Alfredo Tan was the keynote speaker at Tech Manitoba’s Innovators Dinner last February. Alfredo Tan is the first Chief Digital and Innovation Officer for WestJet Airlines and shared the Innovators stage with BNN’s host of “The Open” Jon Erlichman. Alfredo shared highlights of his 20-year career in technology, digital media, enterprise marketing, strategy and mentorship. Alfredo held leadership roles at Bell, Sympatico, Yahoo and most recently, Facebook and Instagram.
I was excited to hear him speak about his executive role at Facebook and Instagram as Country Manager for the Philippines. For Alfredo, building Facebook from the ground up as a startup in the Philippines as a magical time. As Country Manager for Facebook, he was responsible for the commercial operations of the company. That included engaging with the developer community, business community and literally building his team from scratch. It was fun and magical time where Alfredo just had to figure things out with his team as there wasn’t a plabybook to teach or guide them.
Building Facebook in the Philippines was the best part of his career, the ability to run a startup and building a team in your home country was magical. He shared the magical moments which included the culture that he helped develop and driving significant growth fairly quickly and seeing first hand on the power of the platform. Story after story, Alfredo’s Facebook team saw the power in their platform to impact people’s lives. With Facebook seeing 99% penetration in the Philippines, the platform allowed people to collaborate in so many ways. Whether it was social engagement, business collaboration, education pursuits, Facebook allowed those connections to happen and powered so many Filipinos to build better lives.
As I spoke with Alfredo Tan after his keynote at the Innovators dinner, I wanted to learn more about how his Filipino upbringing shaped his career. His work ethic and hard work came from watching his family work so hard and their incredible work ethic.
His parents had a lot of faith in his intellectual capabilities and didn’t have the standard Filipino professional career expectations of being a doctor, nurse or lawyer. Alfredo’s parent knew that he was going to do something significant. He made a massive shift from Life Science into Technology after watching a Cisco commercial that was basically his ah ha moment. From there, he took up programming, pursued Cisco System certification and saw that his future in technology and what it can do for society.
As an IT recruiter with David Aplin Group, I asked Alfredo about the challenges and opportunities in his professional career. Like many IT professionals I interview on a daily basis, it’s a great question to understand a person’s mindset. There is so much potential opportunity in technology and there lies the challenge. In his current role as Chief Digital and Innovation Officer, he was hired to deliver and he’s confident in his ability to succeed and deliver in a big way. The challenge is understanding what’s next, within WestJet and in a bigger role, or is it a completely new opportunity in venture capital, maybe a tech startup.
Alfredo’s advice for Filipino IT professionals is simple. Have bold thinking, have bold ideas and it’s okay to have big dreams and aspirations. It’s also important to vocalize what you want and Filipinos are too nice and too timid to express those thoughts. If you want to be a CEO one day, be bold and vocalize it in the hopes that someone in your network will be able to help and that includes mentors, friends, family. There’s so much room to be better and there’s no shame in aspiring to want even more.
When it comes to his personal life, he shares his love for sinigang, ukoy and lumpia and begs his mom and aunt to cook them for him. Currently single, he stressed the importance of family and relationships, and being an important fabric of Filipino culture. With such a busy work schedule, he emphasized that his personal life takes precedence over everything.
Instead of work-life balance, he sees that challenge differently by calling it work-life rhythm. Sometimes its all fun and pleasure, other times, its all work and the trying to find the right cadence around personal and professional activities. At this moment, there’s room to follow professional endeavours and happy to dial down for personal stuff.
Alfredo lends his time and talent to other pursuits as an industry professor in the Strategic Management Area of the DeGroote School of Business at McMaster University. He sits on several boards and advisory committees at including the Advisory Board on Innovation at McMaster University, Leadership Council at the Institute of Theoretical Physics, Advisory Board at the University of Waterloo and director at West Neighbourhood House.
In his role at WestJet, Alfredo is responsible for building a culture of innovation and in the process transform the airline to become a digital enterprise. His focus is to significantly enhance WestJet’s self-service capabilities and transform all their digital platforms, allowing for not only a seamless guest experience, but improve commercial performance. He leads a talented and passionate team of professionals e-commerce, digital marketing, engineering, software development, data science, product management, content strategy, UX research and design.
All photo credits – Jason Halstead, Tech Manitoba