As a sector Vice-President with IT expertise accumulated over 25 years, Ms. Young Park provided both technical and management leadership in CGI’s consulting practice. In this interview, she shares practical tips on achieving career success that is applicable to both students and young professionals in any field. Her story is honest and relatable; her inspiration and advice to Korean-Canadian immigrant youth have practical implications.
There are many progressive, and some upward transitions involved in the corporate setting. What should the young people consider, taking the example of your current position moving forward?
Professional skills are the base. Having the business/industry knowledge and network definitely is an asset. CGI services many industry sectors: public, health care, insurance, banking, utility, telecom, and etc. Having the industry knowledge in one or more sectors and as well, developed networks in those areas are definitely strong assets for progressing through a career. Another aspect is the dedication to work while balancing personal life. I believe that you cannot progress through your career at a normal pace while doing everything others enjoy. I generally work 60-70 hours a week and I know my colleagues do, too. A secret is to find social satisfaction within professional life. Lastly, professionals need to manage corporate politics. You don’t have to be political, but you should understand the corporate politics and respond appropriately.
How do we gain the skill set of corporate politics?
I believe there is no secret method. You should leverage your basic skills such as intuitiveness and strong interpersonal skills. Then, you could learn other skills such as negotiation and effective communication. You could also learn about yourself and how to work with others through tools such Myers-Briggs or leadership training program. Other than having skills, you should understand the corporate management and network. Now with great sources such as LinkedIn, you can learn about your management team’s professional background and their network. Finding a good mentor/coach and your sponsor would definitely help. I recommend that young professionals define their values early on and let them be their professional foundation and guidance.
Many young people wonder about choosing between small companies and large companies to start their career. What is your opinion on this?
Working in small companies has its advantages. Small companies generally tend to have smaller scaled initiatives and fewer positions defined, hence the scope of each position tends to be wider than larger companies. For example, a team manager may be also a project manager and a system architect. Therefore, you have an opportunity to take a broader role and progress through the career quicker. I had a chance to work in a small private consulting company for 2 years. The business owner was an entrepreneur without any large corporate experience but had business acumen to grow the company to $20M annual revenue with multiple clients. They were facing some governance and management challenges, so I was offered a job as VP to address their IT challenges. Although I was a VP, my scope of responsibilities was much broader than other VP colleagues at large companies.
During that period, I realized that I had learned more than what I thought I learned by working at large companies for over 15 years. Subconsciously, I learned how to implement an organizational structure and governance processes, learned industry best practices and tools, took a full advantage of the strong training program, and more. Being in a large company, you learn lot more than the core technical skills you are performing at your level. These foundational elements are great assets later in your career.
Also, when working in a large company, you have greater career development/change opportunities without moving to another company. I like learning, creating new things and implementing new initiatives. Working in a large company enabled me to develop end-to-end IT management skills, work in many departments, and work in many industries.
In conclusion, there are benefits to working at small or large companies. You should understand your career objectives and career path, then pick a company that aligns to your goals.
Could you elaborate on the importance of having a mentor?
My success was mainly from having two mentors who really helped me with my career planning and increase my self-confidence when I lacked. Their sponsorship was the catalyst to my swift progression at CGI. Finding a mentor who understands you, supports you, and can pull you up as they progress through their career as well is critical to young professionals.
Would you share a word for those who struggle to see the linkage between what they study and what they want to do in their career?
First of all, students should know the field they are interested versus what their parents expects. I believe some of the popular professionals are medical doctors, university professors, lawyers, engineers, and architects. However, they may not be the right field for many students.
Secondly, students should research the field they are interested in. For each area, there are many different types of career options. For example, in IT field, there are hundreds of career paths; consulting vs operations, technical vs business, business processing vs research and development, non-management vs management, then there are industries to choose from… Universities don’t explain all of the career options. I have 2 suggestions. The first one is to enroll into a co-op program. Having hands-on experiences in corporate environments provide opportunities to validate your expectation. Also, you have an opportunity to work for a few companies and learn their culture. More importantly, in case of the co-op program for University of Waterloo, you build up to 2 years of professional experience, and that would give you the edge over other graduates with no professional experience. The second suggestion I have is to learn about the field you are studying by reaching out to a network such as JoinTheLeaders, attend free seminars, talk to alumni, etc. These steps also help you build your own professional network.
Any career aspirations when you were younger?
I was stronger in math and analytics, but I didn’t know what career options were available. High School teachers and adults around me were suggesting engineering, architecture, etc. However, one of the high school guidance councillors recommended Computer Science program at UoW. As I went through my co-op terms, I knew that I didn’t want to remain as a programmer. And I also knew that I wanted to move into management. With that objective, I balanced my training between technical and soft skills courses. When I met my 2 terrific mentors, I was encouraged and inspired to be an executive.
Could you tell us about what you do, your general role as a sector VP for CGI, for those unfamiliar with IT consulting industry?
CGI is the 7th largest independent business and IT consulting company in the world. With 31,000 professionals in 125 offices worldwide, CGI provides end-to-end IT and business services to clients to achieve their business goals. Currently, I lead the Property and Casualty (P&C) Insurance vertical for the GTA business unit in CGI. With that, I am responsible for our business growth strategy, sales, services to P&C clients across Canada, annual revenue of $100+M, and 200+ IT professionals.
How did being one of the few women in IT industry affect your career?
IT industry is quite advanced now. As a result, I believe a glass ceiling for female has been raised, or in some companies/industries, it is completely removed. There are many female CxOs in fortune 500 companies to support that fact. However, I often see female choosing to take a greater role in raising children and participating in their activities. That choice may limit their opportunities to network after-hours, limit their career options, and potentially slow their career growth. I had turned down several promotional opportunities, however, once I was focused on my career, being a female didn’t impact my career. As I progress through my career, I have been struggling with the work-life balance. Generally, sleep is what I sacrifice. I believe this is due to my appetite for work versus being a female.
How important is the relationship with people in the world of IT consulting?
Relationship absolutely is important, especially during the opportunity development phase. However, it is not the only factor that will win the business. Customers make sound business decisions based on critical business facts. All being equal, having a strong relationship with clients will tip the scale to your side. These days, especially after a few bad scandals in the public sector, everything is traceable and auditable. Most companies run through RFP (request for proposal) processes, and contracts are won based on the best price, highest value, strong track record, competencies and relationship. Hence, in the end, you need to have the fundamentals to actually win the business.
What is your definition of leadership? (e.g., what is the most important leadership trait you value?)
I believe leadership is having a vision. But more than that, it is having the capability and competence to lead a team to achieve that vision. Many people have a vision but not necessarily the capability to lead a team to achieve it.
How would you define success?
It is ultimately defined by what you want to achieve. Some people measure their success by their career status, others may measure it by their wealth, and so on. For me, I define my success as the amount of positive impact I’ve had on people I have worked, and they are my colleagues, team members, managers, clients, partners, etc. Did I help them achieve their personal goals? Professional goals? Was I a good mentor and coach? My definition of success, therefore, is the positive changes I’ve contributed to in others’ lives.
Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
I’m slowly planning my retirement now. My goal for retirement is to get more involved with the Korean-Canadian community and continue with my voluntary community work. I would like to apply my management and leadership skills to non-profit and profit boards. Also, I love teaching, so I’m looking at potential option of being a teacher or an instructor at a community college. And of course, continue to be involved in my church. Perhaps, a grandchild or 2 by then… So, I’ll be retired but still involved in the same field of work.
Becoming the president is excluded from your options?
This is where I would like to retire from. The next step from my position requires a much more committed work life. I’m not sure if that is where I want to be, and whether the required sacrifice is something I would like to make. I have other values—such as community involvement that I just mentioned—so considering the trade-offs, I am happy with retiring from this position. My mentors are disappointed when I say that I’m thinking about retiring, but I see a different path. I haven’t given back a lot to the community until this point, so I really want to give back now.
What patterns and trends do you see in the Korean Canadian community today? How would you situate the young Korean professionals in Canada over the next 5 to 10 years?
Having only 40+ years of immigration history, the first challenge is a lack of professional network and mentors that can support young Korean professionals. However, I see that this is changing now. As our immigration history extends, a greater number of Korean-Canadians are becoming established in wider fields, hence creating a strong professional network. Young Korean professionals can now tap into it for their advantage.
There are many ways to expand your own network. One way is joining voluntary organizations. I volunteered to be a United Way Campaign Executive Sponsor for CGI, and this led to a network of other executive sponsors. This also led to an opportunity to be a board member of Toronto Region Immigrant Employment Council (TRIEC), a government agency that brings corporate leadership together to better integrate new immigrants in the Toronto region labour market. While I am giving back to the community, I have an opportunity to connect with amazing leaders who are humble and driven. The key message is that young Korean-Canadians should get more involved in initiatives which would expand their network and opportunities.
Another challenge is the difficulty integrating fully into the Western mainstream and adjusting to the North American business culture. I see many Korean-Canadians having good start in their career due to their strong work ethics and technical competencies, but they seem to progress slower than their North American colleagues. It is important for Korean-Canadians to promote their accomplishment while remaining humble and also should develop other network besides being part of only Korean network.
To sum up, I would like to take this opportunity to recommend young Korean professionals to balance their involvements in ethnic Korean-Canadian community with the broader Canadian community to fully integrate into the North American mainstream.
About Young Park
Former Sector Vice-President (GTA), Property & Casualty Insurance and Insurance Information Services, CGI
Now Executive Vice President and Chief Information Officer of Davis+Henderson
As Sector Vice President for the Property & Casualty (P&C) Insurance Vertical and Insurance Information Services (IIS), Young Park is responsible for sales and service delivery, including consulting, systems integration, and sourcing/managed services to the P&C clients in the Greater Toronto Area. Her focus is on expanding the services that CGI provides in the P&C and IIS spaces, offering innovative solutions to clients, ensuring strong relationship management, and managing operations excellence.
Ms. Park has over 27 years of IT experience. She began her career at Bell Northern Research and progressed through her career at Nortel, Bell Sygma, and ReserveAmerica and joined CGI in 1998. She is active in the community; She is a board member of Markham Stouffville Hospital, a board member of Toronto Region Immigration Employment Council (TRIEC), and a member of United Way of York Region Campaign Cabinet. She is also actively involved in her church. Ms. Park holds a B.Math (Co-op Computer Science) from University of Waterloo and has completed the Queen’s Executive Development program.
Ms. Park and her husband Ken recently celebrated their 27th wedding anniversary, and they are proud parents of Eric and Nicole. She enjoys golfing, gardening, and music.
Interview Date: May 8th, 2012
Interviewers: Jooseok Lee, Rosa Lee, Steven Hong
Photographer: Gerald Law
Editors: Minha Ha, Joseph Kim
The views expressed in the interviews are not necessarily reflective of JoinTheLeaders's opinion.