S4:E10 Learning from the World with Chloe Andersen

Summary: Chloe Andersen describes her experience exploring various paths as she follows her passion for cultures and her love for the world. She explains the joys of her experiences and how they led to other experiences and ultimately to Amazon.

Bio: Chloe Andersen started off at BYU for her undergraduate degree as a Geography major with a French minor. She then went to beauty school before deciding to do an MBA at BYU. Andersen’s experience took her all around the world before taking on the role as Senior Program Manager in the Leadership and Talent Development department at Amazon.

Transcript

Chloe: So I grew up in the Bay Area in California. I lived in the same town, Walnut Creek, my entire childhood, with the exception of I wanted to be an exchange student in high school. For a semester, what was supposed to be a year. I was very homesick, I was only 14 when I went. I turned 15 when I was there, so it was just 5 months. But it was a very meaningful experience and it shaped a lot of my future career and path overall.

So I was done with high school, childhood etc. Then I went to BYU for undergrad and bounced around majors a lot. I couldn’t decide, finally landed on. I was a Geography major with an emphasis on Travel and Tourism and a French minor. During my time at BYU, I also served a mission, I went to Switzerland and France. So I was already speaking French when living in Belgium and ended up minoring in French as well, and then served a mission. That was my undergraduate education. Following that, I went to beauty school actually and became an esthetician. So a little bit of a roundabout career path to get to where I am at today. I did that in Phoenix, in the Phoenix area. I was in Arizona for about 5 years and I actually finished my very last semester at BYU Hawaii because I didn’t quite finish while I was at BYU. 

I was ready to move. I was doing Independent Study courses. It just did not go so well so I went back to school and then I was an esthetician, I was managing a salon and spa. That was all going well and then some things happened in my personal life and ended up moving. Ultimately, I decided I wanted to go back to graduate school. I did not do so well during undergrad so I had actually moved to Utah where my dad had relocated at that point. I worked for BYU for a year and a half, I retook a few classes that I did not do so well in. I studied for the GMAT and I ended up going back and getting my MBA. I ended up at BYU also, at the Marriott School. I did my MBA there. So that is kind of childhood and education.

Patrick: That’s awesome. That is so cool! Why did you choose to go to Belgium?

Chloe: So this is back in the early 90s, there was no internet. The very beginnings maybe, but not that I was aware of. My mom when I proposed the idea said sure if you can figure it out. I think she didn’t think I would be able to figure it out so I did. I did it through the Rotary. That was just what they had which is French speaking. I wasn’t necessarily looking for Belgium, I was looking for France, but I had already taken French. I started when I was 11 so that’s why Belgium.

RS: So were all your classes in high school in French?

Chloe: Over there, yeah. Everything. I was doing Biology in French, Economics in French, Math in French. I learned super fast because you had to.

RS: That makes sense. So tell me what you are doing now?

Chloe: During my MBA, I interned with CitiGroup in New York.

In part because I decided during my MBA that I wanted to do Human Resources. I started out thinking I would do Marketing. Well I speak French and I have this cosmetics background. So my target was I thought I wanted to work for L’oreal in Paris. That was what I wanted to do. Then I sat in some Marketing lectures and different things, then I realized I didn’t care at all about marketing, I just liked products. So I figured out what I really liked which was Human Resources, Organizational Behavior. So that is what I ended up emphasizing in during my MBA. I interned with CitiGroup because I thought why not go as far as from my background as possible during an internship, I took a big risk thinking banking and financial services. I really wanted to live in New York and also if I ended up getting a permanent role with Citi, I knew I potentially would have the opportunity to have an overseas assignment.

Because that was part of their HR rotational program. Not for everyone, you had to apply and get selected for it. But I knew it was a possibility. So I ended up at CitiGroup in NeEw York. I was there for 2 years, doing 2 different HR rotations and then I got selected to do one of the oversea assignments. I actually when I was looking, there was two assignments avaliable at the time. One was in HR Generalist in Tokyo, one was in compensation in India. I hadn’t done any sort of compensation role, so I was actually more interested in that. In addition to tha,t I thought, I probably don’t want to live in India a long time, but 6 months sounded perfect. They came back, oh really we were thinking about you for Tokyo. That sounds great! Tokyo sounds great! I really wanted to be overseas more than anything, I wanted to have that experience.

At this time I had never been to Asia at all. But I thought its 6 months, I had been an exchange student when I was 14. I was now I think 34, at the time when I did this. I was a little older when I went back for my MBA as well. So I took this short term assignments and I think what was so nice for it being a short term assignment, was that I didn’t land in Tokyo and think about what did I signed up for. This is 6 months, I will do everything I can possibly do.I am going to be a tourist. I think because of that, I was really open to falling in love with the city. People I was working with, the people I met, my friends and so when we were coming close to the end of that 6 months, I had to think of what I would do next, and it just worked out that someone was vacating a role that was the perfect level for me and exactly what I wanted to be doing.

So, the head of HR asked if I wanted to stay in Japan and I did. So I ended up staying and ended up being there a little over 3 years in total which was great. I loved it. I think if I moved over, knowing I was there for 3 years, I might have had a panic attack when I landed but because that wasn’t it, that was great. I was able to just land and have a great experience and then I really took advantage still when I was living there of traveling. I think in my head I can maybe even save some money, since the company was saving for my housing. I didn’t save any money, but I have amazing memories and wonderful pictures.

RS: That’s awesome. Did you do anything to prepare when you learned that you were going to Japan?

Chloe: So I did a lot of research. Actually my grandparents had been to Japan before I was born.

My grandfather worked for IBM and they had lived there. So I had a little bit of exposure to the cultural things that they brought back and they talked about. I had that piece, but in addition to that, Citi at the time had licensing for this assessment called GlobeSmart and it was through a company called Appearion. My boss who I was going to be working for in Japan was actually American as well. She had done it and so she recommended to me that I take this assessment. It is really useful and I am not trying to sell it. It is really useful. There is a handful of useful ones out there. It was really useful because it is based on culture. You fill out this self assessment. You get put on this map of dimensions. There is 5 different work style dimensions and then you can compare yourself to different countries.

The data they have is just everyone else who has taken that assessment. It is really interesting to do that and recognize where I was going to have cultural clashes. Also where my work style maps really nicely with Japan. As an example, one of the dimensions is how direct or indirect you are with communication. Which also says how much context you need. Coming from the US, we are a low-context culture. We are pretty direct in what we say. As far as where I fall, I am even more direct that your average American. Japan is on the opposite end of that spectrum. So it was great to have that awareness and realize ok I need to be reading the room more than I am. I mean to understand what signals to look for. When I went into meetings, I had different conversations and I made sure I was listening a lot more. I was asking questions kind of sidebar, like how should I approach this, versus just my normal style which would be very direct.

I spent a lot of time preparing.

RS: When you got to Japan, would you say you had any sort of culture shocks you weren’t prepared for?

Chloe: I don’t know if I necessarily had huge culture shock that I wasn’t prepared for. I think having been an exchange student especially, there were some things that I did that I learned a lot from that were things I probably wish I hadn’t done. I went in very America-egocentric and very much like the way we do it is the best way to do it, because I had that experience at such a young age, I was much more open an awareness that other cultures do things differently and its not bad, its different. There are things to learn from the differences. There were definitely things that frustrated me. The amount of the things that they adhere to. The rules were really hard for me at times.

In fact, I tell this story quite a bit. But I was working really late one night. It was like compensations, paying out bonuses. You are working with the US. I was coming home from work, I hadn’t eaten yet, it was almost midnight and I stopped at McDonalds. I was like I am going to get Chicken Nuggets. I think they had 5 piece chicken nuggets if I remember in Japan. And you can get two sauces with it. Well, I knew I liked these two sauces together, they had this special sauce for seasonal and I wanted to try it, but I didn’t want it to be my only sauce because what if I hated it. I asked if I could get the special sauce, in addition to these other two. The answer was no, an emphatic no. I said well I’ll pay for it. No we don’t do that, there is no way to do that, etc. It wasn’t always the case, it kind of depended on who you were running into etc. but it was totally different, right? Than the US. 

At the same time, on the flip side of that, that adherence to rules is what makes things so organized and clean in Tokyo and easy to navigate. So its like you just recognize the pluses and minuses of the differences

RS: You also worked in Hong Kong, right? Tell me about what you were doing there

Chloe: So similar role. I was a nature journalist and when I kind of got to the point I was ready to do something different, I was considering whether or not to move back to the US or stay in Asia, and I just realized I wasn’t quite ready to move back to the US. So there was an opportunity in Hong Kong. In Japan, I was the HR Business Partner in country for Operations and Technology Organization (which is about 2000 people in Japan). I went to Hong Kong and took on regional HR partner role for a different group.

So I was more front of the house: investor sales and research. I was in a regional role, so I had a local population that I supported directly but then I was also supporting the entire region which I think was about 14 countries at the time. There was a big shift. Hong Kong was a lot more international in terms of the business. What I was doing was much more international because I was supporting a region more than a country. The culture of Hong Kong was very interesting because it was a British colony. In Japan, I learned Japanese (I kind of had to to get around). I didn’t learn Japanese fluently, I should correct that. I learned enough to tell a taxi where to take me, to order food ina restaurant, to ask basic questions and I learned enough of the Kanji and characters to be able to navigate where I was going. North, South, East, West food basic stuff.

In China, or in Hong Kong, I didn’t learn any of it. I didn’t have to, umm i used an app to translate what I needed, to tell a taxi driver an address, but otherwise it was all in English. It was a very international part of Hong Kong. So it was a very different experience.

RS: Would you say your time in Hong Kong, at least where you were working was more similar to the US than Japan was?

Chloe: In some ways. I do feel though that it is kind of a hybrid. Chinese culture, in Hong Kong’s experience, was very different than Japan in that it is way less organized, not so much rule following. Again I went back, I did that same GlobeSmart assessment, and also I tried to read by just immerse myself in the history to better understand why things work the way they did. 

I read this book called “Wild Swans” which is a biography and an autobiography, that traces 4 generations of women in China. But, it helped me the Chinese culture that influenced hong Kong, a lot better than I had. It was really useful to do that. It definitely was more Western feeling. I don’t know if I would necessarily say US, but definitely more Western feeling. I was only there about 16 months, I had some things at home that made me ready to come back to the US with family members and stuff. I wasn’t there as long either. It was different in that sense. One of the things that was nice about Hong Kong is it is very central in terms of Asia, for South East Asia. It was really easy to travel to all these different countries which I did a lot in Japan too, again not saving any money.

RS: What were some of your favorite places that you visited?

Chloe: I went to Myanmar, which was amazing and so beautiful. I scuba dived so I went to this little island country called Palau and spent some time diving there. I loved Vietnam. I loved Korea, South Korea. They are all different in different ways. I think one of the things I loved so much about living in Asia was realizing how diverse different Asia cultures were. I mean I grew up in the Bay area so I knew some differences, but it was like I had friends or classmates who were Korean or Chinese, not as many Japanese though, but I knew some differences, but it was so fascinating to realize how different some of the cultures were in their own interactions. And now people will say they really like Asian food, that’s like saying you like European food, you can’t say I like Asian food, what kind of Asian food? 

So it’s like I have this whole different perspective now after living in Asia.

RS: Yeah that’s really cool. I want to back up a little bit. When you decided you wanted to go overseas and you knew that CitiGroup had this HR rotational program, was it still difficult to get that chance, that opportunity? Did you have to reach out to people who you worked with saying I really want this or was it kind of like its kind of a big thing, a big rotational program and a lot of people are able to do so?

Chloe: So its not necessarily, I’m not sure what its like today in terms of the numbers. I had a fairly small class and there were two opportunities. I made it clear from the very beginning that one of the reasons I was so interested in Citi was the global presence and the potential opportunity to work overseas. So I definitely was very forthcoming with that. Also understanding business needs, my performance all of those things were factorss.

And that decision process on like the business end of things. I definitely had some conversations with people who had been in Japan before once. Once I knew that was kind of the one I was told I should go after, so I had those conversations and tried to make connections for sure. The biggest thing was I made clear my objective that I wanted to do this and I performed. I had really high performance. So there was a lot of trust there that I would be able to go and do that.

RS: I am wondering what are the most rewarding and challenging aspects of your role right now?

Chloe: So what is most challenging is that I am supporting a global business in Amazon and there are just challenges with global businesses. Labor laws are different, rules around how you train people;

How you have to give people notice about changes etc. are different; culture is different. In addition to that, the business runs a little bit differently. When it comes to what I do learning and development and making sure we are training people and giving them opportunities. There are things you can say in some countries that you can say in other countries as far as like doing this 

Will help you progress in your career. You have to be very careful about verbage. The rules look a little different from country to country. So, if you are trying to create an onboarding plan for a particular role, you have to allow for some differences between. I function from a place where I want 80% consistency and 20% customization. If you try and get 100% consistency across I think the number of countries we are in right now, we would have never launched anything. 

So that is really challenging overall and then also how I get by from partners as far as what I want to do. It was so useful to have that experience in Japan, a high-context cultures, it’s a different conversation. I need to be looking for signals, just because someone says yes, does not actually mean it is going to happen. So making sure that I get that buy in. It’s also exactly what is so rewarding about it. When I can figure out how I can do that. I am also only 2 months in my new role, so its a new space, figuring out how to do that, getting that buy in and coming up with solutions that really are global solutions and helping people communicate better , recognize the differences between countries and cultures and approaches to things. It just is so rewarding to see that.

I do what I do right now because I find developing people and help them progress in their careers. It is so rewarding. In some cases, that progression means they are planning to do something different, it may be in a different group of Amazon, or they could be leaving Amazon and that is ok because we want to get what’s best for both the business and employee because that’s how you get the best business results!

RS: When you came back to the USA,were you like wow I did not miss that about the US or wow I did miss that about the US!

Chloe: I would say less when I came back. To the point earlier, Hong Kong is a little more Western. From a transition point of view it was kind of nice. But I would remember, when I would visit from Japan, I didn’t understand side conversations when they were going on ever. Either at work or out in public in elevators and restaurants. 

I was just overwhelmed by sensory, totally overwhelmed in terms of hearing. I could understand what everyone was saying and it was really nice to not understand. So that was pretty overwhelming and then just cultural differences. You realize and recognize how loud American culture is, how pushy American culture is. I don’t think it is bad, it’s just different. Sometimes its not great. Mostly it’s just different so I think that was quite different there.

RS: That’s awesome. Ok so my last question is Do you have any advice to give to someone who wanted to work in Tokyo or Hong Kong? Important  dos and don’ts?

Chloe: I think understanding why you want to do those things and what the business benefit is is super important.

I think a big one is being open to the pluses and differences. I think it is really easy, especially if you have been in the US your entire life. It is very different. Like when we were traveling it was different, its not the same as living somewhere. It is really easy to fall into that trap of Oh this is better in the US. It’s not better, its what you know, its comfortable. But its not necessarily better. There is so much you can learn, by being open to other cultures. My approach to things has changed significantly, even from just having those experiences as an exchange student. Especially, using that and incorporating those things from other cultures that I really loved or found beneficial that challenged my norm I think was huge. In order to just make it happen, I think having intention and having a focus and an understanding of why. 

I am a much better global leader because I have lived in other countries, so that is part of my story of why I wanted to do it and why it was important. Being able to talk about the return on investment for the business in investing in you because it is expensive sending someone overseas. I wasn’t on their different packages you could go on, I wasn’t on an expat package, I was on the local payroll but I got benefits and cost money to move you and all of those things. Understanding what that ROI is so important. Just from a tactical point of view, ask a lot of questions about what those benefits are. If you get that opportunity to really understand and talk to people who have done that before, who have gone to that country before, what the benefits were, what the challenges were. I didn’t have children so I didn’t need to worry about education, but if you want to put your children in an international school, it’s really expensive. That’s a benefit. 

Or if you want your children to be totally immersed and you are comfortable with, then that’s fine. Ask a lot of questions and find someone who has done what you are wanting to do before because they can help you with the specifics.

RS: Ok thank you so much!