Name: Susan Zhai
Birthplace: Tianjin, China
Joined Meltwater: 2009, Sales Consultant, Meltwater News, Shanghai, China
Current Role: Managing Director, Beijing
Who inspires you: Chris Regester, Area Director of Meltwater News, Asia
My three words to describe Meltwater: Ambitious, Personal development, Teamwork
Susan Zhai had interned at many big name organisations on her quest to determine the right career path for her, but was so impressed with the Meltwater job advertisement that she flew from Beijing to Shanghai just for the interview.
“That recruitment advertisement really spoke to me,” Susan explains, “it was clearly an international company, offering fast-track career options and a start in sales. It was above-board and progressive. I knew where I stood from the very beginning and the company has definitely lived up to its promises. I started as a Sales Consultant in the Shanghai office in April, 2009 and less than six months later in October I was promoted to Sales Manager.”
Susan’s enthusiasm for Meltwater is even more remarkable when you learn of the top ranking companies she had worked for, including Microsoft China, and the United Nations, in the New York headquarters.
“That’s true,” Zhai confirms. “I spent quite a bit of time working and interning in different sectors including IT, journalism, PR and government while I tried to figure out what direction was right for me. Overwhelmingly however the difference between many other places I worked and Meltwater — was Meltwater’s intrinsic sense of valuing and caring for people. It’s apparent in everything they do, from the culture they foster within the organisation to the way they build client relationships with our customers and partners. But on a personal level I was impressed from day one at the level of opportunities they offer young people in terms of career growth and personal skill building. It’s something that you can fully appreciate when you have experienced so many other companies who do not have such a caring and innovative approach.”
A caring environment
Susan goes on to discuss how that level of ‘care’ fostered within the organisation was instrumental in helping her face one of her own challenges.
“I don’t think it matters where you work,” Susan says, “you will always encounter some people whose attitudes or personalities don’t align with your own standards or ways of doing things. Sometimes this can be a negative thing, particularly if ‘attitude’ comes into play … but sometimes it’s just about people who don’t get along well — a fact of life. I faced such a challenge when I was promoted to Sales Manager in the Shanghai office, and in hindsight I realise that I spent a lot of time trying to work out how to overall avoid the problem, by placating the people in question —because I thought my role was to ensure smooth sailing. But I’m the first to admit that this approach just never worked.”
Susan turned her attention to the network of successful Meltwater Managers throughout the Asian region to ask for support. She was overwhelmed by the feedback and encouragement she received.
“The level of care and trouble that these people went to in order to assist me was phenomenal. Not only did they email and call with suggestions and reassurance but my own Managing Director and Area Director arranged for me to go work at the Singapore office for a week just so I could experience a different environment and see firsthand what they were doing and how that office was being run. From that experience and all the words-of-wisdom I received from my colleagues I gained a new perspective and realised a simple but very effective lesson in management; avoiding a problem will never solve it.”
Fostering personal growth
Susan realised that by avoiding potential conflict or difficult situations, she was only in effect creating a bigger problem; one that could potentially affect the smooth operations of her office and business in the long-term.
“Facing up to the issue was the real answer,” Susan says. “And it was easy to do with the support I received. There are always issues to overcome when managing people, but they are easy to identify when you are surrounded by the kind of generous, caring and selfless people who had offered me advice and help; the people I work with at Meltwater. They taught me to remain solutions-orientated and be accepting of challenges. But I also learned the value in accepting different opinions, finding solutions and benefitting the greater good.
The right attitude
From learning valuable lessons Susan has moved from strength to strength within the company and was promoted to Managing Director of the Beijing office in April 2011.
“I received that promotion on the first day of April — April fool’s day,” Susan says with a laugh, “exactly two years after joining the company. That’s two promotions within two years. I think I am living proof that Meltwater live up to their promises of speed-tracked career options and international travel.”
“It’s funny,” Susan continues candidly, “I wasn’t sure about the company before I had joined; but the representatives at my interview were warm, upfront and open about any questions we had and, to me, that showed the organisation had integrity. In my time at Meltwater I can see that the company takes every opportunity to reflect on what and who is right for the organisation. This is a constant process of evolution, because people change all the time, but by and large I’ve noticed that the people with a positive outlook and perspective do very well at Meltwater; people who are smart and who want to be challenged, people who are ambitious — but not self-centred, are those who I see rapidly rising and being given amazing opportunities within the company all the time.
And amazing opportunities seem to include lots of exciting travel.
“Yes!” Susan says. “I really enjoy travelling, I think it’s part of my heritage as I was born in Tianjin, one of China’s busiest ports; so working for Meltwater with its opportunities for international travel is like a dream come true. For the 2010 Meltwater Kick-off we went to Las Vegas where we got to not onlytake part in educational workshops, hear from our CEO about our growth and future plans, but also have fun in this crazy-wonderful US city. And, of course, it was a great opportunity to meet many Meltwater employees from all over the globe and chat, compare notes and discuss different ways of tackling problems and finding solutions for our clients. We are all working hard together in an organisation that honestly gives back to us in terms of fun opportunities, mentoring and the type of learning that shapes our careers. And that kind of caring culture is something to be very proud of.”