This is an interview with Phillip Lew, CEO at C9 Digital.
Where were you at 22, and how did you get to where you are today?
At 22, I was fresh out of college and I have already built my first company. It was a financial services company. I did seminars in front of audiences to book consultations for potential clients. It was a fun and educational experience for me. I learned a lot about the importance of sales and marketing. I learned the importance of being self-motivated. Most importantly, I learned the mechanics of building a business from scratch. Now, I’m a 34-year old CEO of a global staffing solutions company. All those important lessons I learned during those times became the foundation of what I am now as a person and as an entrepreneur.
When did you really decide to “take ownership” of your career? What inspired you to pursue your passion?
What inspired me to take ownership of my career and my life in general was the fact that every job I ever had back in middle school and high school, I got fired. And it’s not because of incompetence. It’s just that even at a young age, I didn’t like the idea of working for someone else. I’ve always wanted to march to the beat of my own drum. I’ve always wanted to do my own thing and not conform to society’s cookie-cutter idea of what I can and cannot do. And that led to my passion for building businesses, being successful, and making a difference in the world. Right now, my company is producing jobs in different parts of the world and that means a lot to me.
All good career stories include some aspect of “risk.” Was there a moment in your career where you felt that you were risking something, but looking back on it now, that move made all the difference?
I took a “risk” when I moved to the Philippines to start my own outsourcing company. I was afraid I was going to be stuck in the Philippines, broke and having to find a job in a BPO company, and just doing my best to make ends meet. That fear actually kept me on my toes. I think that’s one of the biggest drivers of my success in my business venture. Looking back, my decision to do all that took me out of the notion of just being an American living in the US, and instead gave me the idea of becoming a citizen of the world. Now, because of the business I started, I get to travel to Asia, Europe, Latin America, and anywhere else. And my company provides me with the means to do all that. So I guess the “risk” paid off.
Where do you find significance in your work? What gives you the most satisfaction?
What gives me the most satisfaction and provides me a sense of significance in my work is job creation. My business creates hundreds of jobs for people all around the world. It connects companies with competent and skilled remote workers from different parts of the globe. I feel like with this, I am making a difference, not only in the lives of the freelancers and remote staff we hire and deploy and in the operations of the businesses that partner with us for their staffing needs, but I’m also contributing to the betterment of the global community as a whole. And that’s really a good feeling.
How do you measure success in your role? How do you know you’re succeeding?
I measure my success in the role I’m currently performing in my company by 2 things: Profit and happiness. Profit is self-explanatory. As a business owner, I’m succeeding if I’m turning a profit. That’s basic. As for happiness, that pertains to the positive results I’m creating with my products and services and in the lives of my employees.
If you could offer your 22-year old self one piece of advice, what would you say?
First, be humble. No matter how successful you become, you’ll never be mistake-proof. The more successful you become, the more exposed you are to potential mistakes. If your mind is full and you think you know everything, you become blind to situations that can potentially harm you. Second, trust but verify. Not everyone has your best interest at heart. You don’t have to be the kind of person who doesn’t trust anyone. You can trust people but always verify if they’re who they say they are and if they mean what they say to you. Finally, have confidence in yourself. It’s easy to think you’re not good enough, you’re not big enough, you’re not successful enough, or you’re not smart enough. But oftentimes, the truth is that there’s very little that separates you from everyone else. Generally speaking, people tend to underestimate themselves and overestimate the competition. You need to always be clear with what you know and what you’re capable of and you also have to know what your competition knows and what they’re capable of. That way, you enter the arena with a clear picture of what you and everyone else can and cannot do and that will give you confidence in your edge over everyone else.