According to this Alibaba executive, the right time to make the leap from needing a mentor to being a mentor is… never!
By Diana Scimone (President, Peapod Publishing)
Annie Jie Xu is the General Manager of Alibaba.com Americas, responsible for the operation of the Americas office located in Santa Clara, California. Xu joined Alibaba.com in 2000 and has been a leading force in its direction since day one.
Xu manages a dedicated team of marketing and business development professionals as well as a product development division and customer care program in the Americas. She was named Top 100 Women of Influence by Silicon Valley Business Journal in 2013. From her early mentoring influences growing up in Shanghai to the boardrooms of corporate America, Annie Xu shares how mentoring empowers women
You came to the U.S. as a young woman knowing virtually no one. How important is mentoring to you?
It’s very important, especially for women. You need to know you have the potential—and sometimes it takes someone else encouraging you that you do. My first mentors were my family members. I grew up in Shanghai, China, and my grandfather worked for the U.S. consulate there for more than 30 years. He always talked about the exciting world out there. He was a fluent English speaker but had never been to the U.S.—and his dream was for one of his children to go out and see the world and bring good fortune to the family.
My dad studied English literature at university in Beijing, and he was the first one in our family to go to the U.S. I knew from the beginning I wanted to follow his footsteps. Because of his interest in western literature, I read Charles Dickens, Jane Austen, Mark Twain, and others, and I learned about a big world from those books. I was fascinated about the different cultures. That was the beginning of my journey and I knew I wanted to see more.
How does a woman entrepreneur’s need for mentoring differ from her male counterpart?
Women often have to balance their work and life, more than men. That’s not to say that men have it easier, of course, but a woman often times has a special bond with her children and other family members that require her to attend to their emotional and other needs in a different way. So it’s often difficult for women with dreams and visions to even find the time to pursue their ideas. That’s why it’s important for them to be around other women who can nurture and encourage them to move forward.
When does a woman make the leap from needing mentoring to being a mentor?
Never! That need for mentoring never ends. I love to mentor other women—but I still need to be mentored myself. We all always do. Today I still look for mentors and I consider my husband one of the key ones for me. Having that support system is very important.
That’s why one of my hobbies is putting myself out there to go to networking opportunities whenever I can. Every time I do, I walk away with something valuable. Sometimes I go to an organization or event that’s centered on international trade, sometimes on women entrepreneurs, or many other topics. It’s important to get out there and meet as many people as possible. Everybody is different and what works for me might not be the best for you. Find out what works for you, for your situation, and your time. You’ll be enriched and inspired. And in the process you’ll help mentor other women, too.
Alibaba.com recently sponsored a global campaign called Women Empower Women. Who won?
As a company our goal is to empower women around the world to launch their own businesses and gain financial independence as well as personal fulfillment. The goal of Women Empower Women was to find women entrepreneurs with dreams and ideas, and inspire them that they can succeed and fulfill their passions The winner was Nicole Kelner, who merged design and fashion to create her product called SmartPurse—while she was a student at Penn State University. She won a mentoring program working with some of the top creative women in business. We’re very proud of her.
Are you planning to do another mentoring campaign?
It definitely wasn’t a one-time campaign and we hope to do it again in the future, perhaps partnering with other companies. In the meantime we regularly and intentionally look for successful women (and men) entrepreneurs and feature their stories on our website, our YouTube channel and in print. We do this not only to commend them on their success but also to inspire others to learn from their stories and to encourage others to pursue their dreams, as well. That’s what mentoring is all about.
Do you agree that you're never too far along in your career to be mentored?
About the guest blogger: Diana Scimone is president of Peapod Publishing. She's a writer, journalist, and writing coach. Photo credit: Brian Ujiie via Flickr.