The knowledge-based economy is expanding daily and greater numbers of professionals are joining the ranks of multinationals which offer expertise and reliable services in an ever spinning world. One such global titan is Synovate, where global market research and intelligence gathering are now second nature.
Jill Telford, managing director and CEO — North Asia, Synovate, was an unlikely candidate for market research, particularly because she had never heard of the field before she signed up. Originally majoring in French, she reveals that market research has become her ideal job even though it was by accident that she entered the profession." Ms Telford worked for three London research companies and another in Japan before joining Synovate in Hong Kong.
A Cantonese-speaking friend in her Scottish boarding school gave Ms Telford an early introduction to Hong Kong. When Ms Telford's husband was offered a job in the exciting city she readily agreed to accompany him. Some 14 years on, she remarks it would be hard for her to ever leave. "I am a true Hong Kong woman. I eat, shop and sleep the local ways." She says little luxuries like mangos, as well as Hong Kong's efficiency, structure, education levels and discipline keep her tied to the territory.
Ms Telford joined Synovate's Hong Kong office as one of a dozen original employees. That initial 12 now stands at 6,000 staff. "I have grown with the company," she adds. Her job includes a mix of local, regional and global responsibilities and her key goal is to guarantee the financial and human resource success of Synovate in Hong Kong, Taiwan and Korea.
Internationally, she helps equip all the company's global businesses with a toolbox and process for more structured business development procedures. Locally, she also provides oversight for the company's researchers and assists with projects.
In respect of daily duties, Ms Telford explains, "I like having no set routine." Of long working hours and travel she notes, "I don't think 12-hour days are anything to be proud of. A sense of pride should result from efficiency."
She adds that the notion of work-life balance is a big myth. "I adore my work and get so excited by it that I need to go home and rest. If you don't enjoy your work then get out of the job," she says.
To get that necessary repose, Ms Telford listens to Bach on her iPod. She also advocates a biannual detox programme, a healthy diet and regular exercise to combat stress. Three cats complete the calming tableau and whenever she seeks a party atmosphere, her family and friends are on hand.
According to Ms Telford, entering market research requires an up front investment of some incredibly hard work. Salaries are not impressive initially; prospects however are something else. She says, "You are always highly valued because it's such a small talent pool working in a people-intensive business. Salaries increase swiftly and before long, you find yourself in demand. Career longevity means that as you age, you don't become less useful or attractive to companies, but instead your experience adds value and worth."
"Apart from death, there is a solution to everything"
Admitting that she personally appreciates fine tailoring, Ms Telford realises she may be in the sartorial minority. Synovate Hong Kong does not enforce a dress code and to this end she adds, "I hate telling people what to wear. It is the most insulting thing you can do to a person." Allowing staff to select their own attire is a cost-free and innovative approach her office has taken. In addition, staff have the option to arrive at work when they choose in the morning as Synovate views staff as intelligent and responsible professionals who will perform more productively if treated with the respect they deserve.
In terms of academic qualifications, the market research industry welcomes candidates from an array of academic backgrounds but Ms Telford cautions that the steep learning curve makes it ideal for aspirants entering the field within two years following university graduation. She acknowledges, "It's hard to switch over if you've been in another industry for a long time."
Ms Telford avoids team stagnation by embracing diverse personality attributes. "We look for a sparkle in the eyes and a can-do attitude," she emphasises. Candidates who are fascinated by people, enthusiastic, numerate, literate and articulate will succeed in market research. Personally, she thrives on problem solving and smiles, "Apart from death, there is a solution to everything. I learned this from my mother."
Her advice to aspirants looking to enter the field is twofold: get an all-round education and develop your personality and relationships. As a long-time kung fu practitioner, Ms Telford applies this principle in her own life, adding that the Hong Kong educational system overemphasises discipline and youthfulness is consequently repressed. "Both extroverts and introverts can succeed in qualitative and quantitative roles respectively," she concedes.
Encouraging students to think for themselves is also a focal point of Synovate's hiring strategy. "This can include watching films and playing games because the industry needs people who are complete and versatile," she says. "Honest discourse is also essential, so an ability to boldly voice opinion is crucial to a career in market research."