A trip to Italy led Reika to a career with some of the world's top-tier consulting & tech companies.

Reika Phung

A dream to be an astronaut led Reika to study Aeronautical Engineering & Physics.

But a change in direction (and a trip to Italy!) led Reika to a career with some of the world's top-tier consulting & tech companies.

When did you come to PLC Sydney and what were your plans for after school?

I was one of those students who started in Kindergarten and went through all the way to Year 12. I joined PLC way back in 1987! In terms of my plans after school, I had always assumed it was university, I never considered anything else. I changed my mind every two seconds around what I wanted to study [laughs]. I thought that I would go overseas at some point and eventually, get married and have kids (not that creative I admit!) but that was basically the extent of my life’s plan while I was at school.

What did you do after school?

I went to Sydney University and I studied Aeronautical Engineering and Physics. There’s not much of an aeronautical industry in Australia but of course, I didn’t think about that when I planned my study—my choice of degree was driven by an aspiration to be an astronaut! I did my final year thesis in Italy as part of an exchange program to the Politecnico di Torino. I ended up extending my time in Italy because I didn’t have a job and I didn’t have anything to come home to so I thought “Why not live in Italy a bit longer?”. I briefly considered doing a PhD, which I applied to but I ended up turning it down as I realised I wasn’t that passionate about doing more Engineering.

When I came back to Australia I worked in my parent’s wholesale business for 18 months and did a couple of different roles there. At 6 months in I wasn‘t really enjoying myself. It was quite tough working with my parents and I quickly moved out of home [laughs]. I started looking around—everything was on the table for me at that point because I was unhappy about my life direction. I thought about going back to university but that wasn’t appealing as I’d already done 5 years of study. I even considered working at a restaurant because I really enjoyed a previous job as a waitress. I was exploring all potential options, and I started looking at companies which would take university graduates and mainly targeted consulting firms. I only got interviewed at one company, and luckily they gave me the job!

I joined Bain in 2006 and ended up staying there for almost 7 years—one year of which was spent doing my MBA at a school called INSEAD. In mid-2012, I left Bain and I joined LinkedIn. I was at LinkedIn for 7 and a half years and then at the start of 2020, I joined a company called Ascender.

What did your role involve at LinkedIn?

I joined as the first person in the Sales Operations team for the Asian Pacific region. I built the team from the ground up. The role primarily revolved around helping the sales teams build and execute go-to market strategies and running the operations behind the team; setting quotas, allocating territories etc.

What does a typical workday look like for you at the moment?

It generally looks like a lot of meetings. I look for a lunch break at the minimum [laughs] but otherwise, it can be back to back 9-5. I spend a lot of time talking to different people across the organisation and collaborating with them. I’ll be part of other broader meetings and I’ll also have meetings with my peers. My boss and I meet once a week. There’ll be team meetings that I attend as well. Partnerships are also a part of my role so I’ll meet with a lot of people from other companies who partner with us. There’s really no typical day in terms of who I meet but just lots of meetings in general, making sure we are headed in the right direction, focusing on our priorities and making sure my team is happy and engaged.

What about your life beyond work? What does family and your personal life look like for you?

I’m married with two kids - I have a daughter who is 7 and a son who is 4. There’s no hobbies or anything fancy outside of work, I’ll squeeze in yoga where I can [laughs]. My daughter is in school and my son is in daycare. We have a nanny and she’s a godsend. I couldn’t balance home and work without that kind of help.

I have pretty clear boundaries as a mum—I don’t start work before 9 and I will only on exception have a meeting after 5 as I then start to cook dinner. On weekends I cut off at 5pm on a Friday and you don’t hear from me until I maybe look at my computer at 8.30 pm on a Sunday night. I’ve got some pretty clear time-out blocks where I don’t engage with work.

Weekends are spent with friends, family and being outdoors. We’ll go camping on long weekends with friends and we love to travel, although that has been restricted in the past year.

What has been your proudest moment in life to date?

It's not necessarily a moment but I’m proud that I’ve managed to keep two kids alive [laughs]! If I think about satisfaction in my profession, my career’s at a point now where it's no longer about my own progression. I pride myself more on the fact that I’ve clearly impacted a lot of other people’s careers. It’s really satisfying to see people you have worked with go on and develop their careers.

What about a mistake that you’ve made in your work and what was the learning process surrounding that?

My biggest mistakes revolve around poor judgement of character. I’ve made some hiring mistakes—it happens. A mentor once told me “Don’t beat yourself up over a bad hire—beat yourself up if you don’t do anything about it” so I’ve stuck to that philosophy.

I’m very straight up when it comes to work. I don’t play political games—if I don’t like or agree with something I’m upfront about it. I’d like for everybody in my team to know where they stand in my eyes. If you’re underperforming you’ll know you’re underperforming and if you’re performing well you’ll know I think that.

What’s the biggest piece of advice you’ve received in your life and who gave it to you?

Professionally, one of my sponsors at LinkedIn who is also a mother gave me advice as I was coming back after my first maternity leave: “Don’t work part-time—you’re just going to be working more and getting less pay.” When I came back, I did 3 days a week for 3 months and that was so hard because I was trying to do five days work in three. I realised when I started working 4 days a week how much easier it was. After realising that, I went back to full time. My second maternity leave I just went straight back to work full time.

My mum also told me “You can have it all but you can’t do it all”. You can have all the components that you believe contribute to a happy and successful life but you don’t necessarily have to do it all to get there. So that’s why I get help with the kids and cleaning. My mum also gave me the really good advice of putting myself first, even though I’m a mum. If I’m not able to take care of myself then I won’t be able to take care of my kids.

If you could travel back in time what would you say to your 17-year-old self?

Don’t worry about what other people think and just be yourself and be comfortable being yourself. I find that lesson is mostly learnt with experience and it’s hard to apply! I think being true to yourself, setting boundaries and trusting your gut instinct are important as well. If someone treats you badly I often find that my first reaction is that it's my fault—when actually it's not. We’re not accountable for other people’s behaviour, or their emotions.

What tools do you use to manage your day to day life and / or to switch off / find balance - books, apps, favourite podcasts?

I listen to a lot of podcasts. Now that I’m working from home I also try to go for a walk every day. I would like to say that I do yoga every day. I’m not a huge book reader but I do read a lot of articles. I try not to judge myself or be too critical.

What role has PLC Sydney played in your life and what gift has your time at PLC given you?

PLC Sydney really promoted a message of “you can achieve”. There was never any mention of “women can’t” that limited us. That belief was the biggest thing that I embraced from school- there was never a message of “You can’t do x because you’re a woman”.

I only realised how strongly this message was communicated when I went into Engineering—I was one of 20 women out of 200 students in the course. This was the first time I’d experienced sexism. Up until that point, I’d never been told “no, you can’t do this because you’re a woman”—that concept didn’t exist at PLC Sydney.

What are some of your favourite memories or memorable teachers from school?

Favourite teacher is easy—no one forgets Mrs Bubb. She was our Year 9 teacher and was simply a really good teacher, especially for Physics. I still catch up with high school friends—we catch up every year for Christmas and a few other times during the year.

I have lots of memories of silly things that happened, funny jokes and mucking around in class. The UK Choir and Orchestra Tour in Year 9 was a highlight and there were of course a lot of memorable events in Year 12 including the formal.

Connect with Reika on LinkedIn.

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