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“Helpful feedback can come from anywhere, but you need to ask for it and be ready for disagreement” With Peggy Chen, CMO of SDL

Success isn’t achieved alone — build relationships with people who will share honest feedback. At home, when I am cooking, I have my network of dessert taste-testers including my kids, friends and family. They tell me if a new flavor is something I should never make again. I experiment some more, and find flavors and creations that […]


Success isn’t achieved alone — build relationships with people who will share honest feedback. At home, when I am cooking, I have my network of dessert taste-testers including my kids, friends and family. They tell me if a new flavor is something I should never make again. I experiment some more, and find flavors and creations that win over my kids — but also allow me to do something different, like make a Fourth of July Flag out of hue-appropriate macarons. In my professional career, I learned over time how to better identify and build this support network. The more responsibility my role demanded of me, the more I realized the value of this feedback-network, especially as I switched jobs. Like any relationship, it takes time to create and build trust — and a strong network of mentors, coworkers, or other senior executives in similar positions outside your company can help you and your team grow by sharing honest feedback on what’s going great and what’s not so great. Helpful feedback can come from anywhere, but you need to ask for it and be ready for disagreement.


I had the pleasure to interview Peggy Chen the CMO of SDL. Peggy’s drive to solve complex problems has propelled her since before her career even began. Growing up in California, her parents owned a multi-national company that designed and built PCs. “During the summers I worked at the office in Taiwan,” she says. “I did a lot of translating and content reviews for marketing collateral, and wrote and edited technical documentation for them. I’d sit with them, asking ‘What is it you want to say?’ and then I would write all of the English copy, and build the website for them.” After completing her Bachelors of Science and Masters of Engineering in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Chen went on to Oracle, where she started as a Group Product Manager for Mobile & RFID before progressing to Product Marketing Director of the WebCenter division. Fourteen years later, she joined SDL. “Macarons and global content marketing are so similar in some ways. There’s an art and a science to both, and it requires using the left and the right brain. There’s so much complexity, but when it’s done well, the results are immediate. I’m not really sure which is more fun.”


Thank you so much for joining us. Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

Growing up in California, my parents owned a multi-national company that designed and built PCs. During the summers I worked at the office in Taiwan. I did a lot of translating and content reviews for marketing collateral, and wrote and edited technical documentation for them. I’d sit with my parents, asking ‘What is it you want to say?’ and then I would write all of the English copy, and build the website for them.

Throughout this process, I had to think, translate, write and present the content that made sense from a technical perspective all the way to a consumer’s perspective, and in different languages.

I loved the challenge of this, but equally loved how technical published information needed to be presented in a thoughtful, stream-lined and user-friendly way. From the perspective of a technician in Taiwan to the eyes and ears of a child opening a computer box, it requires more than just technical knowledge but an artistic touch to make sense and present it all — and I’m still able to do this on a global scale with SDL.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?

A few years ago, I was asked a hypothetical question [by the chairman of the board]. How would you position the company and message it to customers if we had a particular subset of our products?

With just under a month to present the results, what initially seemed like just a messaging exercise has since turned into not just a corporate transformation, but the building of a new business. And before I knew it, we had a task to rebrand company in under four months.

Thanks to a dedicated internal swat team with a broad range of experiences, we launched the new brand and now continue to evolve our messaging and story in line with the transformation we are executing.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

As part of the rebrand, ordered shirts for everyone from China at our internal kick off. The sizes were all off. Lesson learned — Transcreation for sizes. We should have known better.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

Our love for languages. 2 years ago we announced our rebrand/brand story with a vision of eliminating language as a barrier to facilitate understanding.

Continuously amazed by all the people I meet in the company, across all our 59 offices. We love to travel. Speak an impressively large number of different languages. Embrace and celebrate different cultures proudly. Love to try different foods and share experiences.

At a recent marketing meeting with the team that recently joined us from the DLS acquisition, we counted around the conference table — combined we spoke nearly 20 different languages.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

Breaking down the language barrier is obviously something translators can do, but machines will help us scale this. We are doing some amazing research and projects around linguistic AI. This year, we looked at what the 5 Future States of Content will be — it’s been one of our most successful campaigns ever.

But even more importantly than thought leadership and storytelling, helping customers put this future vision into practice is what will ultimately benefit people the most. So we tied this into an entire Global Content Operating Model where we are now able to consult with our customers with the support of our partners on helping companies evolve their operating models.

What advice would you give to other female leaders to help their team to thrive?

Success isn’t achieved alone. Expand your circle of influencers and build relationships with people who will give you honest feedback.

What advice would you give to other female leaders about the best way to manage a large team?

Communicate, communicate, communicate. With large teams, people naturally have less time to spend with each and every other person in the organization. So ensuring that each person feels a part of the larger team and everyone is working towards the same mission takes more proactive effort than in small tight knit groups.

Often times, the higher up you are, the more people you lead, and the less “in the know” you are. Cultivate a community where people are encouraged to ask questions, raise concerns and challenge the status quo openly with no judgement.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

My parents. Not only did I learn a lot growing up watching them run their own business, but I will always remember a piece of advice they repeated to me through the years as I pondered changes and moves in my career — Look for opportunities where you can learn new skills, gain new experiences, and see more sides of how a business is run. For them, these were the biggest hurdles as they built out and scaled their own company. For me, this became a mantra for building a strong foundation of experiences that I can carry with me into each of my roles with greater impact for the business.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

SDL Foundation … A smile is the same in every language.

Beads for life, Habitat for Humanity, Food banks and more.

What are your “5 Leadership Lessons I Learned From My Experience” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)

It doesn’t matter how great the product or explanation is, you need to bring the audience along for the journey — and there’s an art and science to doing this

With a background in engineering and computer science from MIT, and 14 years’ experience with Oracle’s product teams before joining SDL in 2013, I also challenged myself by spending some time perfecting the art of the French macaron — one of the most sensitive foods to bake as it demands precision. My technical background and passion for creativity play a big role in helping SDL and my teams strike the right balance between science and art. And while the data largely proves the many benefits of a technology, such as the return from software like SDL’s translation and content management solutions, the art of identifying the best channel, media, message, domain or conversation to have with various audiences, ensures a new product, update or plan, resonates well takes the customer on a journey.

You can create great products, or have a great strategy, campaign or argument ready, but you need the combination of science and art to bring the audience along for the journey in a way that makes them understand how this information or technology benefits them.

You need both to be successful in leadership.

If you’re stuck on status quo, that’s all you’ll be able to deliver — you can’t be afraid to fail forward

Too often, people focus on the status quo. If you’re stuck on maintaining what’s working, you won’t grow your audience, stay relevant or competitive, or grow as a person. Not only is this true for a company, or to a person in a leadership position or not, but it also applies to personal interests, like perfecting French macarons.

If a campaign or product doesn’t work during the research and development or beta stages, you adjust it. If I have baked a deflated macron or a flavor nobody likes — my friends and family will tell me — you switch it up. Trying a new idea is key staying ahead. The risk of a positive change outweighs the downsides of never accepting it, or rather sticking to status quo.

Successful leaders are not afraid of change.

Success isn’t achieved alone — build relationships with people who will share honest feedback

At home, when I am cooking, I have my network of dessert taste-testers including my kids, friends and family. They tell me if a new flavor is something I should never make again. I experiment some more, and find flavors and creations that win over my kids — but also allow me to do something different, like make a Fourth of July Flag out of hue-appropriate macarons.

In my professional career, I learned over time how to better identify and build this support network. The more responsibility my role demanded of me, the more I realized the value of this feedback-network, especially as I switched jobs. Like any relationship, it takes time to create and build trust — and a strong network of mentors, coworkers, or other senior executives in similar positions outside your company can help you and your team grow by sharing honest feedback on what’s going great and what’s not so great.

Helpful feedback can come from anywhere, but you need to ask for it and be ready for disagreement.

Expand your circle of influencers — a fresh perspective from your social circles or family can make you a stronger leader

At SDL, we’re in the business of helping businesses take things global, and there are things I learn all the time outside of work that help me understand or do my job better.

When we rebranded SDL, our portfolio was all about translation services and software, such as machine translation, and we needed to tie in Artificial Intelligence into our corporate messaging. Our challenges centered around bridging our human side, so our professional translation business, with this technical side in translation software, to create messaging that doesn’t imply it’s one or the other, man versus machine, but rather how they can work together. It was listening to my kids to help me see the bigger picture.

If we look to the future workforce, my kids for example, they have no fear of technology. Living in Silicon Valley we see driverless cars often. My kids aren’t afraid that someday we might not need to drive cars. They’ve said, “you don’t need to pick me up from school because I can take a driverless car home.” This helped give me a new perspective on our messaging.

Be open minded about different types of feedback, as your next ah-ha insight may come from your kids.

Listen through the ears and see through the eyes of the end-user or future audience, even if they don’t speak your language or they’re a child

Growing up, I’d spend summer vacations in Taiwan helping out my parents’ company that focused on building computers. I was responsible for translating content into English. The experience of going through the entire process from the end-user perspective, from describing how to open the box, where’s the on-button, to each subsequent step of how to set up the computer taught me so much.

Whether its product marketing — or deliberating over future plans with the CEO and CFO — strong leaders empathize with their audience. They’re able to reframe the messaging or conversation to an individual. You have to put yourself in their shoes to follow and understand their consumer journey or rational to sell a solution or convincing argument.

I learned early on how to look from the outside-in perspective, which is applicable to marketing, business strategies and building strong relationships.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

For the children of today to grow up in a world where words didn’t hurt. (e.g. words taken out of context and then twisted and proliferated)

If all content was available in all languages — so that everyone can understand, have the same experience. Equality of access to information.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.

Life is full of new opportunities and challenges. While change is hard for a lot of people, I view it as a learning opportunity, and welcome the opportunity to try new things.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

https://twitter.com/pbc88?lang=en
https://www.linkedin.com/in/peggychen
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