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Career Story: Kaitlyn WonJung Chang - Badass Negotiator with "Hungry Eyes"

August 13, 2019

From South Korea to Vienna, with a stopover in Cannes

Can you, please, share with us your career development until now? What stages in your life have had the greatest impact on you and why?

I am originally from South Korea, grew up in the U.S. and have been based in Vienna since 2012. After completing my studies in Psychology and French Literature at Yonsei University in Seoul, I started my career at Nielsen, a global marketing research company, as a consultant. After three years at Nielsen I made the jump to what I’d always wanted – advertising – to Samsung Group’s advertising agency, Cheil Worldwide. I worked for this company for ten full years, during which time I was able to experience a wide range of different roles and projects. Most of my projects had to do with brand strategy and creative innovation strategy for Samsung. Due to the highly developed IT infrastructure in Korea, back in 2010, when the first smartphones had only just been launched in the world, we were able to already experiment with things like VR and AR, to understand the technology better and also to develop new business models with it. As a result, in 2012 I was selected as one of 200 employees worldwide for a high-potential management training program within Samsung – and was expatriated to Austria.

Eventually I became the Managing Director of the agency branch office here in Austria, overseeing our operations in Austria, Switzerland, Serbia, Croatia, Romania and Bulgaria. This proved to be a whole new set of challenges for me, as I used to be good in doing my projects but had only very vague ideas how one should manage a whole company. After a few years of both heaven and hell all mixed into one (I’ll go more in detail after a few questions, don’t worry), I decided to leave Samsung, not go back to Korea but stay in my third Heimat, Austria, and venture into the unknown.

This is when I eventually found a new job at my current company, KOBZA AND THE HUNGRY EYES – KTHE GMBH, an independent creative agency based in Vienna, as Head of Strategy & Innovation – and also started my MBA in Entrepreneurship & Innovation at the WU. After graduating from the MBA, I was invited to join the management of the company and am currently serving as the COO (Chief Operating Officer) since January of this year.

What is not in the typical “career track” but also something that I must mention is that in my free time, I also help lead a nonprofit organization called Women of Vienna as its Vice President and Founding Member. In just four years’ time, it has grown organically to be an active community of 18,000 women living in Austria – making it the biggest existing women’s network in Austria. I always say therefore that I have a “second life” – and during the time of my MBA, I was able to put in a lot more energy than before into growing the community and setting up structures to help better manage the huge living organization that it has become – which I am immensely proud of and thankful for.

Did you originally want to pursue a different career? If so, what made you change your plans?

I didn’t, but actually my parents did! My father always wanted me to work in finance, in which I had neither interest nor talent in. I like to say I’m number-blind! I was instead always the kid who was creative, who dreamed of doing something in art or music. I had realized early on that I wasn’t talented enough to be a professional artist, and that’s why I initially studied humanities (literature and psychology) – because they were both “free-floating” and therefore fascinating for me.

My father urged me however to at least try internships and student jobs in investment banks and financial institutions – which I did try for four consecutive semesters and could really tell him that it definitely was not something for me. I still remember the day when I decided that I’d work in marketing/advertising instead – this seemed like the area that has the most creative room, while still being in the corporate world – and how shocked my parents were, but I’m still super thankful to them for having been supportive of my decision.

What was your biggest professional/personal success?

The past 5 or so years has been, luckily for me, a continuum of professional and personal growth and successes for me. I’ve been able to win more than 50 international creative and innovation awards within this timeframe. I actually thought that was the best it would ever get, and this year in June I got invited by Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity, which is something like the Nobel Prize of the advertising world, to be the sole Jury member representing Austria. This was by far one of the biggest honors I’ve had so far in my career, especially since I was on the jury for one of the most prestigious awards in the festival, the Innovation Lions.

What was your biggest challenge? What was your biggest professional mistake (from which you learned a lot)?

The past 5 years also however contained one of the lowest points in my professional and personal life. I left my previous job at Samsung actually due to an intense burnout. I’ve actually always been a classic workaholic. When I first started the Managing Director role at my previous company, I was very good at the projects I was doing, but I had close to zero idea how to best manage a company.

I felt like I was thrown into a shark-tank with no previous warning, and while we were doing excellent on a qualitative level, I kept stressing myself out incessantly to perform better quantitatively – which in the end led to a complete, disastrous burnout. In those months, I would wake up in the morning, and be literally unable to bring myself to do any single mundane thing, not even getting out of bed. I didn’t know what was wrong with me, I kept denying that I was burnt out and kept making it worse for myself and everyone around me until I finally realized I needed professional help. This was when I left the company, started going to therapy, decided to enroll myself in an MBA – and in general learned so much about myself and what I want in my life and career, and also how easily I could lose everything if I don’t take enough care.

Which 3 most important experiences in your life have led you to where you are right now?

  • Deciding to pursue what I really wanted

  • Deciding to quit a job in a company I’d been in for ten years, despite being scared of the unknown, especially in a foreign country where I’d only been for a few years

  • Deciding to keep going on after the burnout, no matter what

When you think of the most talented high potential in your company, what 3 pieces of advice would you give him to live a successful and fulfilling life?

First of all, I’d suggest to change the wording of this question to “him/her”. Also I’ll imagine that the person is a fellow woman, since there are many advices for men from other successful men out there already.

Don’t be afraid to listen to emotions of everyone including yourself, and to use that as one of the factors for your decision making. Don’t undersell yourself, ever, especially to yourself.

Whenever you want to do something but feel slightly scared, that’s exactly the thing you SHOULD do. The fact that you’re scared means that it’s something that pushes you out of your comfort zone, which will certainly make you grow - no matter the outcome. And the fact that you still want to do it, means that it’ll let you grow in the right direction, where your heart really lies.

Using just 5 words, how would your team describe you as a leader?

I actually asked my team and they were too nice and came up with:
Empathetic, innovative, inspirational, super supportive, badass negotiator

I’m super honored!

What has changed in your career because of your MBA degree? How did the program support you in reaching your career goals? What concrete career opportunities have opened up for you?

My MBA degree literally helped me become a better leader. It reinstalled my self-confidence that had plummeted down after the burnout and made it even stronger than before. Not only did I become promoted after the MBA to management level in my company, I was also able to instill many of the learnings, contacts and most importantly the confidence I’d regained into my nonprofit job as well.

The MBA gave me the factual knowledge I seriously needed for higher level corporate management and also exposed me to countless valuable contacts and networks that opened amazing new doors for me in every possible sense – including being invited to be keynote speaker in various conferences and events, teaching possibilities, and of course new exciting projects and partnership opportunities.

As far as the workload is concerned, how did you manage an MBA next to a demanding job and your family life?

I can say I definitely had it easier than some of my female colleagues who were working mothers since I do not have children, and I have my biggest respect for these colleagues who still pulled it off amazingly. However, at the end of the day I think another great thing you get out of MBA, for everyone, is learning to manage your time much, much better than you could before – since you’re forced to juggle numerous high-priority things at the same time, all the time, nonstop for two years.

What do you consider a “great luxury”?

I think the greatest luxury a person can have is curiosity. I have witnessed time over time, how people with an abundance of curiosity, no matter how old they are and where they currently may be, keep opening new doors - and grow as a result. Growth can be measured in many different ways, but every single type of growth only starts when you open doors – and not everyone manages to keep having a high level of curiosity throughout their life.

What was the last book/movie you really enjoyed?

Trust Exercise by Susan Choi, the Pulitzer-nominated, Korean-American author. If you’re into contemporary literature, you’re in for a real treat here.

If you could change places with anyone for a day, who would it be?

Someone from 2519 – so that we could see what Earth looks like then. – I have to be honest here, this idea just came from one of our team members, Lukas Binder, our Account Director at KTHE, who is one of the best highly talented individuals in our industry that I’ve had the pleasure to work with.

Wordrap

I can laugh about:
Myself, and also my cats’ stupid poses. (They’re adorable too)
Shortcomings I am most likely willing to overlook:
Not being SWISSARMY-punctual. I’m always overoptimistic about time and end up being slightly late. Did I say I’m number-blind?
My funniest/most exciting travel experience was:
There are many crazy episodes, but one of the most memorable is from when I went on a business trip to the middle of the Amazon Rainforest in Brazil and visited the local tribes for two full weeks for a film shooting. The whole crew stayed in a hotel that was on a boat which was floating around the Amazon river, and we had to take small paddleboats every day for two hours in one direction to reach the hidden villages where the tribes were living. This is also the time when I woke up super early one day to go for a swim in the Amazon River and had the amazing luck to actually touch a pink dolphin during the swim. And I’m not making it up - yes there are pink dolphins in the Amazon rivers. They’re not actually pink though.
I could not live without this app on my cell phone:
Calendar. During the MBA I started a new habit which now I cannot properly function without. I put all my professional & personal appointments and even my own to-do-lists all on my calendar, with allocated timeslots for each individual task. Try it, it’s super effective and helps you set realistic goals!
You can always find this in my fridge:
Kimchi, what else?!
I would spend my last money on:
Catfood.
10 years ago, I thought:
Facing my 30s, I thought I was so adult and super grown-up.
Today, I know:
That I’m still super immature and still have too much to learn – but I also know now that being older means not bossing people around just because I’m older, but being able to genuinely help, support and inspire younger people around me.

Read more interesting career stories of our students and graduates here.

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