An Interview with Ms. Fareeda Cassumbhoy

#positivepurpose #positiveengagement #positiveachievement

Interviewed by Tiffany Lee (S3CL; 18) and Cheryl Lai (S3CC; 14)
Written by Chloe Shek (S3CL; 23) and Tiffany Lee

Who is Ms Cassumbhoy?

Huge, neon billboards, glossy magazine spreads, clickbait headlines in mobile ads... it’s almost redundant to say this; no matter where you go, you’ll always see advertisements. But have you ever wondered about the creative minds behind it all?

Ms Fareeda Cassumbhoy is a digital marketing specialist. She has worked for major advertising firms such as Ogilvy and J. Walter Thompson. Currently, she is the Chief Strategy Officer at Pico, a Singaporean company.

Born in Hong Kong in the 70s, she and her family immigrated to Melbourne in her teenage years. Having always liked drawing and painting as a child, she soon became fascinated with advertising and marketing after watching TV. Advertising, she realised, was a dynamic industry with room for creativity. Since her parents did not think becoming an artist was a realistic option, Ms Cassumbhoy chose to work in advertising, which offers a perfect combination of business acumen and creativity.

When they first moved to Australia, Ms Cassumbhoy found it difficult to adjust. She had grown up speaking Cantonese, so switching tongues felt unnatural. Besides, the White Australian Policies ensured that racial bias was rife.

Looking back on her experiences in 80s Australia, however, Ms Cassumbhoy believes it made her the person she is today. Living in an entirely different culture moulded her into a successful global citizen. This is why she chose to start her career in Melbourne at the Ford Motor Company. At the time, she held a junior position and was one of the only Asian employees. Despite being inexperienced, she had to handle a massive combined workload when her colleague was shifted to Ford’s office in Thailand.

But undeterred by these challenging work commitments, Ms Cassumbhoy marched on because of her unparalleled work ethic. She found that taking up her colleague’s workload was actually helping her gain experience and confidence. In her spare time, she also collected newspaper clippings and read self-help books to learn more about competitors in the market. “I just learnt and kept learning, asking questions,” she says. “I think I worked very hard. I take opportunities seriously.”

Avoiding complacency

“Young people nowadays are too comfortable,” Ms Cassumbhoy says.

Even if you may disagree with this analogy, there is some undeniable truth in it. People in the past had fewer opportunities to enrich their knowledge. The only real resource a teenager would have had was the library, which entailed hours of research to find the tiniest scrap of information. Nowadays, anyone can learn on the Internet with the click of a finger. Life is much more convenient. As Ms Cassumbhoy says, “it’s a very different way of learning.”

And with the ease at which we can do anything we want, teenagers have slowly become too satisfied with their current lives. We live sheltered lives in contrast to the ‘brutal’ outside world. In other words, we have become complacent.

So how can we avoid complacency? “Think of three alternative ways to handle the same routine,” Ms Cassumbhoy says. Is there any significant difference to the way you approach things or go about your life? If not, you can take baby steps to leave your comfort zone.

For example, you can try to take up a new hobby, walk around your neighbourhood, eat at a restaurant you’ve never been to before, or even leave the MTR station through another exit. Essentially, you should try different routes when doing the same thing. By easing yourself out of the routine you currently have, you might find yourself approaching things with a different mentality.

Driver for success

Of course, everything is easier said than done. It begs the question; how do you motivate yourself to step out of your comfort zone? For Ms Cassumbhoy, it was her competitive nature that helped her.

As a young junior staff, what kept her going was her attitude. “I’m competitive in nature because I seek recognition, which is a double-edged sword because at my age now, I don’t need other people’s recognition,” she says, “but that was my driver for success.” But aside from success, she also reminisces about stumbling on a lot of failures. “Especially at this age, failure is actually good for you,” she tells us. Her principle: if you fail and don’t learn something from it, you’ve wasted the experience.

Ms Cassumbhoy emphasises the importance of the word humane; the importance of knowing who you are, what your values are, and what you treasure in your heart. She urges everyone to try to understand themselves and be good human beings.

Another important thing we should do is to treasure the moment. “Just be present,” Ms Cassumbhoy says. Do you find yourself actually paying attention during class, family dinner, or with friends? Or do you watch TV or look down at your phone instead?

Although she supports the future of technology, Ms Cassumbhoy thinks it has stolen something crucial— our presence, and it is vital to practice the art of mindfulness 5-10 minutes every day to link back to our mind and soul.

Speaking tips

Besides her career, it is also crucial for Ms Cassumbhoy to have a good onstage presence. When asked about any speaking tips she wanted to give, she simply said, “Use every single opportunity. That’s the practice.”

Whenever you get the chance to speak up, no matter if it’s a party, an assembly, or even at home, don’t hesitate to do so. You can even practice for your presentation or speech in front of a mirror. You will notice a lot of the small gestures you passively do, like the way your mouth twitches every now and then, or how your hand always grabs your shirt when you're anxious. Practising to a mirror can also build up your confidence and eye contact.

Back to you

The start of the new year is a wonderful time to start changing for the better! With Ms Cassumbhoy’s worldly advice in mind, make resolutions and work on them every once in a while.