Spotlight on NAAAP Leadership: Esther Lee Cruz, NAAAP National Chief Business Development Officer

Spotlight on NAAAP Leadership: Esther Lee Cruz, NAAAP National Chief Business Development Officer

Esther Lee Cruz works as an Insights and Content Marketing Manager at LinkedIn, helping companies hire the best and brightest.  Prior to LinkedIn, Esther was in business school at Wharton and before that she worked in finance.  Esther is interested in career development, leadership, corporate training, and education technology because she believes that “The best competitive moat you can have is your own talent” (Warren Buffett). She has pursued these interests for the past 5 years as a volunteer for the National Association of Asian American Professionals (NAAAP) whose motto is “We build leaders.” Today, Esther serves as NAAAP’s Chief Business Development Officer, raising a quarter of a million dollars annually from corporate donors.  She moved to San Francisco with her husband a year ago and they hope they never have to leave!
Twitter: @estherleecruz

ALIST Magazine: How can non profits and emerging leaders in underrepresented communities make themselves heard in the mainstream?  
Esther Lee Cruz: Leaders in underrepresented communities must first establish who they are, what their message is, and how they will tell their message in a compelling way before they can be heard.  If Martin Luther King hadn’t established his reputation as a respectable church minister in his community, refined his race relations message to be one of love, justice, and non-violence, and told it via eloquent stories and speeches, then history would have been very different. My hope is that Asian Americans will first strive to live lives of character, integrity, excellence in work and family. Then, we should determine whether we have a message and if so, what that message is and whether it’s worth listening to. Lastly, we should develop our story telling and communication skills (writing, speaking, presenting, etc.) so that people will actually want to hear what we have to say. Personally, I’m going through this process now through a blog I just started on LinkedIn.  From experience, I know it’s hard work to know what I want to say, ensure it comes from a passion within, differentiate my message from other content out there, and tell my story in a compelling and memorable way.

AM: If you could have a luncheon with any three people (real or fictitious/from any time period/dead or alive), which three people would you choose and why?
ELC: 1-One day I’d love to meet Michelle Phan, 27 year-old YouTube celebrity with over 6 million subscribers and now her own makeup line in partnership with Loreal.  I’m interested in meeting her because she’s a young Asian female entrepreneur who started “from scratch” and created videos that are now an inspiration to millions.  I’d ask her what compelled her to get started, how much time it took and whether it was a side gig at first, what it was like to launch her own makeup lines, how her parents have felt about her adventures, and how she deals with naysayers.
2-I’d also like to meet my own company CEO, Jeff Weiner.  He’s one of the best CEO’s I’ve ever worked for, with a 100% approval rating on Glassdoor.  I admire his management skills and character.  I’d ask what were the main traits and skills that made him successful, what career pitfalls he’d recommend avoiding, how he balances work, family, and sleep, how he chooses what books & articles to read, and how he prioritizes his time / delegates tasks.
3-Lastly, I’d like to sit at the same lunch table as Daphne Koller, founder of Coursera, Sebatian Thrun, founder of Udacity, and Anant Agarwal, president of EdX.  I’m interested in massively open online courses – their industry – because it’s about giving access to expensive and prestigious college courses for free to anyone with an internet connection.  I’d ask them what their vision for the future is, what problems they are still trying to solve at their companies right now, and who they would need to partner with to achieve their goals.

AM: Who has been the biggest influence on your life? What lessons did that person teach you?
ELC: My college sociology professor, Dr. Hank Allen, has been one of the largest influences on my life.  From him, I learned the very critical skill of how to think about group social psychology – something that has been useful in my current marketing role, as well as in navigating company political dynamics.  He believed in my abilities more than I did, encouraging me to run for Student Government when I had doubts, and always writing me strong recommendation letters to apply for scholarships and leadership positions.  Lastly, when I told him my family was very concerned about my majoring in sociology, he empathized and said he would support whatever decision I made. I’m grateful to have known Professor Allen, who has been a huge personal and professional influence on my life.
AM: What technological wonder would you like to see in the future?
ELC: I hope I live long enough to see 1) very low-cost higher education access for people of all incomes, commuter space travel and the discovery and distribution of a cure for cancer. #1 because I’m interested in fairness in education, #2 because it’s cool, and #3 because I have many close friends who have been impacted by cancer.

AM: What traditions have been passed down in your family?
ELC: Every Thanksgiving, my immediate family gets together from the four corners of the US to do hot pot with lots of delicious Chinese food.  I’m not a huge fan of Turkey, so I look forward to Thanksgiving hot pot every year.

AM: The best thing that I bought myself with my own money was… 
ELC: A vacation to New Zealand.  It’s a beautiful country, is the land of the Hobbits, and has much to offer in terms of adventure sports and nature.  It has everything from snow-capped mountains to bubbling hot springs to volcanoes.  When my husband and I visited in 2013, we watched the entire Lord of the Rings Trilogy together and just enjoyed relaxing in the furthest place we had ever traveled from home.

AM: What do you when you have a day off?
ELC: Go biking with my husband, read and write, catch up on movies and shows, and see the beautiful sites of the San Francisco area.

AM: If you could start any company you want, what would it be and why?
ELC: I would start a career development company to help people transitioning in their careers, whether from school to the working world, from mommy-hood back into the workforce, or from being laid off or taking a break.  Ideally, the company would be an online platform that provides a variety of services such as career coaching and access to online classes, with ratings and reviews to help consumers know what’s best for their goals. Having gone through many career transitions myself, I’m passionate about helping others make their own successful career transitions.  I’ve gone from clueless liberal arts major to dissatisfied financial services professional to stressed out grad school student to happy marketing professional at LinkedIn.  You can read more about my career journey in my blog post.  To learn my advice on 4 steps to finding your own great job without fancy credentials, check out my other blog post.

About AList Magazine

AList Magazine
ALIST Magazine is a non-profit quarterly publication dedicated to bringing mainstream attention and interest to Asian American leadership and excellence. As a publication initially envisioned and funded by the National Association of Asian American Professionals (NAAAP), we strive to share compelling stories of Asian Americans who have succeeded in unique and outstanding ways with an audience of not only Asian Americans, but also anyone who may be interested.