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Yeonjoo Lee, Employer Branding and University Relations Director for Schneider Electric, started her career in the company as the Head of Marketing Communications for South Korea in 2013. Three years ago, she left Seoul to take a global role and live in the Pearl of the Orient: Hong Kong.
Natalia Pachón: What are some of your favorite moments of your career?
Yeonjoo Lee: No single day is dull, everything is different and exciting. When I moved [to Hong Kong], that was one of the most exciting days because there were a lot of first experiences for me. I transferred from Marketing to Human Resources, so it was my first experience in HR; also, from [South] Korea to Hong Kong, [it was] my first experience to work outside my home country. And, it was a transfer from a local team to a global team. So, there were a lot of new challenges that I faced.
Also, in my current position we can engage the future generation of the workforce. So, I have opportunities to interact with students, which is very rewarding and exciting. For example, we have this student competition named Schneider Go Green and last year at the Innovation Summit Barcelona we had our global finalists of the competition. I think it was such a wonderful opportunity to mutually learn and think about how we can work with the young generation to build a more sustainable future.
All this networking with the students, the bright ideas they bring to the table and the coaching from our judges to the students, was such an inspiring moment to really learn mutually and grow together between Schneider Electric and the young generation.
NP: What are some of your fondest memories of growing up?
YL: Asian culture has family oriented values. I have my aunts and uncles living overseas. Whenever they visited Korea with their children, we had our extended family gatherings. Cooking together was an important part of this family gathering.
For example, around November each year, Korean people make kimchi, our traditional staple, out of cabbage. Kimchi making with my aunts, uncles and cousins was a fun activity. We had adults teaching us, cutting radish and preparing some chili pepper powder. Though I never had an international trip during my childhood, I could learn about the different cultures in the world, through my family outside Korea, while cherishing the traditional culture of Korea. I liked that international sense of my family with our identity shared.
NP: So far, two countries. Do you have a favorite?
YL: No, I love both of them obviously. Korea is my home country where I was born, raised and lived during my entire year before coming to Hong Kong. The city is digitally savvy, convenient and innovative.
Hong Kong has always been an aspirational city for me, like a flagship location in Asia, representing the globalization, internationalization and urbanization of [the] region. I love Hong Kong not only because it is global and urban, but at the same time there are areas which are very natural, more like country side, like fishing village[s] for example. It has beach, it has mountains. In Hong Kong you can experience all these things within a short travel. That’s the beauty of living in Hong Kong.
NP: What does home mean to you?
YL: I think home means that you can be your true self. We may sometimes have different versions of ourselves. You can be authentic at home, and don’t need to try too hard to be the best self. Home gives both mental and physical peace and comfort so that you refresh yourself, break your shells, enjoy some slowness, and have inspirations. I think that’s what home means to me.
NP: What is the first thing that you do when you move into a new home?
YL: I would check where we have good sunlight and then find [a] good spot for the plants and for our dog. Basically, the cozy places for my green things and the white doggy.
NP: At the end of the day, after these two countries do you have a place where you always feel more at home?
YL: At the dining room together with the family. I mentioned the fun of cooking together, so those times [when we are] sharing the food that we like. And we may talk about the day we went through, and what it was like. At those moments when we share the food, we also share the experiences, feelings, emotions, good or bad. All those interactions over meals are the moments that make me feel I’m really at home with the people that I love.
NP: Comfort and safety, how do you conciliate both of them at home?
YL: I think both of them are essential to me and I don’t prioritize one over the other. Like our Schneider Electric solutions! If I have the right people around me with the right physical environment, we have the comfort and with it, it comes the safety because safety is not just physical safety, it includes mental safety, right?
NP: How did you celebrate Chinese New Year this year?
YL: Usually we would visit my parents and parents-in-law in Korea, but we stayed in Hong Kong to do a small celebration mixing the styles of Korea and Hong Kong. We made dumplings together and enjoyed being together.
My children made a deep bow to me and my husband as per the Korean tradition, and then we gave them some pocket money.
In China they call it red envelopes. They put the money inside red envelopes and give them not only to children but also to the people that we want to thank, for example, security, cleaning staff of the building and even junior colleagues in the office. It is a sign of appreciation.
NP: What are some of your goals for this 2020?
YL: To improve my Chinese. I’ve been living in Hong Kong for three years and I’ve been learning Chinese, but I am still a beginner. I got level two certificate of the proficiency test last year, and my ambition this year is to get level 3 certificate.
I think it is very exciting to learn new languages. It is an excellent way to understand the philosophy of the culture, and to deepen my relationship with my second home country.
NP: If I would ask you to choose three words to define what it is like to work at Schneider, what words would you choose?
YL: Inclusive would be the first word. We want to give equal opportunities to every person to feel uniquely valued. Building an inclusive culture is a great differentiator of Schneider Electric. We are genuine, and are definitely in our journey to do more, together with the employees. Our multi-hub strategy is a great example. By having three global headquarters across Paris, Boston and Hong Kong, we develop local and regional talent giving them the same chance of success.
I’m a beneficiary of this strategy. If Schneider Electric didn’t have the multi-hub strategy, [and] if this position was available in France not in Hong Kong, it would have been difficult for me to move from Korea because France would be too far away from my home country, my culture and my family.
The second word would be meaningful. The biggest reason I decided to join Schneider Electric seven years ago is the fact that I can contribute to the sustainability and to the planet. As a mother of two children I wanted to contribute to this big cause. It’s much more impactful here because we are part of the big company named Schneider Electric. When my children grow up, I know that they will care more and do a better job to protect the planet.
And lastly, I will say ‘dynamic’. I already mentioned in the beginning, no single day is dull at Schneider Electric. We have such a wonderful team, such an inspiring group of people. Together with this community we make changes to build [a] more sustainable culture and help the next generation to be the leaders of the future.
NP: Do you have any cravings from back home? Any guilty pleasures?
YL: Not so much Natalia because Hong Kong has excellent choices of cuisine, including authentic Korean restaurants. When I go to a supermarket, it has a variety of Korean products that I need. It’s a global village and I am pretty satisfied.
This blog post is part of the series ‘What Does ‘Home’ Mean to You?’, created to understand the concept of home and its meaning by discovering the unique stories of expatriate employees located in China, France and the United States. They all have left their native countries to start a life in foreign lands and to build a home outside their own. To know more about the series, visit the other entries below:
- Executive ‘Global nomad’ on living in four countries and three continents
- The Journey of Oz: from Egypt to the United States
- ‘Four winters in Moscow’: Offer Marketing Director shares his expat journey
- From the City of Fury to the City of Lights: María’s expat journey
- Brazilian expat on the adventure of living abroad
- From the Rocky Mountains to the French Alps