As part of my series about the “How Business Leaders Plan To Rebuild In The Post COVID Economy,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Yanyan Ji of ecoATM Gazelle.Yanyan Ji is an experienced senior leader and international marketing professional with over 20 years of experience in B2C and B2B marketing, branding and advertising. As the senior vice president of marketing and general manager of e-Commerce for ecoATM Gazelle, Yanyan is dedicated to doing her part in ensuring a cleaner environment globally. After a notable tenure in the tech industry working with some of the world’s most recognized brands such as Qualcomm, Huawei and Nokia, Yanyan is leveraging her expertise to make a difference. Yanyan is a sought-after expert on brand development and marketing and has lectured at top universities in Asia and Europe. In addition to her corporate success, Yanyan is a fashion designer with her own lifestyle brand, providing her with a unique perspective on consumers and brand relationships.
Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
I was born and raised in China and then moved to Europe and US for college. My first job after graduate school was with the mobile giant of that time, Nokia, and I’ve stayed in tech ever since. I’m currently the Chief Marketing Officer at ecoATM Gazelle and have been with the company slightly over three years, helping to build brand awareness and business growth for this amazing green tech company. I also created my own children’s fashion brand during my maternity leave many years ago which I hope to restart one day.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
When I first started working at Nokia’s global HQ in Finland 20 years ago, I had just moved from Texas and was used to everyone being overly friendly and talkative. In my early days I remember making a phone call to the Head of HR and in my usual bubbly self, asking how she was. She was not impressed by the young graduate making small talk and quickly shut me down, asking what exactly it was I needed.
I remember at the time being stunned — I was so used to informal chat. I quickly realized from this experience — and have continued to realize as I’ve lived in so many places around the globe — that every culture is different. You must take time to understand the cultures you are living in. Learn the customs and respect and adapt to them.
Is there a particular book that you read, or podcast you listened to, that really helped you in your career? Can you explain?
In the very early days of my career, I read a book called “Why Good Girls Don’t Get Ahead but Gutsy Girls Do.” I actually don’t remember much about the book anymore, and I’m not sure if it is even a good book, but at that time I was pretty empowered by it. Maybe the title of the book was empowering enough for me!
I started my career in tech where most of the decision-makers are men (unfortunately this remains the same 20 years later). However, at that time, I was a young Asian girl trying to find my way in a man’s world in the west. It was hard for me to be gutsy because that is not how the traditional Asian culture was. However now, 20 years later, you could say I’m much more familiar with being gutsy!
Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven business” are more successful in many areas. When you started your company what was your vision, your purpose?
I couldn’t agree more with this statement. When you look at some of the world’s most successful brands and ones that I admire — Apple, Nike, Patagonia — each of them has a purpose woven into every facet of the business. Brands with purpose are about so much more than shifting products and making money — they are about having a positive impact on the lives of the people who use them and that is much more important. I believe that purpose-driven brands are how you create brand loyalty and a community, rather than just consumers.
It has always been important for me that the companies I work for have a true purpose. It’s the reason why I joined ecoATM Gazelle. The company sits at the intersection between technology and sustainability and its mission is to make the world greener by giving millions of devices a second, third, and sometimes even fourth lease of life.
E-waste accounts for 70% of the world’s toxic waste and this is partly down to people not realizing that electronics such as cell phones, laptops and tablets can all be recycled. These items subsequently end up in landfill and the toxins that leak out of them can be harmful for the ground and water streams. I love that my job is to change this.
Do you have a “number one principle” that guides you through the ups and downs of running a business?
Take care of your people. There are always ups and downs in business and in life, it is unavoidable. It is the people part of your team and in your life who will stand by your side to work together, fight together and navigate the ups and downs. So, always take care of your people.
Thank you for all that. The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. For the benefit of empowering our readers, can you share with our readers a few of the personal and family related challenges you faced during this crisis? Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
My family went to China in January to celebrate Chinese New Year. This is the first time my kids and husband had been to China for the New Year celebration. Two days after we arrived, the country went into lockdown due to COVID-19. It was so surreal at the time. We managed to come back to the U.S. before President Trump’s travel restrictions went into effect and then had to quarantine for two weeks. Although most American families have been in quarantine since mid-March, we actually started in January!
We tried to make the best of this situation. It gives us a chance to spend more time together as a family, to do things we normally don’t have time to enjoy, such as cooking together, baking together and spending more quality time at home.
This is a pretty crazy time for everyone, but for some strange reason I am thankful I get to spend all this time with my family. We are home, we are safe, we are healthy. I am grateful for all this and remind myself of it daily.
Can you share a few of the biggest work-related challenges you are facing during this pandemic? Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
The safety and health of our employees is extremely important. We were very quick to adapt the work from home policy for most of our employees. For those that need to perform their work in our HQ, we have implemented strict and thorough protective measures such as PPE, temperature check, social distancing of work stations, etc.
Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the coronavirus pandemic have understandably heightened a sense of uncertainty, fear, and loneliness. What are a few ideas that you have used to offer support to your family and loved ones who were feeling anxious? Can you explain?As we experienced the impact of the coronavirus outbreak in January in China, I totally understand all the feelings associated with this. I have been really open about sharing my feelings — the good and the bad ones! It’s important that we acknowledge them and don’t dismiss them. This is especially important when there are kids in the mix. It can be a scary and confusing time for them especially as they are reading headlines and having their daily lives impacted, now that schools are closed. For me, the important thing is to be open — to invite everyone to talk about it and address the worries head on.
Routine also helps. Humans find routine comforting and so we try to bring some normality into the home by sticking to a few things every single day.
Obviously we can’t know for certain what the Post-Covid economy will look like. But we can of course try our best to be prepared. We can reasonably assume that the Post-Covid economy will be a trying time for many people across the globe. Yet at the same time the Post-Covid growth can be a time of opportunity. Can you share a few of the opportunities that you anticipate in the Post-Covid economy?
As many states loosen the stay at home restrictions, people are eager to go back to normal. But we should think hard, what normal do we want to go back to? Do we want to continue our bad habits and disrespect the Earth we are living in? Or has this pandemic made us more mindful and appreciative of this wonderful Earth that we inhabit?
We recently conducted some research that revealed Americans have finally rallied around the issue of climate change since the pandemic with 17% saying we need to take action right now and many changing behaviors already — such as recycling more, being mindful of lights/AC and wasting less food. It’s caused a pandemic to make us think this, but how do we ensure that once this is over, we are all still mindful of the Earth?
We are now about to start working on a new campaign centered around this notion of not returning to the old version of normal and what a “new normal” will look like if we were all to protect the Earth better. I feel that this is an opportunity for us to create a better world.
How do you think the COVID pandemic might permanently change the way we behave, act or live?
I truly hope we can be more mindful of the Earth, consume responsibly. This is an opportunity to press the reset button to exam our behavior and, together, create a greener planet.
Considering the potential challenges and opportunities in the Post-Covid economy, what do you personally plan to do to rebuild and grow your business or organization in the Post-Covid Economy?
I think Americans have good intentions on looking after the world — our recent research shows that — but they are not as familiar with the problem of e-waste as they are with recycling and co2 emissions. At ecoATM Gazelle, we have been working to solve this problem for over 10 years. Through education and empowerment, we are hoping to change this by making people aware of the situation and understand how they can make positive, small changes to their lives.
Similarly, what would you encourage others to do?
I hope more and more Americans can join us to reduce the e-waste problem by trading in their unused devices with ecoATM Gazelle. It’s a simple act, but can make a huge difference.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Live the moment.
You can’t change the past and future is unknown, the best thing you can do is to give your best wherever you are right now. This doesn’t mean don’t learn from the past, and don’t plan for the future, but appreciate where you are now and make the best out of it. It will lead you to your goal.
How can our readers further follow your work?
There’s lots of information about how to trade in your devices or buy second-hand ones on our websites: ecoatm.com and gazelle.com.
We also keep our social media channels packed full of useful information, news and insight into the companies and the industry. Follow us on Instagram at: @ecoatm, @gazelle_com and on Twitter at: @ecoATM, @gazelle.