Jackie Jung: Connecting the Dots

Jackie Jung: Connecting the Dots

Jackie Jung’s resume could intimidate the coldest corporate shark: VP, Global Operations Strategy, Chief of Staff, and recipient of Connected World’s 2021 Women of Technology award for innovative Fourth Industrial Revolution strategy. But as a low-income Chinese immigrant who grew up in 1980s Hong Kong, Jackie recalled her first title was “disadvantaged minority.”

“A lot of what you perceive yourself wanting to do is shaped by society [and] what success means,” she said. An underdog immersed in Hong Kong’s booming and increasingly female-friendly corporate culture, Jackie knew as a child that she would become a successful businesswoman.

What did success look like and how would she achieve it? Always the executive thinker, she moved to the US, delineated three feasible career paths, and tested each: finance (not very interesting), software (if there was a bug, she could not sleep), and finally, engineering. “Why chemical engineering? Because in my studies, I did a little better in chemistry,” she explained.

It was halfway through completing a chemical engineering PhD from Stanford that Jackie chose to switch lanes. “I felt like I probably couldn’t really just stay in the lab,” she said. “I decided to stop in the middle of my PhD career and get a job.” She worked at a nanotech media company called Komag for about a decade before it was acquired by Western Digital.

The merger created a need for a leader with a technical background and cross-functional critical thinking. In other words, a chemical engineer with business chops. Jackie was the clear choice. Her division GM and mentor even wanted her to tackle a division-wide performance issue. A product defect was generating cumulatively throughout the entire process, the thorny kind of issue that would require intelligent, data-driven strategy to locate and solve. Luckily, Jackie had been doing her research.

Her division GM asked her to present this research to the Executive VP of Customers the following week. “I tell you, usually stress creates binge-eating for me, but this stress? I lost five pounds in one week.”

“I need to report to the Customer VP and I’m a small potato, right?” she recalled thinking. But the work itself came naturally. “I formulated the problem statement and the first point of attack,” she said, underscoring that identifying the problem statement is always “number one” in seeing the forest through the trees. “That was a pivotal moment that really used my integrated mind and process of very systematic thinking.”

Jackie demonstrated her gift for connecting the dots at a high-stakes, executive level, validating her mentor’s choice for the role and kickstarting her chapter as a business strategist.

Years later, she received a chance to repay the favor.

Western Digital’s component factory in Malaysia was bottlenecking and needed fresh leadership. But when Jackie’s former boss moved his family across the world to champion the effort, his wife’s cancer recurred. Jackie volunteered herself for the position so his family could return home for tried-and-true medical care.

The first two years in Penang, Malaysia were “heaven.” But another division needed her brand of cross-functional leadership and Jackie was game for the challenge, even if it meant moving to Kuala Lumpur and from component factories to HDDs, a new realm of technical expertise.

“After three years I was able to understand the technology. I was able to work with the new management. I established a new business process, and new mandates. I was quite successful at the end.” Her hard-won success reorienting the Kuala Lumpur factory gave her the confidence to weather any situation.

She would need every bit to lead the charge in implementing 4IR technologies across Western Digital manufacturing. It was 2014 and data analytics had been pigeon-holed as an e-commerce tool. Even after Jackie’s team spent two years collecting the data points necessary to begin implementing smart factory tech, it was an uphill battle to convince engineers that the analytics might illuminate solutions they could not previously see.

Jackie asked her boss to take a chance. “Nobody will remember your engineering team for this quarter that makes one engineering change and improves yield points one or two percent,” she remembered saying. “But people will remember you if you have the first factory to ever enable machine learning. Think about it.”

She has since been elected to chief of staff and strategy of Global Operations to integrate her revolutionary analytics approach and automation discipline across all eighteen Western Digital factories. The results speak for themselves: 30% advancement along key process indicators and 25% reduction in overall operating costs. Under Jackie’s leadership, two of these factories were recognized by the World Economic Forum’s Global Lighthouse Network. Both factories are the first to receive this award in their respective countries, Thailand and Malaysia.

A successful businesswoman with the ego of a small potato, Jackie Jung has knocked her girlhood dream out of the park and then some. She is a pioneering thinker of the Fourth Industrial Revolution because its grounding philosophy is fundamental to her skill set.

“The most important thing [about the Fourth Industrial Revolution] is connectiveness because you are connecting relationships that never existed before,” she said. 4IR tech is thrilling to Jackie precisely because it enables this kind of strategic, connective thinking – elevating the intelligence level of everyone’s day-to-day work. “It’s about augmenting humans, so he or she has time for innovation. That is authentic intelligence, versus artificial intelligence.”

It’s difficult to speak to Jackie without getting excited about the future. That is authentic vision.

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