Charlotte Russe CEO Jenny Ming delivered a motivational speech about having a career one can be passionate about and persevering throughout one’s career to an audience of approximately
200 students and faculty members Thursday in the Engineering building auditorium.
Ming was the College of Engineering’s Silicon Valley Leaders Symposium's third speaker this semester and discussed the challenges and successes of her 35-year long career.
"Don't give up, know that being different is an advantage, don't make assumptions, seize opportunities, take risks, have a life outside work and remember to give back (to the community)," she said.
Ming graduated from SJSU in 1978 with a
Bachelor of Arts degree in clothing merchandising and a minor in marketing. After SJSU, she began her career at an entry-level manager position at Mervyn's and was recruited by Gap Inc., which eventually led to her becoming the president of Old Navy. She began her speech by explaining her challenges in management as a department manager at a Mervyn’s, which she described as the most important lesson she learned right out of college.
“I learned how to manage people, about being honest and direct, about setting clear expectations,” Ming said. “I also learned how important it is to keep going, persevere, in the face of challenges.”
Mohammed Islam, a freshman software engineer major, said Ming was a great speaker.
“It was not related to engineering, it was more of a motivational speech for the engineering (students)," said Islam. "I’m pretty sure a lot of people learned a lot today.”
Ming followed her speech by explaining how her Chinese heritage and gender were advantageous in her career because she delivered a different perspective.
“I’m often asked for my opinion because it made me different than others, and people remember me because of it,” she said. “The same goes for you. Whatever your differences may be, embrace your diversity and take full advantage of it. And that different perspective, that different point of view, has been instrumental in my own career. It has enabled me to see new ideas and discover new possibilities in my own business.”
Ahmed Hambaba, the associate dean of graduate and extended studies for the College of Engineering, said it’s good for men to see women speakers like Ming because women usually have the challenging task of raising children and balancing a career.
“(Ming) encourages women to aim high,” Hambaba said.
Ming also offered the audience a key business lesson she learned during her time at Gap Inc.
“When you’re thinking about all the market research, despite all of the business experience that you have sitting around the table, never assume you understand your customer better than they understand themselves,” she said.
Manish Belsare, a senior software engineering major, believes that Ming’s speech inspired a few of the people in the audience about how students can enter a field and go into the business field as well.
After the symposium, Belsare asked Ming about how she obtained her leadership skills and how to enter into a new field.
“She was very warm and answered every question that I had,” he said.
The Silicon Valley Leaders Symposium began in 2003 and served as one way engineering students can get more connected with the community and learn about business in technology, Hambaba said.
The majority of past symposium speakers are executives from technology companies such as IBM, Cisco, Oracle, Google and Yahoo, but they also include companies such as eBay, 23andMe and the Silicon Valley Leadership Group.
According to Hambaba, the college looks for role models who embody the notion that hard work and passion that can lead to success.
“We want to expose our students to the industry leaders in the Silicon Valley area and have (those speakers) come here and talk about the
discipline of engineering and leadership in general,” said Andrew Hsu, dean of the College of Engineering.
Hsu acknowledges that Ming does not have a technical engineering background, but said he wanted to expose his students to other disciplines outside of engineering.
“We want to show our students how a San Jose State graduate can actually achieve what she has achieved, so that our students will have bigger ambitions and know what they can achieve when they do their work and when they achieve their full potential,”
he said. “It’s not only students from these Ivy Leagues or big state universities (who can achieve a high level of success) — our students can achieve the same.”
Hsu said Ming is a good example of the type of speaker the department invites to speak at the symposiums.
“She’s our own alum," he said. "She started at a entry-level position — managed the department within a store — and she moved all the way up to the highest level of management.”
The next Silicon Valley Leaders Symposium is scheduled for March 7 with Sebastian Thrun, co-founder and CEO of Udacity Inc.