Career Tips from Three Samsung Leaders
Vision, integrity, decisiveness, empathy, resilience. These qualities and more are the marks of an effective leader. Recently, Samsung leaders across the company spoke to employees about their professional journeys and shared tips on career advancement. Each talk has been an engaging blend of personal and professional storytelling, in which leaders openly shared their family photos along with key moments in their career. Below are highlights from Mai Zazueta, Mobile Experience, Nick DiPonzio, People Team, and Alok Shah, Networks Business.
Mai Zazueta: Make Yourself Memorable and Get to Know Someone Outside of Your Team
“How will you make yourself memorable?” asked Mai Zazueta, Vice President of Mobile Experience, Retail Sales. “What’s your why? What are your passions? Do you know why you should be heard at the table?”
Mai, who will be celebrating 10 years at Samsung this December, doesn’t have trouble answering those questions for herself. Speaking to employees, she encouraged everyone in the crowd to work on their elevator pitch. “Don’t just sit in a meeting. Make sure your voice is heard,” she advised.
In an earlier interview, she made an even bolder suggestion, to “dance like no one is watching,” and free yourself from judgment and fear. “As an Asian woman, I have always had to be fearless and resourceful to be seen and heard,” she said.
Her gumption may have grown from her wide range of experiences. Throughout her near-decade at Samsung, Mai has tackled many aspects of Samsung’s sales organization, from opening new Samsung stores to attending tradeshows to supporting field sales teams during COVID-19. She’s also been trained from an early age to put herself out there. As a child of a military family, she moved constantly while growing up and had to be resilient to make new friends. Throughout it all, she’s come to know the value of making a memorable impression and getting to know people through informal interactions.
“A lot of people are too linear when it comes to networking,” she said. “They think they should network with their boss or another leader who can help with career advancement opportunities. Or they go on LinkedIn. But networking to me is around informal opportunities. It’s less linear.”
She encouraged everyone to think about what gets them excited about work. Then talk about that with other people. “Please find someone you don’t know,” said Mai. “Introduce yourself, walk around the building for five minutes. Because it’s not always about immediate co-workers — a person you get to know informally can be a resource.”
Nick DiPonzio: Choose to be Optimistic
Nick DiPonzio, Vice President of the People Team, thanked employees for their resilience the past few years and being nimble through workplace changes. Having grown up in an Italian-Canadian family with immigrant grandparents who fled the war, Nick knows a thing or two about resilience. He spoke fondly of his childhood and the life lessons he learned from working for his mechanic father as early as 12 years old. He recalled how one evening after a long day at the shop, he didn’t express enough gratitude for the family dinner. His father looked at him and barked, “You’re fired!”
The next day, the young Nick chose to sleep in late, and his father scolded him for not going to work. “Samsung is easy compared to working for my father,” he said with a laugh. “My dad was all about the work ethic, and putting in the effort every single day.”
Nick admitted that when he made the move to the U.S. from Canada a decade ago, he was “arrogant.” The office in Ontario was much smaller — Samsung Canada employs 500 people throughout the country — and he thought he “knew everything.” But he got his comeuppance after he moved to the Samsung’s North American headquarters in New Jersey. “I didn’t appreciate the difference of opinions back then,” he paused. “You have to respect differences of opinion if you want to succeed.” It’s essential to good teamwork, and it’s how inclusion becomes a daily practice and not just a corporate motto.
Closing out his talk, Nick emphasized the importance of being optimistic, and making the choice to be happy. “You go through highs and lows, and it’s in those valleys where you find out who you truly are,” he said.
Perhaps it’s the same resilience that he observed in his father, but he pushes himself to show up even when he’s feeling down. “Sometimes I think it’s going to be a bad day, but then I drive in, and once my foot hits the floor from the elevator, it’s 100 percent. And it turns out to be not a bad day after all.”
Alok Shah: Give People the Benefit of the Doubt
Alok Shah, Vice President of Strategy, Business Development & Marketing for the Networks Business, told employees about his family — his parents, who came from India, settled down in Florida because the warm climate reminded them of home.
He then presented a saying that he takes to heart: “Luck favors the prepared.” In a fast-moving environment like Samsung, it’s critical to predict questions and requests and get ahead of them. “Take the time to think about what folks are going to ask, because then you can prepare the data and have the answers ready. You won’t predict all of the questions, but you’ll get a lot of them and it will save a great deal of time.”
He also advised giving people the benefit of the doubt. “See the good in others so that it brings out the best in you,” Alok said. “Believe that you’re trying and they’re trying. We’re all so busy, and sometimes we get things that aren’t at the level of quality you want, but people are trying, and you can work with them to get the output to a higher level.” He later said, “Our leadership is very thoughtful about treating each other with respect and being helpful to each other. It’s incumbent upon us to focus on sustaining that culture. And that’s one of the reasons I’ve been at Samsung for 12 years.”
Alok, who holds a Master’s in Electrical Engineering from MIT, admitted that earlier on in his career when he was working for a telecom startup, he realized he wasn’t the most capable engineer in the room. “But I could help out in other ways,” he said. “I started asking how I could contribute to other teams.” This shift led him to move into product management and marketing. His engineering background gave him valuable insights, because “understanding the fundamental technology is always helpful.”
Because of his own career trajectory, Alok encourages others to be comfortable with being uncomfortable. “It’s good to dive into new things. Look for roles that are a little out of the usual, where you might not know everything,” he said. “And remember that the grass is brown everywhere. No job is perfect. You want to find the ones where there the pluses outweigh the minuses. But jump into something uncomfortable, where there’s room to stretch and learn.”