“Develop a skill set that makes it easier for you to transfer over to different interests and industries.” — Ngoc Nguyen
I first met Ngoc Nguyen many years ago when we both worked at Paramount Pictures. I was working in digital marketing and pregnant with my now nine year old daughter, Violet, and Ngoc was a young publicist who was a favorite of all of our filmmakers for her smart, kind and thoughtful approach to working with creative minds. Ngoc surprised me when she threw me a baby shower for Violet and had all of our friends and colleagues help celebrate me in my office as I went on maternity leave. I will never forget that moment because it was so rare to have a work colleague go out of their way to recognize an important personal milestone and Ngoc made me feel incredibly loved and valued by our little marketing team.
It was no surprise to me that Ngoc went on to a huge career spanning across entertainment, sports and philanthropy. While continuing her work in publicity, Ngoc embarked on a journey that would take her to the other side of the entertainment industry — producing. As a filmmaker, Ngoc has produced numerous projects that center the voices of women and girls. Her first endeavor was the award-winning documentary, “A Brave Heart: The Lizzie Velasquez Story,” which chronicled Lizzie’s journey from being labeled “Ugliest Woman in the World” to becoming one of the world’s most respected anti-bullying activists. Another deeply impactful project was Google’s “Power On” series, which Ngoc produced to inspire girls in STEAM fields. The five-part narrative series also provided opportunities for first time female directors on each project. Her most recent endeavor, “Everyone is Doing Great,” which she produced alongside actors/creators, James Lafferty and Stephen Colletti, can be seen worldwide on Hulu and Paramount+.
Currently, Ngoc serves as SVP and Head of Entertainment at TIME’S UP, a high-profile women’s advocacy organization where she oversees all strategy, talent relations, and programming, including initiatives that advocate for female directors, women in production, and underrepresented critics and journalists.
I asked Ngoc if she could share some of her wisdom with Violet and I and I’m really happy I did because her advice is so valuable and important for all of us to hear.
Is there one piece of advice that you wish your 9 year old self would give you today that would make an impact on your career?
As human beings, we change at every decade of our lives. We learn new information, we develop new interests, we prioritize different things. So, my one piece of advice would be to allow yourself that same grace with changing what you want as a person to changing what you want as a professional. You don’t need to know exactly who you want to be or what you want to do for the rest of your life at 18years old when you “become an adult” and/or go to college. If there was a second part of this advice, though, it would be to develop a skill set that makes it easier for you to transfer over to different interests and industries. For example, I developed skills in marketing and publicity and, even though I started working in movies, every successful company needs marketing and publicity, so I was able to take my skills and apply them to TV jobs, to sports jobs, to organizations that help women and other underrepresented communities. Also, learn another language!
Was there a time you messed up and felt like you’d failed? how did you bounce back?
I have made plenty of mistakes, just like everyone else, and so will you. But, the biggest “mistake” or, rather, lesson learned is that I didn’t follow my instincts as much as I should have. So, what I would say to you is don’t spend your time being upset about the mistakes you made, but rather spend your time trying to become good at speaking up when you know something is a good idea OR a bad idea. And, if the mistake is already made, ask how you can fix it or what you can learn from it. The best leaders don’t dwell on mistakes, they learn how not to make the same ones twice and they move on quickly.
How did you learn to embrace risk-taking?
For me, there were no Asian women leaders in publicity when I started my career, so simply by staying in the industry was a risk so I had no other choice. That said, what was incredibly helpful was looking at other women, mentors, who had their own struggles and seeing how they overcame them. I surrounded myself with people who I believed were the smartest and most successful women and I positioned myself to be mentored by them.
What’s the most important leadership lesson you’ve learned and how has it proven invaluable?
Becoming more of an expert at your job (ie getting promoted) does not mean you will automatically be a good team manager. Be open to honest feedback from your team and get actual training to become a better leader. Also… nurture your relationships! Keep in touch with people. That is the one thing that has propelled my career more than anything else.
What is the most fun part of your job?
I not only get to meet, but I get to work, with my heroes across so many different industries.