What does it take to be a global executive?
Filipino-American Anne Espiritu, who was in town recently as head of Yahoo!’s global public relations, is as smart and articulate as they come. She has a Bachelor of Arts degree in Political Economy, with focus on relations between industrialized and developing economies. But she says it takes more than those things to run with the lead pack of a tech company that has fast become one of the most visible symbols of globalization.
For a migrant like Anne, global-think has something to do with “embracing your uniqueness … embracing differences.”
To explain what she means, Anne,34, shares her migrant experience.
She was nine years old when she moved from Manila to Foster City in California’s San Francisco Bay Area. Her mother had left about three years earlier, leaving Anne and an older brother to the care of an aunt.
“I didn’t understand it at the time,” she says of her mother’s push overseas. The family wasn’t really that hard up. They lived in Merville, a suburban middle-class subdivision, and Anne went to a private school, St. Scholastica’s. But her mother, a single mom, said she wanted more for them. Her mother eventually got a job as a sales lady at a department store in the Bay Area. Once settled, she sold their Manila house and hauled the kids over, telling them they were going to “Disneyland.”
But adjusting as a fifth grader to a new school in a new culture wasn’t that easy. “I couldn’t speak English comfortably and I remember being made fun of,” she relates.
“I wanted so much to fit in… I wanted to be a ‘valley girl (a stereotype of California’s laid-back, white, affluent girl),’” she says of her growing years in America.
By the time she was in high school, however, it seemed she had given up. She stayed on the Filipino side of the fence, hanging out mainly with other Filipino-Americans.
But her college years were a turning point, she says. She credits the environment at the University of California in Berkeley. The school population was ethnically and racially diverse.
Interacting with so many different people made her realize that it was OK to be different. Those years “taught me to embrace my individuality, embrace my uniqueness. I stopped comparing myself to others.”
Call it a yahoo moment: For Anne, it turned into a new self confidence that lifted boundaries on her dreams and goals.
In 2002 she graduated with a new idealism. She decided to go back to the Philippines.
Anne got a job in Manila with the International Finance Corporation of the World Bank as a research associate. She was involved in support activities for power generation initiatives in places like Marinduque and Romblon. “It was a humbling experience,” she says. She discovered that “some people still lived in huts” with unreliable power—conditions “unfathomable” for someone who grew up in the United States.
In 2005, she returned to the United States. “I missed my family,” she explains.
Her stepdad had just gotten a job as a technical writer at Google and invited her over for lunch shortly after her return. Casing the atmosphere, she recalls saying out loud: “I want to work here.”
To get a foot in the door, Anne joined the company’s “administrative associate program.” Basically it meant spending time doing secretarial and calendar work for a chance to move into another position in the tech company.
You have to lean in
If you want something, “you have to lean in,” advises Anne.
After three months, luck was going her way. Personnel movements resulted in her getting a regular post in Google’s corporate communications department, and eventually at Public Relations. She worked under Marissa Mayer, who later moved on to become Yahoo! CEO.
After seven years in Google, Anne followed Mayer to Yahoo! and was assigned head of global PR.
Anne manages the company’s brand image across the globe. She was in Manila recently coordinating Yahoo!’s television PR initiatives.
To be sure, the pace in an international tech company is fast. “You have to find your rhythm. Burnout doesn’t happen because of overwork but from feeling that you haven’t gotten what you want from the job,” she says, attributing the quote to Mayer.
Anne is single but she isn’t ruling out marriage and kids. “Maybe five years from now,” she says. But she expects to continue her career, saying Yahoo! work policies are “gender-fair.”
Still, one of the best things about the global tech world, she says, is that you work with so many different kinds of people. At Yahoo!’s Sunnyvale headquarters there are at least 30 nationalities.
Embracing differences expands your world. It allows you to “dream big,” to set global goals, says Anne.