When it comes to breaking into the industry, MissMafia co-founder Jessica Yong-Guzowski’s advice is to ‘fail hard and fail fast.’ She believes that personality is what will make or break you, more so than skills which can be picked up on the job.
Currently serving as the Director of Marketing & Communications at YTL Hotels, Jessica has been working on making her mark in the marketing industry for more than 15 years. “The best teacher,” she says, “is time.”
We spoke to Jessica to discuss her experience in the industry and what led to the founding of MissMafia.
What first inspired your interest in the field of marketing?
Marketing was not something I consciously chose. After school, I was in need of a job. Because of a lack of experience and qualifications, I had to go with what I knew was my talent at the time, which was writing. My first job was in 2001 as a copywriter in a web agency and that sparked my love affair with the field of marketing. After that, I was hungry to learn about all aspects of this incredible industry and have since gone in to various specialities under the marketing umbrella: namely events, client services, copywriting, publishing, PR and communications.
Are you influenced by any of your past experiences in terms of how you conduct yourself with your work?
Absolutely. As you age and as you join different companies, you naturally tend to mature and adapt slightly to the environment that you’re in. Experiences also play a very big part in this process and will help define you as a person. With all my years of experience, I’ve met so many different characters that have shaped me into the person I am today.
There were the divas who taught me that there is no place for ego in the workplace, the scary bosses who taught me courage and to always know the details in what you are presenting. The people who take great pleasure out of belittling you to make themselves look better teach you to never play politics and always keep your cool, while the chauvinists who think that your annoyance over their stupidity is directly related to your time of the month teach you to control yourself and violence is never the answer.
Yet there are also those who will guide you through challenges with a hand on your shoulder, teaching patience and the power of teamwork, and those who will steady their grasp on you before you stumble. There are the ones who will impart their wisdom to make you a better and stronger person, who show you that the sharing of knowledge can only lead to great things.
You have extensive experience in this field, both in agencies and in-house. What, for you, has been the biggest differences between the two?
It was a bit of a culture shock, to be honest. In an agency, you have to hustle and hustle hard. Clients are demanding and always seem to want things now. Generally, in an agency you have a broader portfolio to work on. You could be doing real estate one day, FMCG the next, then healthcare another day. If you have a short attention span, the agency life is for you.
On the client side however, you have depth. You are in a single industry and are the custodian of your brand. All marketing facets funnel to you. The stakeholders are fiercer because they too are the brand guardians, so if you make a mess of things you have further to fall.
Has your experience in the field ever been affected by your gender?
It would be a lie to say that my gender has held me back in any way, but there are occasions where I felt that I was being treated a particular way because I was a female. It’s strange but it seems that it is usually not acceptable for a woman to be seen to be angry, as she is regarded as hysterical and out of control, whereas a man can get away with it. On certain occasions, I did feel like I had to hustle harder just to prove that I was equally, if not more, capable than a male colleague.
How did you first get involved with MissMafia?
A few years ago I was involved in a different female networking group but left due to a disagreement in the direction the group was taking. Ever since then, I knew that I wanted to start my own female-led group. I just never had the time, and knew that I couldn’t do it on my own, so I was waiting to meet the right people to start it with.
One day I mentioned to my ex-boss that I was keen to get started with the group and he mentioned that Meredith—who was a colleague at the time—also wanted to start something similar. We got to chatting and found that we were in alignment with what the group stood for and what we envisioned to be our path. As they say, the rest is history. Since we also knew we needed additional help, we decided to speak to Niniek and Jenifer at one of our chats. They both bring different backgrounds and personalities to the table so it rounds us out very nicely.
Have you learnt anything from starting the group?
I’ve learnt that there is a huge thirst for supportive women groups out there in society. We’ve found an audience that is hungry for a safe, relaxed and fun environment where they can learn, network and relax around some pretty kickass and inspiring women.
What motivates you to keep on going?
Being a mentor to young women who are just starting on their entrepreneurship journey as well as every event that we have—from being able to meet the women and just talk to them, you get buzzed from the incredible vibe of friendship. Every day I wake up and count my blessings for the opportunities I’ve been given. I want to pay it forward to those who may not have been so fortunate.
Do you have any advice for other women hoping to break into the industry?
Be courageous. Don’t let the naysayers ruin your mojo. If you strongly believe in something, fight for it. If you do not trust in yourself and your capabilities, it’s very hard for others to do so.
Be open to making and admitting mistakes but always recover well from them. Don’t let your ego get in the way of a valuable learning experience.
Learn to delegate. If you imagine your career as a juggling act, figure out which balls are made of porcelain and would break if dropped, and which are rubber and would bounce back. Give away the rubber balls.
Get a mentor. Having someone who can shed a different perspective on the actions you take makes a world of a difference.
Lastly, stay curious. Always be ready to learn and adapt to the new environment around you. Constantly asking questions keeps your ideas fresh and your knowledge constantly growing.
Bonus question: Malaysia is such a diverse melting pot of cultures, and we all love our food! If you had to describe yourself as a food dish, what would it be?
Packet Nasi Lemak. I can be an acquired taste to some and a favourite dish to others. I am different depending on the environment I’m in. I can be simple or complicated, spicy or sweet. You will never know what I’m like from the outside.
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