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Tina Chang: “I don’t think about my legacy at all”

I reached out to many leaders about their advice and insight on starting a new business, and one thing I didn’t hear as much about — which is really important in today’s environment — is how to manage your emotions and still stay clear-headed. It can be a challenge with COVID-19 compounded by the race issues we’re all dealing […]

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I reached out to many leaders about their advice and insight on starting a new business, and one thing I didn’t hear as much about — which is really important in today’s environment — is how to manage your emotions and still stay clear-headed. It can be a challenge with COVID-19 compounded by the race issues we’re all dealing with today. How do you honor feelings when they arise yet remain clear-headed when you need to? The balance can be difficult, and I think all of us are navigating it. I didn’t realize how important that skill set would be — especially as an entrepreneur.


As part of my series about the leadership lessons of accomplished business leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Tina Chang, the Founder and CEO of Pioneering Collective.

As founder and CEO of Pioneering Collective, a personal PR firm supporting a dynamic community of leaders, Tina’s mission is to amplify the impact of senior leaders who are shaping the future. Tina is driven to elevate human-centric stories, build engagement, and strengthen trust for industry pioneers.

Equipped with 18+ years in strategy and marketing, CEO/C-Suite learning and development, scientific communications, and speaker bureau management, Tina has partnered with executives, top speakers, and world leaders at over 100 prestigious organizations to amplify their voice in a way that inspires and builds trust. Her mission for her clients, who serve at institutions such as Johnson & Johnson, TD Bank, Google, Novo Nordisk, and numerous growth companies, is to cultivate targeted narratives that showcase them at the forefront of their industry and the broader ecosystem — whether through media coverage, speaking engagements, or enhanced professional visibility for board appointments.

Prior to launching Pioneering Collective, Tina served as Head of GLG Institute, a CEO mentorship organization that transforms how the world’s top executives share expertise and accelerate success, and has led various commercial and brand leadership roles at top healthcare organizations. She holds a Doctorate in Pharmacy from the University of the Sciences in Philadelphia, and completed a Post-Doctoral Fellowship at Rutgers University as well as an Executive Marketing Certificate from Columbia University.


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

I’ve always cared about helping people thrive at every stage and phase of their lives. I started out in healthcare and now help leaders increase their visibility, impact, and connections through personal PR. At the beginning of my career, I graduated with a Doctorate in Pharmacy and went into scientific communications at a large biopharma company. I loved it. I probably loved communication just as much as the science — if not more. In this role, I discovered very quickly that leaders leaned too heavily on outlining their scientific knowledge and did not spend enough time communicating in a way that motivates change. Research has shown that it can take years for behavior to change in healthcare, and I believed that a lot of that was due to ineffective communication.

I wanted to change that, so I spent most of my career in marketing communications, leading brands and helping organizations expand their impact. However, as much as I tried to help consumers and patients understand and connect with brands, I realized that people don’t connect with things — people connect with people. It was there that I became involved in building communities because people need to learn from one another in order to start a conversation, in order to understand a concept or a product, and ultimately, to change a behavior.

I was also very interested in leaders and thought leaders and the ways they drive impact. I ended up leading a CEO development program for almost five years, where I learned a great deal about leadership effectiveness and leadership communication. I felt so grateful to be learning from these CEOs. I call it my five years with 500 CEOs. It was a great community, but I missed marketing. I missed helping people be effective in engaging others, building relationships, and driving impact — so I started Pioneering Collective.

Can you share one of the major challenges you encountered when first leading the company? And what lesson did you learn from that?

During the first year of creating the company, my mother passed away. This is not something you can anticipate. The challenge was personal and emotional. I had spent most of my career in marketing strategy, leading strategic plans, and building market-shaping strategies. It was my area of expertise, and yet my brain stopped functioning the way I needed it to. I learned that when your heart is broken, your mind simply doesn’t work.

At that point, I reached out to the smartest people, the best advisors, and the most strategic executives that I knew. Essentially, I was borrowing their brains. I’d tell them about my concept and what I wanted to build, and I’d ask them all kinds of questions. I’m so blessed and thankful for all the help I received early on in the business. It helped me build something that’s really concrete, very tight, and something I’m very proud of. This underscored the value of having a network.

What are some of the other factors that you believe led to your eventual success?

One factor is that I identified people I worked well with and I wanted to build a team with — people who shared my vision, people who are learners, and those who have a vision for what can be better in the world and align with that.

I also chose people who were willing to be a bit stubborn about the vision without losing their flexibility around the process. There were so many things that we tried early on that we thought would be tremendously valuable, but ultimately, they ended up not being a priority. It’s really important to work with people who are not easily defeated by changes, but instead see it as a learning opportunity and keep going.

What are the five things you wish someone had told you before you became a CEO?

I reached out to many leaders about their advice and insight on starting a new business, and one thing I didn’t hear as much about — which is really important in today’s environment — is how to manage your emotions and still stay clear-headed. It can be a challenge with COVID-19 compounded by the race issues we’re all dealing with today. How do you honor feelings when they arise yet remain clear-headed when you need to? The balance can be difficult, and I think all of us are navigating it. I didn’t realize how important that skill set would be — especially as an entrepreneur.

The other thing has to do with what I’d call needing to dial up your courage and daring. I assumed that since I’m a learner, I know how to be uncomfortable; it’s part of the process. I enjoy being uncomfortable because it means I’m stretching myself, so I thought I had a large tolerance for risk. I don’t think I fully appreciated how uncomfortable it can be to be an entrepreneur.

Additionally, there’s a perception that entrepreneurs need to be aggressive and persistent, and these are the ones who succeed, but I believe that you don’t always have to be aggressive to build a valuable organization. It’s important sometimes to slow down in order to speed up. Also, as the Prime Minister of New Zealand, Jacinda Ardern, recently said, “I refuse to believe that you cannot be both compassionate and strong.” I consider kindness and thoughtfulness to be strengths, and oftentimes it’s what makes people want to rally behind you.

It’s also important to not fall into the moment of what’s happening in the world but instead to maintain a long view. When I first started Pioneering Collective late last year, the world was not about dramatic events and things changing all the time. So, lately, I find myself resisting the pull to fall into the current moment, which can be challenging because we’re in PR. We have to stay with the moment and understand the tone and temperature in the environment. But as a business, I need to focus on what is actually stable and consistent with an eye toward the future and determine how to ensure that we’re building an organization that is COVID-proof, for example.

Finally, I’ve found that a successful business is built on your mentality, psychology, and inner determination — and sustaining that business has a lot to do with the belief in what you’re trying to do. I use a lot of visualization techniques. You need to be able to visualize the business to design the path to get there. You also need to visualize your energy around that — that the bucket is always full and overflowing.

I’ve had members and clients ask me how I’ve been able to stay so optimistic as an entrepreneur during this tough time, and it comes down to visualization techniques and psychology. I didn’t realize how much I would have to lean on that, but I’ve had to, and it works really well. You need to be determined about where you want to go, and to do that, the ability to use visualization is really important.

What advice would you give to your colleagues to help them to thrive and not burn out?

My advice would be to focus on the important and not the busy. I hope everyone on the team understands that they’re measured on output, not on how many hours they sit at their desk. It’s about the value we’re able to bring, so it’s important to focus on the few impactful things you can do versus everything else. It’s also important to know what you’re purposely not going to do; that’s just as important as knowing what you are going to focus on.

None of us is able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person you’re grateful to who helped you get to where you are? And can you share a story?

My answer could be a list of 100 or 200 names because so many people have helped me in my career. To mention just one, I’ll start at the beginning. When I was a fellow (similar to an associate) at a biopharma called Bristol Myers Squibb, I invited the SVP of marketing, Jill DeSimone, out to lunch with 16 other fellows and asked her to sponsor us throughout the organization and help support our careers. She said yes even though she didn’t know me and was many, many levels above me with a demanding workload. I worked with her to create more visibility around the fellowship within the organization, and Jill was so helpful.

Later, when I wanted to shift over to marketing even though I didn’t have any marketing or sales experience, she sent a note to the head of the marketing group and endorsed me. That recommendation set my career path in a totally different direction I was able to move from science to marketing and do lots of things that I enjoy. So, when women talk about sponsors, it’s someone willing to stick their neck out, put their reputation on the line, and say, “You really need to hire this person.” To this day, I thank Jill for that because it got me into the field that I wanted to be in.

What are some of the goals you still have and are working to accomplish both personally and professionally?

I tend to go into jobs or create roles mainly because I would love to learn in those areas or I want to build businesses that I would love to have supporting me, so I still want to learn about communication and leadership. Those are two key areas that I am passionate about.

What do you hope to leave as your lasting legacy?

I don’t think about my legacy at all. I focus on what I want to do for the world now. I hope to serve and help others and create an impact.

So, you are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would enhance people’s lives in some way, what would it be? You never know what your idea could trigger.

Today’s world of communication is so fragmented, it’s hard to navigate it all. It is a challenge to break through all the noise, yet effective communication is necessary for a leader, to drive change and shape the future. My goal is to make PR accessible to the individual, so that everyone has a communication strategist to help them amplify their story and impact.

How can our readers follow you online?

You can find me at Pioneering Collective or follow me on LinkedIn, Twitter, and Instagram.

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.

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