In the late 1960s, Tzi-Kei Wong's mother escaped mainland China by swimming for several hours to Hong Kong. There she met Wong's father. They eventually got married and immigrated to the US. "Grounded in my roots as a daughter to immigrant parents, I learned from them the importance of freedom and opportunity," Wong told The Software Report.
She grew up watching her parents work tirelessly as a waiter and seamstress. Their financial burdens "imparted in me a greater sense of work ethic and drive." This led Wong to make a promise to herself never to endure the same struggles— and she kept it.
Today, Wong is the VP of Product at Newscred, the global leader for enterprise content marketing platforms. The woman we see today is incredibly accomplished, but the road to success was paved with its own set of tests.
From the beginning things were tough. Wong received rejection letters from "4 out of 4 Universities of California." Admittedly, she wasn't a great standardized tester but she refused to accept that this was an accurate representation of her potential. Instead of wallowing, Wong worked hard at community college and after achieving perfect grades, was accepted to UC Berkley. Graduating with a Bachelor of Science Degree in Industrial Engineering and Operations Research, Wong would soon be on her way to a career she had hoped for since watching her mother sew garments in the garage of their San Francisco home.
Starting at IBM, Wong assisted global logistics and supply chain operations and took from this experience the importance of 'kaizen.' Kaizen is the Japanese word for 'improvement,' and refers to business activities that continuously improve all functions and involve all employees from the CEO to the assembly line workers. Wong grabbed hold of this concept and "unlocked new levels of operational efficiencies in a vast opaque network of complexity."
At the heart of what drives Wong, no matter where she works, is her thirst for knowledge. In speaking with her it's clear that from each of her positions including stints at Oracle, Business Objects, SAP, Responsys, BrightEdge, and Percolate she takes away an important lesson.
But if you ask Wong what her best attributes are to driving success she'll tell you it’s integrity and authenticity. "I believe leaders have to be honest with themselves — the good and the bad. For me, this requires obsessing about what's the worst that could happen, and how do you plan around those assumptions," said Wong. By planning you build confidence and with confidence comes conviction."
Tenacity is a strong tenet of this industry thought leader's style. Even upon joining NewsCred in 2018, Wong was forced to call upon her resilience.
"When I first joined NewsCred, the product organization was very lean — 2 new product managers, one senior product designer, and two junior designers. We had to support seven development squads distributed in NYC and Dhaka, with a timezone of 11 hours apart," she admits. In this situation, others may have been tempted to focus on product strategy and the market. Instead, Wong invested time into evaluating operations, the mix of skills of her team, and the micro-culture.
This turned out to be the key to NewsCred's upward momentum. The team in Dhaka was diligent, "but they lacked the product leadership and direction to build the right experiences." Due to the time difference, teams were taking calls between 11 pm and 3 am - and sometimes even at 5:30 am - putting workers at risk of burn out.
"To turn this around, we devised a new methodology for product managers. We split the org into outbound versus inbound product management, where the outbound PMs reside closest to the customers and gather feedback into our roadmap and partnered with the inbound PMs out of Dhaka to prioritize stories for every sprint. This experiment took several iterations to establish a more effective operating model," Wong explains.
All good things take time. After three quarters of trial and error, NewsCred successfully scaled the product organization from five to 13 members who operated "at a near 24x7 cadence." The result was more significant innovation and velocity, causing "an upward swing in market traction as measured by ARR, adoption, and retention."
Wong prefaces all this with an adage that encapsulates her leadership style: "Success is a bad teacher and breeds complacency."
But it isn't all work and no play for the executive. Wong takes time to read, explore her new surroundings in New York City, and recharge.
"I love trail running," she confesses. "My favorite trails are mainly in North California: Muir Woods & Steep Ravine to Stinson Beach, Marin Headlines, and Sweeny Ridge Trail." However, her recent move makes it a little harder to enjoy her pastime. "I moved to New York not long ago, so I'm still trying to get used to running through the trails out here and not get bitten by a tick!"