As we wind down our celebration of Asian American and Pacific Islander Month (AAPI), WiT had the privilege of sitting down for a conversation with industry leader, Janet Hsu.
Her story serves as a testament to the power of resilience, unwavering determination, and the relentless pursuit of breaking through barriers. She provides a source of inspiration and motivation for aspiring leaders, underscoring the importance of embracing one’s cultural identity and harnessing it as a source of strength.
Women in Toys, Licensing & Entertainment (WiT): Can you share a little about your personal and professional journey, along with key accomplishments and challenges you encountered along the way?
Janet Hsu: Growing up in a small town with very little diversity, I stood out as a minority and saw first-hand the impact of race at a very young age. I straddled classic Korean traditions and culture at home while acclimating to U.S. society. I watched my parents struggle as immigrants who came to the U.S. after their lives were torn apart by the Korean War. Their pursuit of a better life after experiencing incredible losses inspired me to be even more focused and humble and to work hard.
As a female Asian American in the corporate world, resilience has been ingrained into every aspect of my personal journey. I recently read that one in every 124 Asian women holds a top job, compared to one in every 45 white men and one in every 60 white women. To help close the gap, I take on the responsibilities of continuing to inspire meaningful change and helping to pave the way for other female and minority professionals.
Throughout my career, I’ve had opportunities to manage, cultivate and expand global powerhouse brands. I’ve delivered growth and value by making big bets in overhauling business models, reimagining marketing strategies, changing partnerships, modifying distribution plans, diversifying revenue streams, and identifying new opportunities. I don’t think I ever had a fear of change as I have always viewed change as a necessity. I’ve always been more fearful of standing still. I’m proud of the talented teams I’ve built with strong capabilities and organizational resilience. Together we made significant progress and overcame obstacles.
As an Asian American woman, I do confront stereotypes that can cause me to feel the need to overcompensate in certain situations. I also found that people may underestimate you at the beginning based on your physical appearance and their preconceived opinions. Resilience has helped me navigate these challenges.
WiT: Did you have influential figures or mentors that supported and guided you throughout your career, and how did they contribute to your success?
Janet Hsu: I see development and leadership as a lifelong journey, not a destination – and I’ve been incredibly fortunate to have influential mentors who have personally guided and supported me along the way. Through hard work, leadership, and consistently delivering results, I’ve been able to break the bamboo ceiling, carving my own path to success. Along the way, my mentors have nudged me out of my comfort zone and provided a strong foundation throughout that process. The diverse perspectives and lenses offered by my mentors have been truly invaluable.
WiT: Have you found that being a female Asian leader presented unique opportunities or obstacles, and how did you navigate them?
Janet Hsu: Yes, as a female Asian leader, I’ve encountered instances where obstacles have emerged due to stereotypes and the fact that female Asian professionals remain a minority in leadership roles. These experiences have taught me the importance of speaking louder, embodying confidence, and dedicating extra effort to persuading others of my capabilities and leadership skills. I’ve been fortunate to have unique opportunities to bridge international businesses, especially in Asia, which holds a special significance to me as someone who grew up with Korean traditions and embraces my Asian American identity. Growing up with these traditions has cultivated a shared understanding and mutual respect for the cultural nuances that shape business interactions. This reciprocal confidence of engagement has opened doors to exciting collaborative ventures along with a continuous stream of fresh, innovative ideas.
It’s an exciting time for us to come together as an industry and community to recognize the importance of diverse leadership from gender, race, and experience. We need to continue to advocate for diversity and inclusion and create an environment where every individual’s unique perspective is heard and valued.
WiT: How have your experiences as a female Asian leader shaped your leadership style and approach, and how do you use the perspective to inspire and empower others in an organization?
Janet Hsu: The reality is that there are few female Asian leaders in our industry. However, in my recent leadership roles, I’ve been humbled by the proactive approach of female Asian employees. Whether it was an encounter in an elevator, a passing conversation in the halls, or an email requesting a meeting, I always made sure to take time for them. Their passion and drive energize me, and it’s such a gratifying experience to offer guidance and support.
I hold adaptability and empathy as two key traits that have helped me grow as an executive. Being able to lead globally as a female Asian leader has meant that I had to be more determined, agile, and stoic in my management decisions to get the right results. Having a deeper Asian cultural understanding on how to use empathy has allowed me to be more innovative and competitive in a geopolitical sense and I try to always have my team learn from this important attribute.
WiT: What valuable advice or lessons can you share that have significantly impacted your growth as a leader?
Janet Hsu: To be an accessible leader who listens, engages, and creates a non-hierarchical culture. To identify and lean into the strengths and weaknesses of the team. To be humble at the core. To think big and push me out of my comfort zone. To drive vision and inspire the team and company to think differently. To understand passion and purpose in everything I do. To keep building my support system and in turn, to be a support system for others.
Industry togetherness is important, especially to discuss, exchange, challenge, and take action. I feel privileged to have had the experience of making an impact and meaningful change. Perhaps one of the most valuable pieces of advice that has impacted my growth as a leader is to understand that change is inevitable. No matter the business environment or the business cycle, you must always be ready as a leader to adopt new principles and adapt to new practices to stay ahead of the game.
This article originally appeared in The Toy Book, and has been republished here with their permission.