Malaysian girl in Silicon Valley. Who would have thought?
Sixteen years ago, I made my way to San Jose. It was 1999, my 10th month into a great job at Intel, and I was loving every bit of it. Little did I know that things were about to change drastically and I would pack my bags for good. The U.S. economy was at an all-time high (just before it took a nose dive from the dot-com boom), my future husband was going to relocate to the U.S., but I wasn’t about to leave a great job without another one in hand.
Grudgingly, I began my job search and sent out applications to several PR agencies in Silicon Valley. I decided that a regular cover letter wouldn’t cut it so I went off the beaten path — ever so slightly. My cover letters were honest and transparent — very much Natalie Kessler on a page; what you see is what you get. I positioned my South East Asian PR experience BUT, I shared my personal story — Soon to be married. Future husband wanted to relocate to pursue his dream of working for a startup, me not so much. I’m creative. I understand the tech space. I’m a hard worker. And, I proposed that I would pay for my own visa application process and legal fees. All I wanted was a chance to prove myself. I bet that shocked many companies I applied to, but not The Hoffman Agency.
Within 24 hours of my application, I received an email from Lou Hoffman, CEO of the Agency. What? Was that right? I would have never imagined any CEO reviewing applications, let alone responding to them. As fate would have had it, it was my cover letter (and PR background) that caught Lou’s attention. We interviewed on the phone and I was on a flight to the Agency’s Singapore office a week later.
The Hoffman Agency was right smack in the center of Singapore’s bustling Chinatown. I scratched my head. Why are they here? What kind of an agency was this? I hesitated for a millisecond.
CREATIVE. You got that right. What a fantastic place. The building was colorful. The interior was vibrant and tastefully decorated. The energy was one of a kind. I was intrigued.
PEOPLE. Don’t get me started. They treated me like I was their most important candidate. They were respectful, interested in my ideas and the entire process felt like a meeting with friends. The conversation was effortless and left me feeling energized. They even took me out for a fantastic Chinese lunch. It was the first time I saw a Chinese tea kettle with a spout that was at least 3 feet long. Just think about this for a second, I wasn’t being interviewed for a managing director position. I was applying to be an account executive — a relatively junior position. Being raised in a hierarchical culture, it wasn’t something I expected. The Hoffman Agency took the candidate experience to a whole new level. It seemed too good to be true.
The Real Deal
I accepted their offer letter which arrived within a week, and that was the start of my journey to Silicon Valley. Three months later, I arrived — without a car. I didn’t realize that public transportation wasn’t as conducive to get me to and from the Agency, let alone to client meetings.
My colleague, Ellie K., volunteered to pick me up every day for the next few weeks from my apartment until I got things figured out. This confirmed my decision to join the company. Where can you find such genuinely kind folks? I saw this in everyone I met at the Agency no matter where they were located — USA, Singapore, China, Hong Kong, Japan, London. Downright good people. I quickly learned that the Hoffman culture and spirit was consistent around the world. We were part of one big global Hoffman family.
I stayed at the Hoffman Agency for six years before saying goodbye to agency life and returned to the “Corporate” world. Throughout my time at the Agency, some of the things I loved about it were the trust and opportunities the Agency extended to its employees.
As long as you produced great work, you could work anywhere! I experienced that first-hand when my mom fell ill and it required me to return to Malaysia with my six-month old. It was hard for me to ask, but I picked up the courage to ask Lou if he would let me work in Malaysia for three months. He gave me a simple yes with the agreement that I would work some U.S. hours. It turned out to be a great experience. I had the opportunity to work even more closely with the Asia Pacific teams in Hong Kong and Singapore. The best part, my colleagues in Silicon Valley said they didn’t even notice I was out of the country.
I also discovered that if you have the desire to work abroad, the Agency will find a way. So true for my colleague Heather C., a junior account executive at that time who reported to me. She had never been out of the country and wanted to try working in London. We made her desire known, and it happened! We were all fortunate to have been given opportunities like these.
Friends for Life
I think so fondly of the friendships I’ve made at The Hoffman Agency. I cherish each and every one of them. I count myself lucky to have friends like the Hoffman ladies you see in this photo (and there are many more) where we can pick up a conversation like it was just yesterday when we were working together.
Thank you, Lou and The Hoffman Agency, for the opportunities, friendship and for believing in us. I’m forever grateful.
P.S. For the record, the Agency sponsored my visa application, of course.