[Blog] Wwa Sunshine Farzan

Women with Ambition: Up Close with Sunshine Farzan

Published on 18th June 2020

Sunshine Farzan’s resilience is commendable. Throughout her career, she has used everything that gets thrown her way as stepping stones to lift her higher. Even before becoming Tricor’s Group Head of Marketing & Communications, she has committed herself to a journey of lifelong learning that only propels her forward.

To women, marketers and anyone in the workforce, her story is truly an inspiration to us all. In the latest edition of the Women with Ambition series, Sunshine shares her insights on what it means to be a strong leader in times of uncertainty. Read on for the insights she has shared with us.

 

1. JP Morgan Chase, Citibank Inc. and Mastercard are just some of the companies who have adjusted the gender pay gap to close to one percent. Can you share examples of equality practices that your firm looks closely at?

Tricor Group operates in some of the world’s most vibrant and dynamic markets. In order to stay ahead of the tides of change, we must be agile and innovative. We are highly committed to fostering a diverse and inclusive work environment. Placing value in the diversity of thought, experiences, and relationships allows us to draw from a multitude of perspectives and better connect with the clients we serve.

Women account for over 70% of Tricor’s global workforce and are represented in all levels of our organisation, contributing across all functions. Additionally, with our global network now covering 47 cities across 21 markets, we serve diverse cultures across a vast geographical reach. Tricor’s culture is one that aims to make everyone feel included and engaged. Differences are embraced and all employees are empowered to reach their full potential.

 

2. If you could give one piece of advice to your younger self, what would that be?

I would encourage my younger self to cultivate a growth mindset and commit to lifelong learning. By adopting a growth mindset, lifelong learners reach higher and achieve more.  While results can seem like a slow trickle at first, lifelong learning eventually helps people achieve ambitions while also empowering them to give back.  

I would advise courage over comfort. Remember that fortune favours the bold. Keep your eye on the prize, but always have a plan B. Be resilient – you’re going to fail, so the key is to fail fast and learn even faster. 

And, most importantly, as Steve Jobs advised years ago, “Stay hungry, stay foolish.”  

 

3. Who inspires you and why?

As a marketer, I am most inspired by business leaders who launch products to change the world. In this regard, Sir Richard Branson is legendary. Brilliant, bold and unafraid to have fun, he inspires me like nobody else. He has built eight billion-dollar companies under the Virgin brand, successfully marketing everything from gym memberships to space travel. But his greatest gift is in empathising with his customers, which allows him to design products that put people first. For me, Richard Branson is living proof that great marketing can change the world for good. Entire industries can be reinvigorated and new products can be brought to market – bringing joy to millions of people.

I also admire how he has dealt with setbacks and failures. Given that he’s founded over 250 businesses, it’s only natural that some would fail. There is inspiration in how he responds to failure with steadfast confidence, boldness and tenacity. He doesn’t dwell on setbacks – he moves on – and his resilience and perseverance are inspirational.

 

4. What are some strategies that can help women achieve a more prominent role in their organisations?

Thanks to a phenomenon called loss aversion, many people are more inclined to avoid losing what they already have, than to gamble on gaining something new. But loss aversion disproportionately impacts women in business, with multiple studies showing that women’s careers are hampered by the risks they do not take. The trick is not blindly rolling the dice, but to know when a risk is worth taking and seizing the right opportunities. Women can overcome loss aversion by taking calculated risks. This means setting aspirational goals, proactively anticipating potential roadblocks, and calculating risk-reward trade-offs from a balanced point of view so as not to overestimate risk.

It’s also important to shore up the basics - come to the table with an informed opinion, qualify your point of view, be confident and speak up. Build a strong professional network and seek out female mentors.

 

5. As a female leader, what has been the most significant barrier in your career?

I’ve observed that women tend not to consider a new opportunity unless they are fully qualified which puts up unnecessary barriers and limits success and achievement. For many women, the instant we feel inadequate or susceptible, our knee-jerk reaction is to remove ourselves from the situation. But if avoidance is our go-to response in uncomfortable situations, we’ll struggle to reach our full potential. As motivational speaker and author Brené Brown wisely said, “Vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity and change.”

I’ve learnt that vulnerability can be a powerful tool in career development. It forces us to confront aspects of ourselves that we may not otherwise have to, which promotes self-discovery, self-acceptance and self-improvement. In a business landscape that’s constantly evolving, learning to embrace vulnerability helps us confidently face the unknown and remain comfortable in the uncomfortable. 

 

6. In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, what are 2 pressing challenges that your organisation currently faces? What steps are being taken to mitigate these challenges?

COVID-19 has steered global businesses into uncharted waters. As the world braces for the longer-term effects of COVID-19, uncertainty abounds. Tricor recently published a COVID-19 Business Sentiment & Resilience Barometer Report, highlighting the acute challenges that our clients are facing amid the pandemic. We’ve observed challenges in cash flow preservation and supply chain management.

To overcome cash flow challenges, we advise clients to apply a CFO mindset across the company and think beyond current operations. To address sudden changes in consumer behaviour and drop in demand, we help clients identify and leverage alternative revenue streams. A more diversified revenue mix alleviates some of the top-line pressures while delivering benefits in the long-term.

Global supply chains have long been aimed at keeping quality relatively constant while driving cost reductions wherever possible. For most companies, this approach has yielded significant concentration in terms of geographies and vendors. COVID-19 has highlighted the clear risks of single-market dependency—especially for companies that operate or source solely from China, the U.S. and Europe. To diversify risk and better manage complex supply chains across multiple geographies, many companies are looking to harness the power of technologies such as 5G, robotics, IoT and blockchain.

 

7. With most teams working virtually, how have you adjusted to this change and ensure there is transparent and effective communication with your team?

Teamwork makes the dream work. COVID-19 has changed how and even where we work. Despite having a remote work policy already in place, Tricor revisited this to ensure that our people felt safe during this time of crisis and uncertainty. After safeguarding the baseline needs for our employees’ health and safety, we sought to foster a sense of community for our staff and took steps to make them feel appreciated and valued. This included consistent individual check-ins, virtual coffee appointments, virtual meetings and a clear open-door policy for addressing concerns that emerge in the new structure of working remotely.

With understanding, empathy and transparency as the key pillars to our approach, our 2,600 staff worldwide are perhaps now more connected and united than ever before.

 

8. How do you see businesses evolving after the pandemic subsides and what role should female leaders play during this period of transition?

Uncertainty abounds and many are worried about what the future holds. But crisis can be a catalyst for creativity and pivoting, with many successful businesses having been built or reinvented during challenging times. In particular, pandemics and recessions have ushered in changes to how we live and work. For example, the SARS pandemic of 2002-2004 sparked the remarkable growth of Alibaba and JD.com and catapulted them to the forefront of Asia Pacific’s retail industry.

As businesses master the learning curve of the “new normal” and aptly meet shifting consumer demands, digital transformation will continue to accelerate. Notably, digitalisation will require expertise in strategy, marketing, talent recruitment and customer engagement – areas where women are already well-represented. The COVID-19 new normal presents a critical opportunity for women across various industries and skill sets to step into unique and emerging leadership roles to drive positive change.