15 Feb Shaden Mohamed’s amazing career and personal life journey…
We catch up with Shaden Mohamed, Managing Director, Contact Centre & Direct Business for The Travel Corporation, as we catch a glimpse into her career and personal life journey. Shaden has an amazing career who has seen and been through some incredible life experiences, she is one inspiring woman who is beautifully eloquent, personal yet professional and wildly insightful.
What drove you to your career and what was your career journey?
For as long as I can remember, I’ve been drawn to the arts – specifically, literature and creative writing. This was very much at odds with the expectations of the migrant family I belonged to, and a Middle Eastern culture that valued medicine, engineering and financial disciplines. My challenge was to find a career that brought both art and science together, which led me to this new world of Digital that was emerging in Australia in the early 2000s. The content was used to drive various eCommerce metrics, which both fascinated and excited me. I joined Google just as the evolution in consumer behaviour was emerging. Think “pre & post” social media, smartphones and wearables. It was an exciting era and working for Google gave me insight into how media consumption and buying behaviour was changing (real-time!)
Various roles (and regions) later, I left google in 2012 for an opportunity to lead a Digital Marketing, Distribution and Business Intelligence team for Wotif.com – Australia’s leading OTA and a disruptor in the travel space. With a portfolio of brands in ANZ and South East Asia, the Wotif group was responsible for 1 in 10 room nights in the country and had more reviews than Trip Advisor in Australia at the time. Having consulted for various Fortune 500 businesses while at Google, I learned valuable lessons in execution when I made the transition from consultant to business leader. The most notable being that simplicity in strategy was key and executing well (and with speed) was the difference between success and failure.
When Wotif was acquired by the Expedia Group in 2014, I was witness to the best technology operation I had ever come across (even compared to Google). Expedia migrated a billion-dollar business onto its platform, in less than four months, like it was nobody’s business! This was one of many impressive technology use cases that I was exposed to during my 2 years with the global travel giant. Upon leaving, my marketing and analytics team had expanded to include data science (think algorithms for real-time bidding), email marketing automation and mobile.
The next 4 years were focused on building my acumen in business operations and product development, leading me to Auto & General Insurance (with their flagship brand Budget Direct). I led several small business units end to end and became a true P&L owner. The greatest lesson I took from my time at A&G was that the greater your span of control, the greater the risk of having less visibility over what makes your business tick. I developed a greater appreciation for knowing when to delve into micro details and being unapologetic about doing so.
In October of 2019 I joined The Travel Corporation, tasked with building a centre of excellence for our Contact Centres in Australia and Direct Business Strategies. With a portfolio of brands who drive excellence in service, we have the product, partners and people to make 2020 (and beyond) a success.
What mistakes did you make and did you fear anything?
Too many to count, and given that I am still alive, I am certain that there will be many more! I don’t like to call them mistakes, because there is an association with regret in that word. Rather, they were opportunities for me to learn, course correct and grow as a person. My greatest fear is not having the opportunity to rectify a “mistake”- whether in a personal or professional setting. I think of it as unfinished business, and my being able to sleep at night is very much tied to this need.
What has been your biggest win so far and your proudest career moment?
I was based in Cairo with Google when the Egyptian Revolution happened in 2011, an event that was by far the one that had the greatest impact on me and my family (being our country of origin).
The impact to Tourism in the aftermath was devastating and given the reliance on this sector for the country’s economic survival, it was “all hands on deck” from every business (local or international) to turn it around. I led the digital strategy for EgyptAir (the national carrier) that focused on bolstering the airline’s sales through targeted campaigns and eCommerce executions. The work we did with the Ministers of Aviation and Tourism, the media agencies and even competitors, was the epitome of teamwork. Great minds coming together to solve a real problem that affected real people (and their livelihood) was by far the most rewarding moment of my career and the one I am most proud of. Tip: when explaining how digital works to an ex-Army General turned Minister, use analogies. Many, many analogies.
How has this changed your life?
Not many experience a real revolution. Seeing violence, death and injustice firsthand can take a toll on even the strongest of wills.
Similarly, seeing a nation come together to fight for a common cause, can be a powerful inspiration. The experience made me realise just how lucky I am to be able to live with a sense of security, a roof over my head, food to eat and access to health and education for my family. Things that we might take for granted in Australia.
What opportunities came easy and what ones did you have to push for?
No opportunity has ever come easily. Period. I’ve had to chase every opportunity that was afforded to me, and perhaps work much harder to break through given that I am a female and part of a minority group.
Let’s face it, Australia’s corporate landscape is far from diverse or inclusive and some of the stats on the decline in female leadership year on year (as an example) are not acceptable.
On the plus side, there are many businesses that are leading by example and doing this well and we should do more to highlight these champions of change.
What is the biggest hurdle you have overcome in your career or life so far? And what did you learn?
The perceptions that come with my gender and age, especially in the workplace. Being underestimated has been my biggest hurdle but also, a blessing in disguise. I’ve learnt to use this to my advantage because when people don’t expect much from you or try to understand what value you can deliver, their guard comes down a lot faster and you can have more genuine conversations about the what and why. With this, I can enable change and take positive action.
How do you know when you love your job and what you do?
When you can’t wait to go to bed and wake up to a new day! Going to work should have the same buzz as doing your favourite activity on the weekend. That’s how I know I love my job and it is how I benchmark my happiness in the workplace.
What do more business need to do differently? And what change would you like to see the industry embrace?
Stop talking about it (whatever “it” is) and do it. Walk the walk. Hiring more female leaders. Investing in that ‘project’ that will turn the business around… whatever it may be, reading a thousand whitepapers, presenting the same strategy to the board over and over or paying big dollars for consultants (and then not heeding their advice) is not going to help your business or the industry. Do it, or someone else will.
What is the best advice you have ever received?
Everything happens for a reason, whether you know it at the time, or not. Have faith and appreciate it for what it is, and the rest will work itself out. Loving words from my mother, the wisest person I know.
What is your ultimate life goal career or personal?
To be the best person I can be for my son and family, and the people in my life in general. This takes a lot of work on several levels, a lot of sacrifice and time. And… to have the courage to publish one of my many novels, written and collecting dust in my drawer! I am giving myself a target to do so before I turn 50.
What daily tasks would you encourage others to embrace?
Reading something new to expand your knowledge. It doesn’t have to be lengthy, or non-fiction, the main thing is to keep on exposing oneself to new information, concepts, ideas…
Also, alone time for at least an hour a day to reflect, recharge and do whatever it is that helps you to de-stress. I call this “Shaden time” – just me, myself and I!
Do you have any secret passions or hobbies?
Creative writing, namely poetry and fiction. Coupled with a lounge chair overlooking the ocean and a cup of coffee in hand, I’m in heaven.
What is your top 3 advice/tips for career or life?
Master the role you are in today – this will get you noticed and open doors.
When given an opportunity to take on a new challenge, embrace it even if you think you are not ready.
Stay true to your values and be guided by your moral compass when in doubt. I have never regretted “doing the right thing” even though the consequences have often been painful. Integrity is everything. Find what matters to you and ensure it is top of mind when you make decisions (at work or otherwise).
Tips for success?
Being action and solutions-oriented are the characteristics of every successful person I know. Whether personal or professional, take steps to make things better for yourself and those around you.