7 Cities That Shaped My Career

Akademgorodok (“Academic Town”, Novosibirsk): building my character.

I was born and lived in the so-called “Siberian Silicon Valley” until I turned 30. My hometown’s “intellectual” influence on me was broad, I developed: curiosity, a learning mindset, the ability to analyze and look beyond the obvious, creativity, knowledge in mathematics, physics, IT, physiology, biochemistry, neuroscience— and many others. Severe weather conditions, strict rules in my family which valued education more than “entertainment”, significant changes in the economy and lifestyle when the Soviet Union fell apart, all made me an achiever, a survivor, a problem solver. I graduated from 2 colleges, was on my way to a Ph.D., and was supposed to become a professor, and then the “old normal” started to shift, destroying the stability of decades. I had to feed my family and decided to look for new possibilities. I was lucky and joined one of the first commercial start-ups in town, learning how to operate in our new economy—not just a new economy but a new reality. My hometown witnessed my first losses and victories, my transformations, and my big decisions. Despite all of the challenges, I moved forward with hope and love in my heart, with a sense of humor, emotional openness, and the ability to listen and empathize. The city where my character was built.

Moscow: challenge, success and well-being

This city expanded my horizon in many ways. It was a cultural paradise of theaters, museums, architecture, the “Golden Ring” of historical cities around it, and its proximity to Europe. Coming from a quiet intellectual “greenhouse”, and now surrounded by offices of multinational companies and big national corporations, wide streets and expensive cars, fashion boutiques, and posh restaurants, I felt excited and perplexed.  Moscow is not always kind to “strangers”, but it’s generous with opportunities. Here I started my career as a country procurement manager in a Fortune 100 company, P&G. 15 years later I became the global customer experience and quality director in another big multinational, JLL.

It’s a city where I overcame two big economic crises. Moscow witnessed my professional challenges and personal tragedies. There I re-learned how to breathe and smile even when I thought I could never do it again. This city made me work 24/7 with nothing but my job in mind, with little empathy towards myself and others, and then brought me back to my values, family, and friends. There I reconnected with myself, with others and the universe, and then met my partner and started to live the life of my dreams, growing and cherishing my talents and uniqueness. I started to listen to my body and my soul and became a better mom, daughter, and sister. It’s the city where my son lives and creates, and it will forever be the most important city for my professional and personal growth and for my well-being.

London: coaching, discovery and connections.

As JLL’s EMEA headquarters, this city was my most frequent business destination for many years. It was emotional exploring the city which is featured in every English lesson school book! The Tower of London and Tower Bridge, Buckingham Palace and the British Museum, Westminster Abbey and Big Ben—I was walking the streets trying to match the pictures from my memory with the majestic reality of London. Every time I travelled to London, I felt the powerful and calm energy of the city.

Participating in the company’s client meetings, strategic sessions and leadership trainings, I met a lot of people from different countries and cultures. London blended us nicely, introducing geographies and generations to each other in formal and informal ways. I figured out that Thursday drinks in the bar could be much better way to establish connections with my peers than sending tons of emails. I grasped the magic of small talk in the international business environment. I was coached and mentored. This city gave me an enormous boost of knowledge and experience, it expanded my network and ignited big picture thinking. It was the city I chose to study professional coaching skills, as I had so much respect for its diverse intellectual and business landscape. London was my city-coach.

Istanbul: awakening

When I was sent to Istanbul in 2015 for a short-term assignment, little did I know how it would shape my understanding of myself to change my career. Firstly, Istanbul gave me a lesson in unconscious biases. When you work on the regional or global role in big multinational, you assume that the headquarters are the centers of excellence. You come to the country offices as an expert. In the case of my Istanbul adventure I discovered that the local team was actually a source of best practices in many aspects of operations and workplace experience. Secondly, I was working with very strong female leaders on the client’s side and with the JLL team. This collaboration reinforced my passion to support and empower women in business.  Thirdly, this city shaped my leadership style. Interestingly, my Istanbul team nicknamed me “The Coach”, which was one of the reasons why I decided to learn what coaching is.

I didn’t see much of the city during this assignment as I worked hard combining two roles—the global and the country ones. But I connected deeply with my team there. We had a lot of conversations about values, beliefs, relationships, growth mindset, opportunities and self-belief. When I was leaving, one of my subordinates gave me a book by Rumi and said that meeting me was the best thing that had happened in her career. She quoted Rumi: “Nothing happens by chance no one goes on a quest without a reason without the pull of the magnet there is no action.” Later I realized that this quote perfectly describes the feelings I have about my team and my assignment in this city. Istanbul was my city-awakening.

Hong Kong: efficiency

The dynamics of this city and its businesses impressed me and shaped how I work. For the first couple of days there I was so overwhelmed by its density and high energy, that I preferred short side trips around the hotel and the office. On the 3rd day, I fell in love with the city and rushed to explore its unique buoyancy vibes. Many people call it the “New York of South-East Asia” which is one of the ways to embrace your first impression from meeting Hong Kong. I was astounded at the speed my colleagues worked, created, invented, and re-invented, put ideas into action, and even responded to emails. Hong Kong became to be a synonym of efficiency from things as diverse as its transportation system, its customer services, and its business operations. What made it even more surprising is how the city respects its business time and chill-out time. In addition to that, it’s the most walkable city in the world! Hong Kong boosted my personal efficiency and speed of learning, it stretched my agility and reconnected me with my techy and creative childhood. It’s shaken my ‘ know-how” and tapped into my curiosity and growth mindset. Hong Kong became my city-efficiency.

Cincinnati: tranquility and gratitude

For every P&G employee it’s a history, a legend, a dream, a motherland. Interestingly, I never went to Cincinnati while working for P&G, but in 2018, when I was running the global workplace experience program on a client’s account, I was invited as a guest speaker to the P&G headquarter to participate in a cross-accounts Workplace Experience workshop. What made my reconnection with Cincinnati more significant was the fact that 2018 marked 20 years since I had joined P&G! While I was presenting the results of my 4-year global program, exchanging ideas with leaders from different clients’ accounts and chatting with my ex-P&G colleagues, I had a feeling that I had returned to where my corporate life began. Working for P&G was transformative in many ways. In addition to my operational experience, I was a corporate trainer and I truly enjoyed facilitating team learning. I felt emotional and grateful—and suddenly very tranquil. Through this tranquility and gratitude, a very powerful realization was emerging: it’s The Time. Time to go. Time for a new beginning. I flew back home and filed my resignation from my Fortune 200 employer a few days later, to become a freelance coach.

Manila: realization

When we landed in Manila in the beginning of 2017, I was curious and apprehensive. It was my first real relocation to a foreign country. I smile at my memories of becoming an expat, as it was very unusual in many senses. I had to embrace the fact that this wasn’t a short-term assignment, and that Manila was now my new home. Luckily we liked the country – its hospitable and smiley people, its business growth, its beautiful islands. These helped us settle down almost effortlessly. What really takes time here is establishing true partnership and meaningful relationships. When I first asked local people about the most important business rules I needed to follow, the answer was: “It’s an island and everyone knows everyone here.” I heard the same phrase many times, and I started to get its meaning.  If you do something bad, everyone will know. If you do something good, everyone will know. If integrity is one of your values, if you are curious about the country’s culture, if you act with love in your heart, if you share your knowledge generously, if you are open to learn, if you are grounded and resilient – Manila is a great city to live in.

The regional leaders gave me a warm welcome, and I was able to connect with the 20 countries of the Asia Pacific region. This instantly granted me an access to an incredible amount of ideas, innovations and best practices, as well as accelerating the launch of the global programs I was leading. At the same time, relocation to Manila changed my life routine significantly. And that created a unique thinking space where I realized what matters, what legacy I want to leave behind. Manila and Cincinnati helped me understand that it was time to change my career.

Since I’ve transformed myself and my life many times, since I feel great while empowering people, since it makes me happy when other people are becoming happier, understanding themselves better and embracing their strengths – it feels very organic for me to be a transformational coach. I coach teams, individuals, relationships, helping people transform dreams into reality.

It’s my time to give back, and Manila accelerated this realization.

Which cities shaped your career?

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