A brand expert’s guide to developing a diverse career

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Posted 2020-01-06
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First, a corporate finance specialist, then a consultant and now a brand expert, UBC Sauder alum Elspeth Cheung says her multifaceted career has been driven by a passion for her dream and a willingness to take initiative. 

The Global BrandZ Valuation Director at Kantar in London, England has built an impressive career by taking chances and exploring different sectors within business. She exemplifies the notion that a modern professional armed with a broad skill set and strong business acumen can thrive in a variety of workplaces and not feel confined to a single specialty over the course of a long career.

Today, Cheung leads an international team of brand valuation researchers who combine financial data with extensive consumer insights to estimate the total financial value of the world’s most valuable brands.

Following her graduation from the Bachelor of Commerce (BCom) program at UBC Sauder and a subsequent Master of Science in Law and Accounting from the London School of Economics and Political Science, Cheung launched her career as a corporate finance specialist within the corporate finance team at KPMG in Hong Kong. 

After three years in the role, she decided to quit her job, even though the global financial crisis of 2008 was impacting markets around the world. “I realized that it was not the place for me. It took a lot of courage to quit my job,” says Cheung. 

“I wanted to do something different from what everyone next to me was doing,” she adds. “I felt I wanted to be exposed to a more diversified business environment.”

 

From business valuation to strategy consulting 

She moved from Hong Kong to London to seek bigger opportunities. In the midst of the economic downturn and in a new job market to navigate, it took Cheung a year to secure a job at the data, insights and consulting company Kantar (then called Millward Brown). Though it took time to find the right permanent position, Cheung says she never regretted the move because she spent that year investing in her career, taking advantage of smaller opportunities that helped further hone her skills.

Her arrival at Kantar marked the first transition of her career, as she moved from accounting and business valuation to strategy consultancy. She worked as a consultant for just over one year before she decided she was ready to take on different responsibilities at the company.

Cheung seized the opportunity to join the project BrandZ, which focuses on brand value rankings. It didn’t take long before she became the Head of BrandZ Valuation. She now manages all of Kantar’s 15 brand value rankings for the largest brand equity platform in the world.  

 

Education is more than academic knowledge 

Cheung’s diverse career speaks to the flexibility afforded by an education from UBC Sauder. According to Cheung, her BCom degree with a double specialization in finance and accounting provided her with the exposure and platform to take on any role within the business sector. 

Even as a senior leader, she says she regularly applies the business fundamentals she was taught during her BCom. “I still use some of the financial analysis and accounting knowledge that I learned.” 

For Cheung, classes at UBC Sauder provided more than a firm foundation of academic knowledge. She says her school experience helped her learn how to build strong emotional connections, a skill that has been particularly helpful in her current role. 

“It was not really about learning accounting, it was about the professors, their dynamic approaches to teaching, encouraging us to learn,” says Cheung. “That still inspires me now that I am running a team located in multiple locations around the world.”

 

Set yourself apart as a self-starter 

When asked to consider the individual qualities that have helped shape her career over the years, Cheung points to two assets in particular: being responsible and taking initiative. She emphasizes the need to be prepared and have a healthy dose of what she describes as a “sense of crisis.” 

“The world that we are living in today changes very quickly and we live in a world of unknown, uncertainties, and unsettlement,” says Cheung. “It’s important to take the initiative, do not wait to be asked, and be a self-starter.”

She encourages the next generation of business leaders to build well-rounded resumes and not limit themselves to one or two areas of interest. “Get out of your comfort zone and go beyond your primary or core knowledge,” Cheung says.

And try to learn from every situation, even if the long-term benefits to your career aren’t immediately obvious.   

“Go by your passion, but in cases where you couldn’t find the job you most desired, always remind yourself that, even in the most boring job in the world, there is always something to learn,” says Cheung. “You never know when and how these learning experiences and skills you garner will contribute to your future.”