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Join Anirudh Arvind as he speaks to James Yeang on how he built his career as a digital leader and the skills needed to succeed as a digital leader.

 

TRANSCRIPT:

Producer  0:06

Hello, and you’re listening to Single Steps, a podcast by Hatch Asia Consulting, inspired by Lao Tzu’s, “the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”

 

You will be hosted by Anirudh Arvind as he meets James Yeang of Domino’s.

 

Anirudh Arvind  0:22

Good evening, James. Thank you very much for taking the time to spend your 30 minutes with me to walk us through your path to being a very successful digital leader. But before I even carry on, James, how are things with you?

 

James Yeang  0:36

Things are going fine. I mean, personally, my life is quite good now that the kids are going back to school.

 

Anirudh Arvind  0:43

Yeah, okay, okay.

 

James Yeang  0:46

To be fair, in Domino’s also we are having a lot of good stuff going on with business. We are taking – we have been fortunate enough to have been taking the right steps when we when- we were first anticipating this MCO (Movement Control Order) to happen. And I think it doing- going quite well in the sense that our deliveries are going up. People are more and more used to the fact that the- getting new food deliveries is going to be the new norm for now. So it’s going quite well.

 

Anirudh Arvind  1:18

Awesome. So, James as the Group Senior Vice President of Digital and CRM for Domino’s, in your perspective, how’s the pizza business doing right now, man? And what are the all the changes that you’re seeing within Domino’s itself?

 

James Yeang  1:33

Pizza business is doing very well. I mean, it has to do with a lot of the fact that we are based a lot of business on online from the very beginning already. I mean, there are organizations out there which only now are trying to go online. And they are the ones who are suffering the most because they are trying to experiment what works and what doesn’t in a very tight timeframe and the whole idea here is that we have been experimenting for years, and we have been running a very successful online business for years already. Even in our stores, we are enabling people to buy online and then collect in stores. So, we are utilizing the stores as outlet for selling our online pizzas as well. So the idea here is that we are quite well prepared in that sense [Awesome] I would say. Even in the store orders, people just drive. We have this new system called “Pandu Ambil” (Translates to “Drive and Take”) where people can just order online. They just drive up to the store. You don’t even have to park your car. You just turn on your headlights, somebody would just run out with the pizza, and they could just walk away. And the idea is that- [Wow] yeah, that’s very cool. So the idea here is that we are- I wouldn’t say we anticipated the MCO, but we are very well prepared for it. I think that’s what I’ll say.

 

Anirudh Arvind  2:48

Awesome, really cool stuff. So, if I were going to have a pizza this weekend, which pizza would you recommend?

 

James Yeang  2:56

I will recommend the Chicken Classified. That’s a very hot seller. In our books. I mean, the masses can’t be wrong.

 

Anirudh Arvind  3:04

Okay, I’ll make sure to get that done.

 

But I guess, I guess let’s focus a bit more on you. You’ve had quite a unique career, you started off in market research, and then you worked in DHL for a while in logistics, and then obviously multiple successful roles in telecommunications. And then you spend some time in Google. And then obviously, now you’re the SVP for digital in Domino’s. So how did this happen, mate? I mean, what was- how did the role in the digital come about? And also maybe if you could share a bit about your early life and setting, and see if there was any correlation there, that would also be quite nice to hear.

 

James Yeang  3:49

Yeah. Well, without droning on too long for this, I think the best- the what I’ve been able to do is build good relationships and a good track record. I think those two things are perhaps the greatest key to anything that anybody, not just me, anybody would have to do to get to anywhere significant in a career per se.

So I’ve been fortunate to actually work on very, very interesting projects. Really great projects, I’ll say this much. In Nielsen, in Digi, in Google, I mean, the sub- all the companies. I’ve been given the opportunity to actually take on really nice portfolios and be able to lead really great teams and be able to deliver good results. Now the idea here is that, with all this, then it’s easier to move left and right, in this industry or that industry per se. As long as you’ve got people to back you up, and as long as you’ve got a track record to back you up, it’s pretty, it’s pretty- I wouldn’t say straight-, straightforward is a bad word. But I’ll say it’s pretty possible to actually go where you can feel that delivers most value.

 

Anirudh Arvind  4:58

Right.  But, you know, it’s quite interesting how you say that if you’re in the right places and you’ve got people to back you up, it’s pretty possible to make, you know, the transitions across multiple industries. But in your opinion, what makes it possible? What makes it pretty possible when you say that? What do you think attributes to that possibility to kind of move across multiple industries?

 

James Yeang  5:21

I would say having a lot- the soft skills aspects would be the most important. Hard skills, let me- let’s put it this way: the hard skills which I have in Nielsen in order to work out the market systems are, don’t get me wrong, it’s very useful in Nielsen but recently meaningless in a lot of other aspects. Same thing with Google as well. I know a lot about the AdWords system. And don’t get me wrong, it has a little bit of- let’s put it- less use in other part of my roles. I wouldn’t say it’s useless in other roles, but significantly less. I mean, the stuff that you learned when it comes to dealing people, managing people, managing stakeholders, making sure that you’re able to quantify things, being able to clearly articulate decisions, being able to actually lead teams into the right direction. These are the small things, not at all small things, these are soft skills that I say it’s more or less transferable across most industries. And as long as you’re able to quantify the results that you get, people are very open to- what do you say, very open to… to work with you, because they can see the quantification of the value that you’re adding.

 

Anirudh Arvind  6:38

Okay, awesome. And I guess now, I want to sidetrack a little bit, because, you know, as you were saying, now there were businesses that are not really prepared for this situation. And some businesses like Domino’s is really well equipped to handle such situations. I guess every organization, as you and I are speaking, are kind of going through some digital transformation at this point, right? And many even argue saying the number one reason for that is actually COVID-19. So as a digital leader yourself, like, what does digital transformation truly mean? And secondly, like, what is it really meant to achieve for an organization?

 

James Yeang  7:20

In a time like this?

 

Anirudh Arvind  7:21

Yeah, yeah, I guess in a time like this, yeah.

 

James Yeang 7:23

Well, I think the time is the number one thing you have to find- So I would say in the time like this, what you have to focus on is the making sure that you’re able to run your business. Because trying to- for me to be at least trying to branch out to a whole new thing just because something’s happening for a couple of months is- and not focusing on your core business is a problem. [Yeah] Okay, so investing in tools like- that- and that’s why tools like Zoom, or Microsoft Teams, or GoToMeeting, all these tools have got a whole new gigantic audience really. Not because they’re amazing tools or whatever, but because they facilitate business as usual, as much as possible. I’m still having my meetings. I’m still talking with you. I’m still looking at you. I’m still presenting my slides, I’m still doing whatever, okay. But it didn’t disrupt me. Just imagine none of this happened. There’s no way to talk to you or there’s no way to communicate face-to-face anymore. There’s no way to actually meet as a team, we all have to do it all through email. It’s a very, very big step change for a lot of people. And to minimize that step change is one of the key things that I feel that is super necessary.

 

A lot of companies are doing the right thing already. They are making sure that they are not impacted. They are making sure that hey, the core business that I have, am I able to coordinate with my team, to communicate new strategies? Even if you want a new strategy, for example, even if you do or to buy a new business plan, you still got to communicate effectively. You still got to be able to articulate your ideas properly. You still got to be able to get the buy in from everybody. And it’s not gonna be easy with “Let’s just send a few Whatsapps. Let’s-  yes, yes, go and do something.” It’s not.

 

So, the idea here is that you have to embrace things like, you know, let’s- everybody has a webcam, everybody has- let’s share as much documents possible. Let’s be more open, let’s be more sharing, let’s be communicating face-to-face in an environment per se. Sometimes you might even argue that it’s much more convenient because you don’t have to book meeting rooms. You’d have no idea how painless administration for meetings now is. And now everybody comes on time for meetings. Nobody’s running to a meeting like far, far away, “Oh, I’m sorry. My mas- meeting is the other building that side, ah. Sorry, cannot reach the time.” None of that, none of that nonsense. So, the idea here is that meetings become, if you do it properly, meetings are incredibly productive. If you do it on VCs per se. And those people who have done it well have been able to use the tools very effectively.

 

But the idea here is also that you can record a lot of things as well. And that to me is fantastic. Because recording of meetings, it- some people find it really scary. But I find it quite useful because in a long meeting especially like a one-hour or two-hour meeting, this guy says this, this guy says that or whatever. Yeah, yeah, you can take minutes. But how accurate are the minutes, nobody really knows sometimes. And sometimes you just want to say, “Oh, but this is something that we talked about already. Let’s go refer to it. You can watch minute 3 to 5. I talked about it there. You can listen to it.” Because in a lot of organizations, remember, you always say that, hey, you need to tell some- you need to tell the organization like four or five times before they finally get it. Honestly, if you really don’t get it, go and watch that video four, five times yourself and then- until you get it. If you don’t get it, you can ask the manager, “Actually, I watched that video four times, I still don’t get it.” But that’s not the point. The point is that you recording, although it still looks scary because, “Oh everything I say is recorded. I better not say anything bad.” But technically you shouldn’t be saying anything bad in the first place, okay.

 

Anirudh Arvind  11:02

Right, yeah. Fair enough.

 

James Yeang  11:04

So if you’re asshole in the meeting and you’re asshole to everybody, that is recorded. Then don’t be an asshole.

 

Anirudh Arvind  11:11

There you go, there you go. But I guess the major thing like you said is- I mean, I always appreciate the fact that you’re so raw when you speak is how do you promote this culture, you know, of you know, kind of saying it’s okay to make these decisions, it’s okay to have these recordings, kind of, also sort of, be more real like it. How do you promote that culture as a digital leader? What are you doing to do that?

 

James Yeang  11:32

No. So I will say that, ensure everybody that security is the biggest factor that we are taking serious thought into. There is zero chance of somebody- let’s say it this way: I won’t say zero chance, there is no great- how do you phrase it properly? There is no greater risk in doing this than in the physical meeting. If someone wanted to steal your stuff, they will steal your stuff, okay. They will take the e-mail and they will forward it to somebody. They’ll keep your Whatsapp, they will keep it somewhere. They will rec- they will put a voice recorder in your meeting. And they if they wanted to screw you, they’ll screw you, okay. So the idea here is to be a very good employer and be nice to everybody so that you don’t have employees who want to kill you, okay. Honestly, because there’s no- there’s- as I said if you’re an asshole in the meeting and it is recorded, [Ya, the whole world knows] then the answer shouldn’t be let’s stop recording. The answer should be stop being an asshole. That’s, honestly- okay. That’s why I believe anyway, all right. So that’s why I would say and the- you have to realize that the risk of your own people not understanding what you mean is ten times great- is a hundred times greater than somebody stealing your thing and then go and leaking it out. No. You have to trust your team on this. They’re not gonna do any- if they want to do it, they will do it regardless of what you do. But I can tell you this much: if you don’t record anything, somebody doesn’t really understand, “Can we do another presentation?” Enough, what the shit is that? That’s nonsense, you know? So honestly, no. No. If you if you want- if you didn’t really understand what I’m saying, why don’t you watch the recording? [Right, right] And you really don’t understand, fine. Then tell me, “I watched the recording. I didn’t understand what you mean by this, this, this.” It’s okay. Because sometimes it’s really understandable right? You have a two hour meeting or whatever. Then the guy, you said seven things. That guy probably understood six and didn’t understand the seventh one. How can you blame the guy? You can’t blame the guy. But you can ask the guy to go re-watch the recording, you know I’m saying. Good- if there’s somebody’s good in the- in doing this in- the guy who’s the secretary or the guy who’s the meeting organizer whoever, the good- the best thing he could do is actually to make timestamps of when everything’s being talked about, right? So if Topic A is being talked about, put there “Topic A: from 1 minute to 8 minutes.” If topic B is being talked about, “8 minutes to 17 minutes.” You have that, it makes a big world of difference. You don’t even have to write great notes about anything, just write when these things were being talked about. Then, the guy will say, “Ya, this meeting went on for two hours.  I don’t understand what you said about this.” If you ask the guy, “Go review two hours,” then the guy be, “Shit, I got to find out where he said this, he said that.” That’s nonsense. So it’d be bonus if the meeting organizer, actually wrote, “From this to this time, this guy talk about Project C. Problem with Project C, right? Good, see for yourself.” You will need to review 17 minutes and that’s it. Okay, so that’s a great-  easy way to actually go about it more than anything else.

 

 

Anirudh Arvind  14:40

So like you said, there’s so much more efficiency around it. There’s so much more ability to kind of you know, I guess ideate and decision-make cause everybody knows exactly where they’re involved. And then I guess there’s a lot more transparency. Pretty cool.

 

I guess I want to come back a little bit to what you said. You said, you know, at the end of- the earlier on, there’s a couple of soft skills that you built, which is kind of you know, helps you succeed in your career. I guess I wanted to ask you how are some of those soft skills helping you during these times as a digital leader? And what are those soft skills which are kind of really helping you lead your teams and kind of navigate the storm within your organization?

 

James Yeang  15:21

Well, it’s basic communication skills, I would say more than anything else. I think everybody can improve when it comes to writing. Even the basic writing, talking, presenting, communication different aspects and being able to talk off the cuff about certain aspects and things like that. These are small, small things here and there. Yeah, there are- each one of us are better than the other. Some of us are really good, some of us are not really good. But even if you’re not really good, you can get better very fast if you know the right things to do, per se. I mean, the easy way to do this would be, well there are YouTube things you can actually follow. And you can actually learn a bit about things; you can practice. Practicing is the most important thing, by the way. Reading anything and watching anything is like whatever, honestly, it’s like, yeah. Trust me, a lot of these things they tell you is things you already know. But the ability to actually do it and be able to understand what you are actually doing is actually very important. So what I would recommend is this: record yourself. Number one, okay? If you have to give a presentation, record yourself. Just look at what you sound like. If you look like an idiot, then it’s probably true, okay, because that’s what you look like.

 

Anirudh Arvind  16:37

What if you can’t help it? What if you’re just like that? What do you do in that case?

 

James Yeang  16:40

You keep practicing until you don’t. No, I’m not kidding, I’m not kidding. You just keep doing- maybe the thing you’re trying to explain is just too complex. Maybe you need ti simplify. Maybe you just sound like you’re droning on and on about a topic which nobody can get the grips on. Maybe you’re making verbal tics that you don’t understand. For example, if you say that, “right?” Something like, “You’re doing this, right? How about this, right?” I mean, these things, do- you may not understand or appreciate how much you say these things until you watch yourself and go, “Man, I really say “right” a lot.”  So, these are things you can verify yourself. The best way I still find, but it’s a longer-term thing that you want to do, is you can join a Toastmasters group. I really felt that, as for verbal communication, that group, that organization, and has been by a mile, the best way to actually improve the way I communicate verbally, especially. It gets you good practice. And it gets you evaluation of your talk. When you say something, you speak about whatever topic, they will tell you how many really bad habits you had, how many “uhms” you did, how “ahms” you did, what kind of body language, what kind of eye contact you had, what kind of perception you gave other people, and things like that. So, although it’s nice to watch yourself and evaluate yourself, it’s also very good to have somebody else evaluate you very truthfully. And then they will just tell you with- in a very nice way, by the way they’re not nasty people or what. In a very nice way, they will tell you how to improve and you can know, and it’s up to you, right? You can choose to take that feedback. And you may or may not agree with it. And it’s fair, it is fair to disagree with it also by the way. So, if you disagree with it, fine, you know. But at least you got the feedback. And you can choose what you want to do with the feedback, okay. So, in most of the time, I will say I try to tweak my thing a little bit, little bit, little bit because like it or not, I may not feel that I’m like that. But to that person, I was like that. So, if you talk about communication, it’s the receiver which actually matters most, okay.

 

Anirudh Arvind  18:58

Right, absolutely.

 

James Yeang  18:59

The person matters most.  So if I didn’t really mean that, but if everybody else thought you meant that, that’s not- that make no different. You have got to make sure that it’s understandable to what everybody else is saying, I mean listening to.

 

Anirudh Arvind  19:14

Yeah, absolutely. I guess you said the culture of feedback is really important and how somebody else interprets different messages. And I guess at this point of time, since everyone’s working from different parts communication is so crucial to get one thing right, right? So I guess what are you doing to ensure that that culture of feedback is kind of practiced and it’s becoming like a norm?

 

James Yeang  19:38

So, let me talk about my current organization so far, okay?

 

Anirudh Arvind  19:42

Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. Yeah.

 

James Yeang  19:44

Because previous organizations, things are like retrospectives, where we do – each we have a- we plan a Sprint’s. Then we have a reference structure where we talk about what went wrong, what went- doing well, what went right, what went wrong, so on and so forth. In this current scenario, it’s actually quite good because we actually get together every day to talk about the things that’s happened, has happened, is happening. So we are all kept aware of things. Then we also, I also have one-on-one with my whole team, as well. I have team meetings as well. And in these team meetings, we talk about things that went right, went wrong, and things that how we can actually fix things. One-on-one, as well meetings with the people report to me. So that I understand their point of view, they understand my point of view, and then we can get to a very, very good alignment of things. The idea here is that by making sure the team is always consulted, the team is always kept involved, the team is always a very, very big driver of the things that you are giving direction for.

 

Anirudh Arvind  20:42

Okay, very cool. I guess the thing that I did want to ask you a bit more about was, in your opinion, is there like a structured path to becoming, you know, a digital leader? Or do you feel that it can actually be achieved in multiple ways? Cause you know you have lots, lots of folks very interested in a career in digital, but how does that happen? What’s the right career path in your opinion?

 

James Yeang  21:05

(sighs)

 

Anirudh Arvind  21:08

Did I ask you the wrong question?

 

James Yeang  21:10

No, no, no, no. But it depends whether you want to be an expert or a people manager. So, both are great options in that respect. But it all depends on your passion. Okay, so if you if you don’t like to manage people, and you really love a particular subject, then just go to it and go very deep into it.

So for example, if you are- if you like apps, then go do apps. If you don’t like apps and you like CRM tools, then go ahead and do CRM tools. But experts are experts. And you have to be an expert if you want to be going down expert path, okay?

Now you can be a digital. But to be fair, if you’re not expert, and you don’t want- and you want to do a whole variety of things, there is also a career for you. And that’s typically like in agencies, you know, you know that you have those agencies, we say, “Oh, I don’t want to do digitally, can you please help me blah, blah, blah,” and then they go in do general. They’re not bad people or whatever, don’t get me wrong, okay. But that path of things you have, you have got to go very deep into multiple channels. And because otherwise, you’ll be looked at as, “Oh, this guy just talk only. He doesn’t know anything actually.” So you have got to go deep into many channels. And when you do that, it’s considerably more difficult. But you might find that fun. You might like that. You might enjoy that. So there’s nothing wrong with that. You know what I’m saying. If you really like that, go ahead and do that, you know. But the caveat is that you have got to be interested in multiple things. And you really have to be doing that.

I mean, if you’re talking about money aspect, they are literally- it changes a lot. One day you see app people going crazy for money; then some people – data science that people going crazy for money. The rule I found is that you have to be good and have a track record. And focus on that first, the money- and then the money, you can ask for later and things like that. But the focus on being freaking good at what you’re doing, and craving a niche for yourself. I think it’s super important. That is what’s important, I would say. So yeah, those are things, craving a niche for yourself. For people management aspect, if you don’t want to be expert, people management aspect is you have to learn the soft skills. You have to learn how to communicate properly, you have to learn how to write properly, you have to learn how to manage people, you have to learn how to do all of those things. And you have to do it right.

A good tool to be using is- there is a podcast called Career Tools and Manager Tools. Those are free tools. But those are amazing, amazing resources, especially for people who are starting on the career or people who are transitioning to career but they are afraid of how- what the corporate culture is like and things of that how to adapt properly, well,  and things like that. Well, I think so they have a podcast that talks about topical things are very, very relevant to- almost everything that you do. So you don’t have to listen to everything. You just cherry pick the topics that you want to and then listen about it, you know, like, oh, how – what’s the best way to run the meeting. Or what’s the best way to run the interview. Or what’s the best of whatever okay. What is better way to listen to me, or what’s the best way to convince him or whatever. So I mean, there’s a billion how-tos of things like that. And they are real legit management people, real legit people and they their style is fantastic. They’ve been highly recommended by- easily the best management gurus that are ever known, ever. I’m not kidding about this.

So if anybody wants to, just take a page out of the book. I mean, just listen to a lot of those things. Again, as what happens with Toastmasters, you can choose to believe or not believe anything. But it gives you a good perspective. It give you a very qualified perspective on certain subjects. And you as a person can choose to follow and not follow it. But do that under your own conscience.

 

Anirudh Arvind  25:12

Sure, sure. And I guess to kind of come back to you were mentioning that at some point, you got to figure out like, you know, when it’s breadth or depth, in that in that field. Is there any point in your career that you knew which way you wanted to go? Does it come to you naturally? Or do you kind of have to plan for it?

 

James Yeang  25:34

I would say I’m- this is a tough question. I didn’t plan- I didn’t plan for it. I just tried to do the best job in every job that I do. And then I ended up doing more of management stuff, or more of the expert stuff. And that’s how it went. So, did I always try to improve myself in those aspects? Yes. Did I plan because I want to do achieve something in the future? No, I just wanted to do the best job and be visible about it, and then making sure that I’m able to go on with things in a very, very solid way.

 

Anirudh Arvind  26:11

Okay, got it. And I guess any message that you’d want to give to like, you know, aspiring digital leaders that are trying to achieve the same success you have, what would that advice be, if there’s any at all?

 

James Yeang  26:21

What advice?

 

Anirudh Arvind  26:25

Just be real, huh.

 

James Yeang  26:29

No, I mean, it’s- if you want actionable, actionable would be do the few things I mentioned just now. Download those Manager Tools podcast. Download the Career podcast, listen to it for free. Learn what you can from there. The second thing would be get involved in communities, okay. So for example, the Toastmasters community is one where you can learn public speaking. The second one is expert communities. You have things like Agile Malaysia, PM Huddle, a lot of things. There are UX people have their own huddles, and things like that. But those are fantastic places to learn a lot of things from. You will not only learn things, but you also meet people and you’re able to discuss things. Especially if you’re a digital person and you sometimes wonder, am I alone in this journey? You’re not. So there are a lot of people who are in the same industry who actually have the similar problems as you. You don’t have to wait for a conference or something like that. Oh, I can meet somebody to come. No, no, no. There are a lot of communities that meet very regularly, really. And these are people passionate about their field. And then you can actually learn a lot from them, and you can actually contribute there as well.

 

Anirudh Arvind  27:33

Awesome. Eh, listen James, it’s always a pleasure speaking with you. Thank you so much for taking the time. Obviously, I had a really good time because you know, I obviously really love how raw you are all the time that makes all the difference in the world. Thank you very much, James. I really appreciate it.

 

 

James Yeang  27:48

Okay, thank you. Bye, bye.

 

Producer  27:53

Thank you for listening. We hope this podcast can help in your learning journeys. Check us out on our LinkedIn page, Hatch Asia Consulting. Till next time, keep growing.

 

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