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Believe in yourself, and invest in yourself
Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month
In celebration of Asian-Pacific Heritage Month, Phong Huynh, Deloitte Consulting LLP principal in the Public Sector industry shares his career journey and three key lessons he has learned along the way.
Please share a bit about your background, your influences, and how those have impacted you.
My parents, two older brothers, and I immigrated to the United States when I was a baby and were among the first wave of Vietnamese boat people. I didn’t speak English until kindergarten, but the language barrier was easy to overcome—what was harder was cultural differences. Growing up, I heard things from my parents like, “Why would you want to jump into the cold ocean—what is surfing?”; “MVP, Captain, ASB Vice President. Good, now how did you do in school?”; and “Always, no matter what, respect your elders.” And later when I started my career, they asked, “Are you a doctor, lawyer, or engineer?” (the only three jobs on their radar); “Why do you fly across the country to do work?”; and “So what do you do? What does Deloitte make?”
Looking back at my parents’ journey, these questions are very appropriate and align with their goals for their sons. My parents led us out of Vietnam and into the Mekong River in a rickety, overcrowded boat (made for 60 people with 180 piled in). They survived the harrowing seas, a motor breakdown, and a week without food. My mom nursed me with everything she had. We arrived first on Malaysian shores and later in the US with nothing but the gold necklace my mom had sewn into my diaper. My parents left a stable life in Vietnam where they ran their own business; in the US, they started anew as janitors, taking on dual jobs and graveyard shifts to support their three growing Americanized boys. They wanted their sons to be safe, get a good education, and be “successful.”
This is the perspective I had when I entered the workforce, and it’s the same one I have today when meeting new people. It’s also why I love serving our Public Sector clients that support families with needs similar to those of my parents.
Please tell us a bit about your journey to becoming a principal at Deloitte.
When I graduated from college, I started as a systems analyst at Deloitte, and I couldn’t wait to travel to new places. I was a developer when the dot.com boom occurred, and anyone who could write good code was highly sought after. Deloitte entered into a joint venture for a start-up, and I was among the professionals they asked to go work for it. I was thinking “early retirement,” but rather than boom, it went bust. However, I did walk away with the insight that marketing, software, and consulting are a powerful combination, and you need all three to have a successful project.
I then went to work for a software company, but although I enjoyed the corporate life, I missed my Deloitte friends, the ability to be part of big changes, and self-powered upward mobility. And so I returned to Deloitte as manager–and I thought I was a big shot who was going to manage people. To my surprise, I was staffed on a large engagement, reporting to a senior manager and a partner, with no people to manage–just two-plus bosses to manage upwards. The first thing I learned from that experience was to do amazing work on my assigned tasks, and then take on more of the boss’ work. Over six years, my team of none grew to 100-plus.
When I was promoted to senior manager, I focused on big, complex custom-built technology projects. With this promotion I also learned that new titles bring new accountability, but they don’t take away much, if any, responsibility.
When I became a principal, I was able to explain to my parents that I’m a business owner–the “fourth job” in the US And like any other business owner, I work harder now than ever, but I enjoy it more than ever, too.
I hope this is just the beginning of a long, successful, and fun path, maintaining one title, but taking on more accountability and responsibility along the way.
"When I became a principal, I was able to explain to my parents that I’m a business owner–the “fourth job” in the US And like any other business owner, I work harder now than ever, but I enjoy it more than ever, too."
What lessons have you learned along the way that you would like to share with others who are building their careers?
- Keep learning: Go broad and deep. Understand the big picture for your project, your client, and your industry and practice (broad). Become the “go to” person (deep) on key parts of the solution and then repeat.
- Team up: Find folks you like that can complement your skills. Then make sure you all share the credit–the best way is by telling good stories about the skills of your teammates and the impact you all made.
- Have fun: If you do #1 and #2, then this is a given. Otherwise, remember to bring the right attitude. And maybe most importantly, share and appreciate your personal family culture to provide a perspective. Enjoy the journey, and refresh the navigation if you take turns that were not on the original route. Believe in yourself and invest in yourself.
Phong shares three simple lessons
How do you benefit from being involved with Deloitte’s Asian-American & Allies Business Resource Group (ABRG)?
The ABRG allows me to network with people outside my normal business circles in Deloitte, and as well as externally with industry. These networking opportunities continue to expose me to new people with different backgrounds. Hearing new perspectives reminds me to address each situation from the other person’s viewpoint. And this helps me with my relationships with family, friends, colleagues, and clients in many ways–for example, having more patience with my three-year-old, providing more support to friends with remote family, giving more attention to colleagues that do good work but need help exposing it, and understanding my public sector clients’ goals.
On the social side, the ABRG connects me to folks that like to eat pho, dim sum, ramen, curry, sushi, garlic naan…and introduces me to new restaurants. But more importantly, the ABRG is a low-pressure and fun group that allows me to be myself.
Diversity helps open new eyes, ideas, and conversations.
"Hearing new perspectives reminds me to address each situation from the other person’s viewpoint."
Hearing other people’s perspectives
Greg Cooper, a senior consultant in Deloitte Consulting LLP, lived in Japan for four years after college and studied Asia Pacific issues in graduate school – so it was only natural he would be interested in joining Deloitte’s Asian-American Alliance & Allies Business Resource Group (ABRG) after he started working at Deloitte. Greg, who serves as a co-president of the Greater Washington Area ABRG, feels it’s important for allies to join the ABRG and other BRGs so as to experience different perspectives. He also points out that it’s a great way to expand your network and grow professionally. “Some people are not aware that the ABRG offers a variety of programs – it provides numerous opportunities for professional development and networking.”