leadership, Startup Advice

“If you don’t ask, you don’t get”: Zendesk’s Amy Foo on making your career work for you

Women's Agenda /

Amy Foo is helping to steer a growing tech company towards the $1 billion mark in her role at Zendesk, while also ensuring the firm supports plenty of women along the way and gets behind a number of CSR efforts.

Based in Melbourne, Amy’s the vice president of finance and operations for Zendesk in the Asia-Pacific region, and a former finalist in the Women’s Agenda Leadership Awards.

She shares some of her biggest career hurdles to date and how she got around them, as well as the role of mentors and sponsors in her life.

And she offers this excellent piece of advice, especially when it comes to making your career work for your current situation: “If you don’t ask, you don’t get.”

Who and what do you lead?

I lead and manage all financial control and operations teams across five countries — Singapore, Australia, Philippines, India and Japan — for publicly listed Zendesk.

Best piece of career advice you ever received?

Carve your own career path. Ask for what you want. It sounds simple but if you don’t ask, you don’t get.

In my experience, men seem to be able to do this more easily than women. And you must be passionate about the role and the business you’re in. If you’re not, it’s going to be hard for you to excel.

What would you go back and tell yourself 10 years ago?  

Stay curious. Learning is the key to progress and pushing yourself to improve. It does not mean that you should be changing jobs or going on sabbatical every time you feel you are not learning as much as you could be.

Staying curious can be more refined. To me, it means ‘thinking differently’ about how you’re doing something on a day-to-day basis; to challenge the status quo.

It also involves gaining a deeper understanding of other people’s perspectives, motivations and walking in their shoes.

What one issue is making you really angry right now?

The gender wage gap and why it seems to be taking so long to close.

Biggest hurdle you’ve faced (or are still facing) in your career?

The biggest hurdle for me was, and still is, balancing my career aspirations and a family. When my two boys were young I needed a role that offered me the flexibility and support to do both and fortunately Zendesk offered that back in 2013 and I was so thrilled, I took the job.

How did/are you pushing through/working around it?

In 2013, our then APAC managing director listened to my requests and offered me the role as finance director for APAC. I was promoted the following year to vice president of finance and operations for APAC.

As any working mum will tell you, balancing work and family is challenging but working for an employer that understands the benefits of flexible working and values what working mums can offer the business certainly makes that balance easier.

Zendesk embraces flexibility as part of its culture, so working dads benefit too.

How have mentors or sponsors (or both) aided your career?

Michael Hansen, Zendesk’s APAC managing director when I started in 2013, was a real champion of mine and a mentor, and I feel very fortunate he gave me the opportunity to grow my career and be a present parent at the same time.

My now boss, Zendesk global chief financial officer Elena Gomez, has also been a huge support for me and of course my husband, who has been so supportive of me pursuing my career aspirations, wherever they may take us.

What are you working on right now that’s got you really excited?

I’m excited about the work I’m doing with my team to drive Zendesk’s growth in the APAC region. We recently announced our $500 million annual run rate, which is pretty significant, as it is an important milestone on our journey to becoming a $1 billion company by 2020. It is rewarding to see all of the hard work we’ve put in over the years on our financial strategies and our move towards helping larger enterprises pay off.

I’m also working on a new program which Zendesk has introduced, the Asia Pacific Women in Leadership chapter at Zendesk. This involves providing empowerment and support to the women in our teams through mentorship and training.

Finally, I’m responsible for our corporate social responsibility efforts across the ANZ region and this makes me excited.

Launched in 2015, the Zendesk Neighbour Foundation is just what it sounds like: a way for us to be good neighbours and give back to the communities we call home. In Australia we support the teams at Purple Lion, a not-for-profit organisation that supports the quality of education of children with Autism; MITS, a Melbourne residential transition school for Indigenous students from remote and regional communities; St Kilda Mums, a charity organisation that distributes baby and child-related goods to those in need; and STREAT, an organisation that helps disadvantaged youth become self-sufficient through work experience and hospitality skills training.

What’s your favourite piece of tech?

Netflix

What daily publications do you read or follow?  

I am an avid reader of the Harvard Business Review and In The Black to keep up to speed with business and finance trends.

What apps or tools do you use to help manage your day?

Google – Gmail, Google calendar and maps are a must. I also like Evernote to take notes and record messages into text. It’s also a handy tool for expenses.

I use Slack to communicate with my team and on the home front, the Bring! App is a godsend. We just add in grocery items that need picking up from the shops, they’re in the app on both mine and my husband’s phone, so that either of us can check what’s on the list and go and buy it.

What book do you most recommend to other women when it comes to their career?

Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg

And what are you reading/watching/listening to right now?

Power Up by Magdalena Yesil. It was a present from (Zendesk global chief financial offiecer) Elena for International Women’s Day. I also loved watching The Crown. Following the Queen’s life, having so much responsibility from an early age, you can’t help but admire her as a strong female role model in what was very much a man’s world in those decades.

This is an edited version of an article that was originally published on Women’s Agenda

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