Leaning Into Leadership: A Discussion with Jacqueline Alexis Thng
Jacqueline is a partner in Prophet’s Singapore office and one of the reasons the firm has been so successful in Asia. She has a diverse way of thinking, making great use of the right and left sides of the brain. She’s an artist and designer as well as an expert strategy consultant. More importantly, she does it all in a very human and approachable way that is uniquely hers. I always enjoy my time with Jacqueline and appreciate her taking a moment to share stories, which ranged from her days launching her own fashion brand to what brings her excitement after nearly 30 years in the consulting industry.
Amanda Nizzere: What do you do at Prophet and in what circumstances would I come to you for something?
Jacqueline Alexis Thng: There are a couple of primary things I do in my day-to-day at Prophet that people come to me specifically for outside of client work. First, the team comes to me to unlock commercial opportunities. I have a way of approaching commercial pitches uniquely each time. I try to read each situation differently with each potential client and really try to understand how to help them solve their issue(s) in thoughtful ways. The second area is personal branding and reputation building. I really enjoy public speaking. It’s a big passion area of mine, and I’m working to share this skill and its importance with the rest of the team in Asia.
AN: Who has influenced you most when it comes to how you approach your work?
JAT: Early in my career, I worked with a global creative director named Michael Wolff (Co-founder of Wolff Olins). He was influential in how I think about my work every day. Specifically, he worked to understand the full context of the marketplace, put himself in the shoes of customers and was truly empathetic in how he approached branding. I have taken each of those approaches and tried to adopt them in my work and how I listen to and tackle problems. At Prophet, this works nicely as this is core to how we approach our work with clients. We always try to put ourselves in our clients’ shoes and truly listen. Same with problem-solving: I believe problem-solving should be approached with empathy. When you approach it in that way, it’s more effective and authentic.
AN: What’s a mistake you made early on in your career, and what did you learn from it?
JAT: I would have created more work-life balance early in my career and learned to enjoy the ride, rather than be so work-obsessed. In my 20s, I was a consultant by day and running a business at night (more on that later!), which effectively meant zero work-life balance. I delayed starting a family until I was in my 30s. If I could turn back the clock, I should have slowed down more on the work part and focused on family earlier. From that, I learned there’s no end to chasing that career “high” if ever there was one. I realized that work-life balance has helped me produce some of the best work while truly enjoying the journey.
AN: What led you to this career?
JAT: I have always been incredibly passionate about art, drawing and design. While I was a science then later a business major, I was also trained in fine arts painting (with a Cambridge distinction no less). So naturally, when I graduated from business school, I thought I would go into advertising. I didn’t even know a career in branding was an option. It was actually my husband who handed me a brochure about a company that did brand strategy (it was at that company where I met Michael Wolff). I was immediately interested, as I thought it would be more exciting and cutting-edge than advertising. I started my career in brand strategy and never left. It’s been 30 years.
AN: What energizes you at work?
JAT: I continue doing this work because it’s special. I am lucky to have landed at Prophet. The fact that Prophet continues to evolve and transform with time is really important to me. I wouldn’t be able to stay anywhere that just stays still. And it’s not just about forward momentum but real transformation. Prophet is really focused on continuing to transform in new and different ways.
As soon as something isn’t interesting or I don’t have the energy to do it anymore, I will stop. But every day I wake up and think, “I am so excited about this big problem I get to help someone solve” or “I get to learn something and do something interesting.” It’s a pretty great way to spend your days.
AN: What’s one thing that surprised you about working at Prophet?
JAT: Having worked across many so-called “global” companies before, I was surprised at how truly global Prophet is. We operate with one global P&L, and our teams collaborate as a global team. I talk to many Propheteers across the globe on a daily basis—some I’ve never met in person—that I feel are my best friends. I never thought that was possible, but at Prophet it is. They’ve made it easy to collaborate, and it’s part of the company’s DNA. There is no “me vs. you,” it’s “How can I help you?” and that applies both internally and with clients.
AN: What’s one thing most people don’t know about you?
JAT: I owned a fashion business. Even as I started my consulting career, I was a consultant by day and I developed a fashion line and brand at night. Over 13 years, it grew into a business, and I was even invited to sell to Barney’s New York. This was pre-Internet, so I had no idea who Barney’s was. When they asked me to include a winter line, it was then that I decided I wasn’t a fashion designer. What I really wanted to do was build a brand. My brand was featured in Australia fashion week, and my last show was London fashion week in 1999.
AN: If you could trade places with anyone for a day, who would you choose?
JAT: My father. He died young at age 60 and grew up extremely poor, but he found positivity and happiness in his life. He worked as a street hawker, selling food to factory workers. Even when the cost of food was rising for him, he never raised the prices for the workers. I remember my granny yelling at him to increase his price as he was losing money. He argued that the workers needed to eat better, they needed healthy ingredients, and they needed energy. His values were strong: he was charitable, helpful and didn’t profit off others “just because.”
AN: If you had to pick one age to be permanently, which age would you choose?
JAT: I can’t pick one. I enjoy them all. I think every moment, every age and every stage is enjoyable. I am an extremely positive and optimistic person. Each day is a day to learn something new. I also don’t believe in regrets. Every decision made is what you thought was best at the time. You learn from your mistakes, and you continue to get better.
About the Series
Throughout my career, I have been fascinated with the building blocks of leadership, from motivation, coaching and communication to mentorship, empathy, inspiration and more. Unraveling and understanding what makes a strong and impactful leader tick can help each of us implement new strategies to grow as individuals and leaders ourselves.
Over the years, I’ve listened to podcasts, read books, attended conferences and listened to TED Talks about various leadership topics, but some of the most impactful lessons and pieces of advice I’ve learned have been from those around me—my mentors, colleagues and industry peers—which led me to create the Leaning into Leadership interview series. I invite you to join me as I interview various leaders in my network to share new tools and wise advice from them that you may just want to add to your own leadership toolbox.
Jacqueline is a partner at Prophet. She has over 20 years of strategic consulting experience helping companies develop and implement brand and business strategies. In 2015, she was bestowed as one of the World’s Most Influential Marketing Leaders by the World Marketing Congress.
Jacqueline is a specialist who combines in-depth analytics and brand to activate strategic growth opportunities. She helps clients with brand development and repositioning, product and service innovation, value proposition, customer segmentation, brand portfolio strategy, customer experience and transformation of the business model in the new digital economy. Have a question for her? Reach out here directly.