Tiffany Choong, '14
Interviewed by Nora Peterson, '14
Tiffany Choong, '14, was born and raised in Singapore. She moved to the U.S. to attend the University of Chicago in 2006 for her undergraduate degree, and also earned her MBA from Chicago Booth in 2014. Between undergraduate and business school, she worked in investment banking in New York. After graduating from Booth, she moved back to Singapore to work at McKinsey. She is currently leading strategy and operations at Google Cloud in Singapore.
What inspired you to make to make the move from Singapore to Chicago and attend UChicago?
Moving to Chicago was the first time I'd been to the U.S. I still remember getting off the plane with two pieces of luggage and a cello, navigating to South Kimbark Avenue, finding the house key under a potted plant, and sleeping on the couch under all my winter clothing because I had no idea how to turn the heat on.
The truth is I decided to go to UChicago after I wrote the essay for the Uncommon Application. The prompt question I selected was: “Superstring theory has revolutionized speculation about the physical world by suggesting that strings play a pivotal role in the universe. Strings, however, always have explained or enriched our lives, from Theseus’s escape route from the Labyrinth, to kittens playing with balls of yarn, to the single hair that held the sword above Damocles, to the Old Norse tradition that one’s life is a thread woven into a tapestry of fate, to the beautiful sounds of the finely tuned string of a violin, to the children’s game of cat’s cradle, to the concept of stringing someone along. Use the power of string to explain the biggest or the smallest phenomenon.”
At that moment, I knew I wanted to be at a place where members of the community took deep and open discourse seriously, where individual quirks and opinions were celebrated, and where students would have the time and space to examine their values.
I've yet to find another place that captures the spontaneity of being on campus, and discovering exciting connections between disparate groups of ideas and people.
From investment banking in New York, to consulting at McKinsey in Singapore, and now working at Google, what's been most important while shifting industries among some of the most reputable companies in the world?
The ability to learn quickly and "fake it till you make it." During the interview process or initial stages of being on the job, I look for the subject matter experts who can explain core concepts and tell me how to teach myself. Don't be afraid of jumping in before you are 100% ready or knowledgeable about the subject—the fastest way to learn is to be involved. Start small, e.g., volunteering to organize follow-ups from a meeting, until you gain enough confidence to take on larger projects. Spend time watching top performers at their roles so you can figure out the core skills you need to be successful. Having them tell you what they do is not as helpful as shadowing them on the job. Always ask questions, but don't over-impose!
Also, read 10Ks. I've read through the 10Ks/annual reports of every company (and their top competitors) that I've interviewed for. It is the most helpful crash course into how the business works—challenges and risks plus opportunities—and contains a wealth of information. You should always be preemptively thinking about how you will be adding value to the new team you join.
In your current role, you oversee strategy for Google Cloud in South East Asia. What are some of the challenges of managing strategy and operations within the diverse set of countries and cultures that make up the region?
The first step is to understand the unique operating landscape and client. This involves giving up any preconceptions you have and really listening and understanding people who work in market. Once you have started getting a sense of that, the challenge in the role is being able to objectively allocate resources and being an advocate for your region to HQ.
You have to understand the goals and challenges on both sides of the table and be able to find common ground to frame the issue. One useful class I took at Chicago Booth was Negotiations with George Wu. An important takeaway was—as with any multi-round negotiation—giving up a bit now, means taking a bit more in future, and vice versa. Different things will be important to each party you engage with at different points in time; always do your research on this before going into a discussion, never assume that things are the same as the last time you interacted.
Tell us one cool thing about your job.
It is extremely rewarding to be able to help companies in emerging markets (all the way from startups to enterprises) innovate and make better business decisions from their data, and optimize their IT architecture to better serve their customers. Google in particular runs secure and high-performing infrastructure with economies of scale that supports billions of users at any one time (see here for a super cool customer story: How we helped a ride sharing company scale in Indonesia).
Have you noticed observable trends in Asia for the role of women in senior leadership roles?
Here are the qualities I have seen in successful senior women leaders in Asia:
1. Always over-prepare. Schedule rehearsals multiple times before presentations and be ready for difficult questions.
2. Speak with authority. Avoid filler words, apologizing (for no reason), and phrases like "does this make sense?" Have a clearly articulated argument, backed up with data, and welcome discussion, but don't start building consensus or conceding too soon. Remember, you have a well-backed-up point of view!
3. Have a detailed plan for projects you manage, down to the smallest detail, and always have a backup plan.
4. Build support and influence. Socialize your ideas with key stakeholders before any meetings. As far as possible, try to go in already knowing what the outcome will be.
What advice would you give to class of 2018 who are unsure what career path to take?
First, tell yourself that it's okay to not nail it the first time. I've had so many friends change jobs after 1 or 2 years out of business school. When in doubt, consider choosing something that will let you learn the most in a short period of time. People have differing opinions on what is important in a job, but lifelong learning is a very common goal.
If you were to come back to Booth as a Professor, what class would you teach?
Avoiding FOMO – How to Ruthlessly Prioritize (I've learned a lot about this since my first child has just turned 2).
What favorite book (or books) do you recommend?
A great book I read recently was The Fourth Age by Byron Reese – it has a fascinating discussion on machine consciousness and artificial life.
How can people connect with you or learn more about you?
Always happy to connect and chat at firstname.lastname@example.org and happy to answer questions about working and living in Singapore!