My name is Janice Won and I am the founder of The WON Principles, an executive coaching and consulting practice. I am also the current president of the Asian Women Leadership Network which I co-founded. The three words that I would use to describe myself, as I’ve also been called them by others, would be an optimist, a strategist, and a collaborator.
Now what do I want my legacy to be? I love this Jackie Robinson quote, “A life is not important except in the impact on other lives.” That’s the guiding principle of my life. I want my legacy to be remembered as someone who’s always present for others when they’re going through the crossroads of change and through difficult situations and times. I am there to advocate, support and help the individual and the organization succeed whether personally or professionally.
Janice Won Career Journey
My rather eclectic career journey spans decades. I had a career in the public sector, in the corporate sector, in the non-profit sector and currently, in entrepreneurship. I graduated from Boston University and came back to New York City and when I did, I didn’t have a job. What I did was that I went to the now-called, Chinese-American Planning Council’s Workforce Services Division, which assisted me in finding my first professional job.
My first job was a civil rights investigator with the New York State Division of Human Rights. I investigated discrimination complaints in employment, housing, and public accommodation. That role really stimulated my interest in human resources. Moving on from there, when I outgrew that, I landed a role where I was recruited by the then-called Chemical Bank. I joined the litigation section of the legal department and worked on discrimination cases internally. I worked with legal counsel to address those complaints and did that for a number of years. I was also the liaison between legal counsel and the human resource community and, as new legislation emerged during those years, I helped the human resource community transform regulations into policies, procedures and practices.
My real goal was to get into the human resources function — so it wasn’t a straight path. What had happened was that I did a lot of networking and had a lot of internal conversations and finally, someone gave me a break. They hired me as a human resources manager for a number of the corporate staff functions. It was in the day of corporate downsizing so I worked with key executives to reshape organizations and put the right people in the right jobs. Right-sizing organizations was something I spent a lot of time doing. Though, the really fun part of the job was MBA recruiting. I was charged with MBA recruiting for ten controllers across multiple divisions. That was very exciting to be able to be the first to transform a recruiting function so that resources could be shared across the organization. Then the mergers happened. For 13 years of my 20+ year career at the bank, through four successive mergers, I had the opportunity to really solve problems, take leadership roles, and lead projects that would transform the human resources industry in banking for all of Wall Street.
So those opportunities really opened up. In fact, early in the first merger I was the first workforce diversity manager. From there, I gained more responsibility for developing policies and training programs for employees. This really had an impact on creating a very positive workplace culture. But the really enjoyable part along the way was creating a framework for employee networks. There were no employee networks at the time but I worked with a team of people to create a framework for the bank. Then I had the pleasure and privilege of co-founding the Asian Network and growing that to 1,200 people across the company over a number of years. That’s 1,200 Asian-Americans in probably ten cities. In addition to that, there was also co-founding of the Women of Color network, the first one of Wall Street. That gave me the opportunity to be the architect of professional development strategies for both of those networks. That really piqued my interest in diversity and being the advocate for underrepresented groups and anyone who did not have a voice within a growing corporate world. The company grew to 100,000 people so that was a really gratifying part of my career, developing these networks and giving people the opportunity to perform their best work and to create competitive advantage for the bank.
I made a bold decision to move into entrepreneurship in 2005. So in the beginning, I was a diversity consultant and leadership trainer and I did that for a number of years. I had partnerships with some of the best companies out there like the Future Work Institute, LEAP (Leadership Education for Asian Pacifics), the Anti-Defamation League and I took those experiences and realized that my greatest contribution is through executive coaching and working with organizations going through transformative periods. That’s when in 2009, I founded my company The WON Principles. I ventured out on my own working with corporations, government entities, and non-profits to uncover and discover hidden talent within organizations and to coach individuals through development and advancement opportunities. That’s what really is most gratifying and that’s my role and purpose.
Janice Won Top Accomplishments
The first top accomplishment of mine, I would say, is leading merger integrations through the successive banking mergers, transforming human resources practices through policy and improving the way human resources services are delivered. It’s really exciting to do that in the banking mergers where you have very little time to accomplish a lot and have a very broad impact on the future success of the bank, along with positioning it as a place where all talent is welcomed and as a place where the best would want to work. Making it at the employer of choice and shareholder of choice was absolutely worth the hard work and the trials, errors and tribulation that happened during the process.
My second accomplishment would be the formation and founding of the Asian Employee Network and growing that to 1,200 people during my banking career. It wasn’t easy but I think reaching out, reaching down, reaching across, and reaching up really helped people understand why it was important to be part of this community. What I didn’t realize was that I was actually building a community within a corporation. And so, having a group of 1,200 people and having the ears and attention of the CEO and recruiting the executive sponsor for this group who was a direct report to the CEO was one of my proudest accomplishments.
The third accomplishment I’m most proud was being selected as the interim President and CEO for the Chinese American Planning Council which is the oldest and largest Asian American social service agency in the entire United States. I was selected as the interim leader and I helped this organization move from its grassroots beginning to a modern infrastructure that serves 8,000 people daily in the Chinese American and low-income community. To me, that was one of my greatest contributions in the world.
Janice Won Background and Success
Something I talk about quite frequently is that I am Asian-American, specifically Chinese-American. I am a native New Yorker, born in Brooklyn, raised in Manhattan, and raised my family in Queens. When my immigrant father came into this country, he lived in the Bronx and he also lived in Staten Island. So essentially, I’ve touched all five of the boroughs. I am a product of public school education and really —I’m just a kid from Chinatown who broke through corporate barriers to be successful in the banking industry. That’s who I am. Being Asian-American, I think about values and I think about how those values have influenced and shaped my behaviors.
Several of those values are significant. Being family-oriented helped me lead a different way. In leading teams within the corporation, I always had a family perspective. We spent so much time at work and so I treated everyone with respect, gave people the space to contribute, share ideas, and adopt recommendations. This was a very family-oriented approach to leadership that helped people feel valued and listened to. Second, I think about the value of education. The way that the value of education played out in my life is that it gave me the intellectual curiosity to really learn about people, about organizations, and about what motivates people and organizations. If we could uncover the motivation of individuals, then we can figure out how they will do their best work and how to get there. The value of education has been very helpful as my role as a consultant. The third value is harmony. Harmony really helped me stay calm in the midst of chaos and change. Though, there’s not always harmony. So how do I work through conflict? Well, I don’t fear conflict, I strive for harmony but conflict is part of the journey. So I think that’s how being Asian-American is really an asset to the business and non-profit work and being able to traverse the cultures between the Asian part and the American part. Sometimes I’m more Asian than American, sometimes I’m more American than Asian and I can flex my style to adjust. That’s why some people call me the diplomatic coalition builder. I’m able to call out the best from diverse groups of people.
Janice Won P.O.L.I.N.G.™
With the P.O.L.I.N.G.™ principles — well, first of all, I would like to say that I am blessed to know the real Ms. Po-Ling Ng, who is an amazing role model. Having worked with her at the Chinese American Planning Council and when I read the P.O.L.I.N.G. principles, I thought that this is exactly what we all need to strive for to be successful.
The P.O.L.I.N.G.™ principles really played out when I became the interim president and CEO for the Chinese American Planning Council. The task of the organization was to identify an interim leader for the organization and that happened to be me. I was selected to come and implement the strategic plan and to really modernize the infrastructure of the organization. The actions that I took was to transform the leadership team of the organization to help talent emerge, feel valued and to really contribute in a really different way. So I transformed and created this interactive platform that gave people a voice. It wasn’t just “do what you’re told to do” and rather “let’s figure who we are and what we need to do” to solidify this reputable organization’s future. And the result of transforming these leadership structures was that the organization woke up. It was no longer feeling stagnant. It became alive. Leaders contributed, felt invigorated, the board was energized, so were the staff and so was I. Energy goes both ways. People say my enthusiasm is infectious – it goes both ways. That was the result of an organization that had a stronger brand, kept this reputation and was able to serve it constituents and not miss a beat.
How did the P.O.L.I.N.G.™ principles to play out? With its “P” for Priorities, it was very important as the interim leader to be very clear about the vision of the organization and the key things that we needed to get accomplished during this transition period. Next, with “O” for Others, it was all about helping each other succeed internally and helping me succeed. I’m helping every employee succeed and in turn, helping and empowering the community to feel valued and to be seen as an asset and not as a deficit requiring services. Third, with “L” for Lead, obviously as a leader of a very large organization, it is important to lead with vigor and with intention. I think the best leaders are those that lead with vision and execute with passion and precision. Stepping out of job descriptions is really important. Then there’s “I” for Inspire. Of course, we’re inspired by achievements of every constituent who comes. Every time they land a job, they inspire us to work harder and in turn we inspire them and give them a sense of hope especially in a climate that’s tremendously difficult for people to feel like they are real possibilities to succeed. “N” for Network comes into play with fundraising and program development. Through networking, we are able to identity new funding sources, new relationships and also to create innovative partnerships with private and educational sectors. That’s where networking becomes really crucial to an organization’s success as well as an individual’s success. We needed to take our blinders off and really look externally and not internally since we don’t know what we don’t know. And last but not least, there’s “G” for grow. As a coach, it’s my responsibility and passion to help each organization and each employee to grow and to see their potential. People didn’t realize that they were as capable as they were — so sending people to transformative leadership developmental programs really changed their outlook. People through this period of change were able to embrace change and collaborate and as a result, they grew the organization and personally grew as a professional.
Janice Won on POWER
The POWER framework is absolutely relevant to the way we manage the world of work and even our personal lives. Let me share a story of how the POWER framework worked out in my extensive corporate career.
The first letter is “P” for priorities. During the merger we needed to know what the philosophical underpinnings of the merger were. What is it that we wanted to accomplish and what were the guiding principles? You need to be absolutely clear about the vision and the purpose of the new company.
Next there is “O” for Obligations. What were my obligations as the head of workforce policy and internal consulting role? It was my obligation to create and leverage best practices and to design, implement, and communicate them throughout – from top-down to the front line. It was my obligation to make the workplace fair and respectful so everyone had an equal chance of succeeding.
“W” — is it worth my while? Absolutely! That’s what I’m all about! It’s about helping other people succeed, giving every person a chance, so I really gave it my all and then some. It was worth some of the sacrifices that I made. I probably did not pay as much attention to the family but I was balancing family with intensive merger activity – this was four mergers in thirteen years, as mergers sometimes take a while. It was absolutely worthwhile.
Was I “E”nergized by it? Absolutely. There were no shortage of problems to address and there were no limits to possibilities. We were totally unconstrained in designing innovative programs and at the time, the Chase human resource practices were among the most progressive in the industry. I didn’t know that at the time, but it was energizing to create the first framework, to create the first network, to create the first call center, to create new human resource technologies and to cascade it throughout the organization across the country and globally.
Finally, there’s “R”esources. I had a team of nine people at one point. How do you accomplish all of this with nine people? Well, everyone steps out of their own job description. Since I didn’t have enough resources, I was making sure that I went out and recruited people who had influence, people who had passion, people who had knowledge, and people who cared about designing programs and policies that would work the best in the frontline. I was sitting in headquarters. I didn’t know what’s happening in the call centers. I needed people on the ground to fill those gaps. Being resourceful was absolutely critical to be successful and the resources were not only internal but they were also external. I sat on a lot of industry groups and benchmarking teams so when I picked up the phone and called one of my competitors to ask them how they did something, they would openly share it right away. Being resourceful is an important success factor.
So, I ascribe to the POWER framework.
Janice Won Challenges
I can recall that a time when my background became a challenge was during my corporate career. I was part of a team that went on an executive road show to talk about results from the Women of Color task force. We were a group of multicultural women and we were sharing the findings and recommendations from the task force work. So this was part of a larger project. I was invited to join a group of diverse women and meet with a direct report of the chairman and CEO to talk about women of color. Though, at one point, he looked me straight in the eye and said “You’re a senior vice president, so what’s the problem?” I was so stunned. I was even angry and I could feel my face getting warm. But, being the voice of reason and the calm person through the storm I used a very fact-based and quantitative response to show where glass ceilings were for Asian women and for women of color overall within the corporation. I also shared my personal journey a little bit to say, “Look I had the good fortune of having a sponsor and a mentor that gave visibility in this project.” So my hard work was visible. It wasn’t about getting mad or angry. What I realized was that there was a tremendous opportunity to educate others who didn’t really understand issues that challenged us as a group of women of color. It was a teachable moment that I took advantage of.
Janice Won Influences
There are so many people that have influenced me through my career. Just to call out a few, there’s of course my immigrant parents. My immigrant parents sacrificed a lot to give their three children, me being the youngest of three, the opportunity for the best education. My father worked six and a half days a week. He was an entrepreneur and didn’t have too much time but he did bring me donuts in the morning. Every morning, he brought me breakfast with my stay-at-home mom. My father taught me that hard work and having a work ethic was really critical. My mother was a stay-at-home mom, raising three kids and she exemplified a lot of compassion and was a very nurturing and warm person. She treated all of my friends like her own children. She was very open and helpful to family and friends. Then there’s my husband and son who I can’t say enough about. What I have to say is that they are very forgiving people for giving me the flexibility and freedom to pursue a very intensive and varied career. I am eternally grateful to them. They are sounding boards. It’s amazing what children can see and say, so I look at the world through their eyes.
In the world of work, I had this amazing boss who was a sponsor and mentor to me. His name was Claude V. Weir Jr. Esq., Dartmouth undergrad, Harvard Law School, the whole package. But what we had in common was that we were both a minority. He grew up in Staten Island, raised by a single mother. We were kids from the neighborhood with humble beginnings. Together, we were always championing policies and programs from the front line for those who had no voice in the organization. We went to bat for the little guys and girls in the organization. We were like the conscience of the organization. He inspired me and molded me as a professional. I have a lot to be grateful for.
There was also this lawyer by the name of Ken Kelly, who taught me all I know about employment law. I didn’t go to law school, I went to human resources but I really learned to analyze things from a legal and compliance perspective which was a great foundation for a human resources career. Then there’s my most recent boss, Jenny Low, the co-chair for the Chinese-American Planning Council. She is a very passionate, high-achieving woman who gives back so much to community. At one point, I did ask her to lead our Asian employee network at the bank we worked at together. I think through this relationship, she has taught me about strategic philanthropy and why it’s important to be involved in community in a big way. You know J.D. Hokoyama, the former president of LEAP who is a consultant and who is a strategist had also taught me a lot about Asian-Americans and different groups of Asian-Americans. There are lot of foundational people who I can go to for expertise and for advice. There’s also someone named Nelson Louis of The Ong Family Foundation who is one of the most inspirational people who also mentors on me. He was the former executive director of YMCA and also the executive officer of The Ong Foundation. So when there’s something that I don’t know, I call him and he advises and supports me in many different ways.
Organizationally, I have a partnership with: Leadership Education for Asian Pacifics; the Anti-Defamation League, which gave me very strong facilitation skills; and the Future Work Institute, a cutting edge organization which taught me how to look far into the future, to develop vision and innovative ways to working and communicating.
Janice Won Advice
The advice I would give my younger self is do something you don’t think you can do. Why do I say that? It’s important to take these career risks. It’ll help you learn and grow. You will surprise yourself because more often than not you will succeed. And if you fail, you’ll learn from your mistakes and you won’t repeat them. I never thought I could a lot of things that I did, but I just did them. Failure, in my mind, was not an option. So do something that you don’t think you can do.
Second is to just be there for other people. Form a vast network of sponsors, mentors, colleagues, friends, and families, and relentlessly help others. And some day, when you need help, they’ll be there for you and it’ll be tremendously gratifying to have that vast network that will give you the energy, the enthusiasm and a deep purpose in life.
Janice Won Call to Action Individuals
The call to action for individuals in order to help organizations make progress in diversity is to show up. Just be present and be involved. Dare to explore your own identity and how you relate to others, how you are perceived and how you perceive others. There is absolutely an individual responsibility to embrace, understand, and leverage the power of your own diversity however you see yourself. I’ve worked with Asians who don’t really feel the Asian-ness in themselves, they see other aspects and that’s okay. But you have to know who you are and develop this great sense of self-awareness.
So the individual call to action is to be involved, talk about your background, your contributions, and who you are as a person because when others get to know you they will see you as an individual. They will understand your background and we’ll have more of a productive and peaceful world. Be involved. Don’t put your head down — pick it up.
Janice Won Call to Action Organizations
In order to make progress in diversity at the organization level, organizations and their people have to remember that this is a journey. Change doesn’t happen overnight. Create plans that are inclusive of everyone. Ask the people that work within your organization what’s meaningful to them. Really listen deep and hard. Listen to what matters to clients. Why do they want to do business with you? Then you have to combine the two. So if you can leverage the power of the talent within your organization, the organization will become that much more successful. Giving people the space, the time, and the opportunity to contribute to key initiatives within your company is absolutely essential along with making sure that the right people are in the right jobs. It’s not about title, it’s about opportunity and giving people the chance to contribute ideas that can help build your business and help clients succeed as professionals and advance within the corporation. If corporations don’t do that, what’s the risk? The risk is that another 30 years from now, it’s still going to look the same. Diversity of thought and approaching things from an inclusive perspective will create more innovative services and products that will be embraced by the world.