CEO iProspect, Asia Pacific
"I don’t think there’s ever just one important decision. It’s life. You’re always making decisions along the way and most are important. Some you make more wisely than the others, but you learn from each. I view everything through that lens."
What is the most surprising thing about you that most people don’t know?
It’s a tough one. There is probably one thing I am not so open about, except with very close friends. Many people know I’ve lived in several countries, France, UK, Ukraine, Thailand, Japan and now Singapore. It all seems adventurous and glamorous; for me it’s a struggle, a struggle of being a nomad, a challenge to know where home really is.
What are the most important decisions you made in your career?
I don’t think there’s ever just one important decision. It’s life. You’re always making decisions along the way and most are important. Some you make more wisely than the others, but you learn from each. I view everything through that lens. My approach is: "What can I take away from this?” And when I stop learning, then I know I need to do something else.
I haven't had a linear career. I worked in government, management consultancy, financial services, hospitality, tech and now advertising.
One of the important decisions I made was to go work in Ukraine with the US government in the 90s after Ukraine became independent from Russia. It was one of the most formative decisions of my life and rich with learnings on professional and personal fronts. When I came back to the US, I took a role with the management consulting company Pricewaterhouse[Coopers]. I didn’t think much of it at that time, but that role taught me business fundamentals, strategy, information technology and organization design – skills that I used in subsequent roles and continue to use today. That’s where I became skilled in change management and realized I enjoy it – today I seek out companies and positions that require change.
A key decision later in my career was to move from a senior role where I was managing 14 markets and had a P&L responsibility into a sales job at Google. I never had a sales target before and I wanted this responsibility as I perceived it critical experience for me to become a general manager. Google is the best place to learn people management. At Google you deal with very well-educated, competitive, A-type achievers with very high expectations of their managers and for their careers.
From London, I took a risk in moving to Japan where it proved incredibly challenging for me to continue my career trajectory. It forced me to learn and accept my identity outside work and from that I learnt never to be afraid to quit a job again.
Following the birth of my second child, I decided to return to a Singapore-based role with Google while my family remained in Bangkok. I was launching YouTube in the Philippines and Malaysia. I ended up commuting for over a year and a half while trying to mother and raise two very young children, a move which stretched my work-life balance to the limits. I had no life; I was on planes all the time. Life has a way of teaching us what we need to learn. This taught me to listen better to my intuition and body. I knew I wasn’t thriving professionally, personally, nor health-wise.
What will be the most valuable skill for your profession in the next 3 years?
I would always say EQ [Emotional Quotient] is the most important skill. Of course, in technology and digital, you require a domain expertise as specialism differentiates you. If you’re in a role like mine, where you’re building a business, you need to understand the needs of the people in your organisation; you require a grasp of the market – consumers, technology, broader business challenges in order to service your clients. Building strong relationships is critical, particularly when the times are hard for the industry or the company.
In digital, the pace of change is constant and it’s challenging to predict which changes are significant versus just noise. And you also can’t know everything. But you need curiosity, and the know-how to focus and digest information.
Tell us about your worst professional mistake and how did you overcome it?
My worst professional mistake was to think I could manage everything. It was a three-year personal and professional journey to increase my comfort in asking people for help and realize asking for help is not a weakness.
What’s your biggest ambition now?
To protect iProspect as the number one performance marketing agency in Asia. My ambition is to grow and diversify our product offering, attract the industry’s top talent, create an amazing team and do valued work for our clients. And of course, to be the best parent I can to my two children.
Can you recommend any recent books that have influenced or changed the way you work?
Mindset by Carol Dweck. It’s not just interesting, it changed how I work and parent. It changed how I think about and live my life. She talks about two mindsets: fixed versus growth. There’s a whole chapter about businesses and success metrics for those with fixed vs. growth mindsets. It is less about innate intelligence and output and more about learning and growing. When it comes to how to keep innovation in your team or how, as a parent, to instill life-long learning in your kids, it’s all in that book.
What talks such as TED or podcasts do you listen to?
I am fascinated about neuroscience and how the brain works. One that I really like is by Jill Bolte Taylor called “My stroke of insight”. I also read her book which is great. But these days it is TED versus mindfulness and I'll choose to meditate if I have 15 minutes of spare time.
What industry columnists, blogs or influencers should we bookmark right now?
I love Benedict Evans newsletter on what’s happening in the tech space. I like to read Longreads.com, they have an eclectic mix of articles and BrainPickings by Maria Pavlova, the School of Life on developing emotional intelligence. Another one that I was recommended by my executive coach is short films by Nic Askew, they are pretty powerful.
What are you going to learn in the year ahead?
Professionally, I am learning about advertising agencies at a deeper level. Now that I am on the inside, I am thinking about iProspect as a brand and where to play or not play. I am learning to motivate different types of people. As I follow in the footsteps of someone who has done an incredible job, I am learning how to carve my own path as leader.
I am part of the Female Founders organization and I am advising Imagin8ors, a tech startup in the education space - both provide much fulfilment outside my day job.
Learn more about Joanna Catalano on Linkedin