer 4:

On the professional work front, it is to learn as much as I can. Whether by speaking to other people who have been in the industry for longer, or by reading more books and articles, I can translate that to merge my creativity in order to truly showcase what AJAN represents, which is the end goal for marketing.

At the same time, finding ways to grow my personal brand as a food blogger in Paris, which is a bit more challenging compared to New York or Singapore, where English is the main language. This has definitely pushed me beyond my comfort zone to approach business owners in French. At the end of the day, I haven’t learned French faster than trying to speak it conversationally every day.

Question 5: What are you most proud of?

Answer 5:

My ability to meet and connect with new people. I love meeting new people with a variety of backgrounds. I discovered this when I traveled solo for the first time in Croatia. As someone who used to be really shy and soft-spoken, I was genuinely surprised that I was the one proactively reaching out to other travelers and sparking conversation. I met people from all walks of life. I met a local teenager studying his way into the priesthood, a woman who had just spent 12 days camping in the mountains by herself, and even someone who ended up being a colleague. That was a crazy coincidence.

I’m always happy to hear about other people’s experiences because it’s a reminder to me that there’s so much more to the world than what I’m personally exposed to, and it’s a way to learn things that I never would have expected to learn otherwise. It goes to show why schools stress the importance of networking, but to me it goes beyond exchanging name cards; it’s about building that report. I feel I’ve been able to do that and I’m really proud of it.

Question 6: Who inspires you in the industry and why?

Answer 6 :

Sam Abazari, my classmate and founder of AJAN Management. I never knew much about this industry, but during my time at HEC I saw Sam start the Real-Estate Club and invite incredible speakers. He’s one of the few examples where someone I know personally is truly passionate about the industry that they work in. For me, I was in finance before, and I couldn’t say that I loved it. But for him, you can see his eyes light up, and it’s a topic that you want to know more about after you speak to him because he’s so into it. He’s so happy to share his knowledge out of passion, and his dedication and commitment to helping others is remarkable. Without him, I wouldn’t be here right now.

Question 7: What advice would you give to the next generation of female leaders?

Answer 7:

Don’t feel the need to change yourself to become the “typical male leadership figure” just because the industry has been dominated by men so far. I think that’s going to change very soon. Time and time again, we hear these stories about women trying to sound more dominant, whether it’s by lowering their voices artificially or trying to be more assertive, which is a stereotypical “masculine” trait. Instead, learn more about yourself and figure out how you can leverage that into your leadership position. Through that, add value and lead the team. Now that schools and programs are addressing gender balance, I think there’s a shift in mindset that you don’t have to be masculine to lead a team effectively.The fact that the whole environment is trying to shift towards this balance--it’s basically women’s time to shine.

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