Collaborative Leadership: Insights from Tai Doong, Chief Marketing Activist at Torani

netWORKed Podcast: Episode 2

Host Chris Marshall caught up with Tai Doong, chief marketing activist at Torani, a nearly 100-year-old global flavor company with deep roots in San Francisco that put Italian soda on the map and made the world's first flavored latte.

A 1997 UC Davis MBA alum, Doong shares his valuable insights on the changing landscape of marketing, reflecting on the challenges and opportunities presented by data-driven personalization, unified experiences, social impact initiatives, and AI. He reveals how he stays up to date with the latest trends and offers advice on how emerging marketers can thrive in the ever-evolving field. Doong was a member of the inaugural class of the Sacramento Part-Time MBA program.


Chris Marshall
netWORKed is the official podcast of the UC Davis Graduate School of Management. I am your host Chris Marshall, the director of Alumni Relations and Network Strategy.

On this podcast, we'll feature conversations with industry leaders who are preparing the next generation of inspired, innovative and collaborative leaders who are committed to making a positive impact.

And one of those leaders who is indeed making a positive impact, Tai Dong, MBA class of 1997 at the GSM and the chief marketing activist at Torani Syrups. I'm so excited to have a conversation with you today. Thanks so much for joining us.

Tai Doong
Thanks for having me here, Chris. It's a pleasure to be here.  

Chris Marshall
And I had the opportunity to visit you on campus at Torani. And I'm generally pretty vanilla when it comes to my syrup choices. I had a pure made vanilla latte this morning. But when I was there, I had a chunky monkey latte on your recommendation with banana and chocolate syrup.

 So I got to ask, you're the insider­—opportunity to plug some Torani products. How do you take your coffee? How do you use the syrups? And are there any products that you're excited about that are coming out soon?

Tai Doong
Yeah. One of the things that amazed me when I first joined Torani, because I know about Torani, but I didn't know exactly how to use a product necessarily. When I realized this, once I started working here, I was going, “Wow, it's actually quite easy to make a vanilla latte.”

Before you see all these things, in fact, the baristas, you know, with the coffee shops and you know, what do they do with those exactly?

And all you do is you just pour it in. I mean, you make your espresso, you pour it in and you can make whatever flavor you want. Vanilla, hazelnut, you know, et cetera.

And one of the things that I like to do is I actually like our white chocolate sauce a lot. Our white chocolate sauce is almost like a condensed milk version. So if you put it in coffee, it's almost like having condensed milk with your espresso and whatnot. So that's one I personally like a lot. Yeah.

And also one of the things I know you were asking me earlier about anything that's happening from an excitement standpoint that I'm excited about from a new product. One of the things we just launched is actually a sour candy syrup. And it actually goes very, very well with energy drinks, which is part of how we develop our product. We usually develop a product with a specific application in mind, or two applications.

And for the sour candy, energy drink was clearly one of them.

Chris Marshall
Well, I can't wait to check that out. I certainly have a sweet tooth so I suspect there'll be a number of those sour flavors in my cabinet before I know it.

But before we get deeper into the conversation about leadership and about marketing, I want to give a little context. And so, let's see how we got here. You've been at Torani as Chief Marketing Activist since 2015. Walk us through how you were able to go from a process engineer and transition into your current position.

Tai Doong
Yeah, Chris, it truly has been a journey. As you said, I was a process engineer at Procter & Gamble Manufacturing. That's where I started off, right after college.

I graduated from UC Berkeley with a mechanical engineering degree and I soon got promoted to a production line manager, you know, managing the productivity of a manufacturing line, including throughput, quality, safety, people's performance, et cetera. And then from those roles, I felt like I was getting really good development on leading people, setting visions, develop plans and so forth.

I also realized I could benefit a little bit more education in a few areas, especially in finance. And so, I looked around, especially when I look at the financial statements of my cost center, I realized things like the C line items like depreciation, which I had no idea what it meant.

But when I, uh, then I thought, maybe I could go, instead of bugging my finance and accounting team all the time, I thought it would be a good idea for me to go back to school and learn a little bit more about the fundamentals since I don't know what other skill sets I might be missing.

So I applied to UC Davis and other business schools here in the Bay Area. And what attracted me to Davis was that it was the chartering class for the part-time MBA program. And I like to be part of a pioneer of trying something new and things like that. So that got me excited. That's why I joined GSM.

Based on that background, you can imagine I joined GSM thinking that, oh, I will get an MBA focusing on finance. So, I took a class or two on marketing, just to get a little exposure to see, you know, what is marketing all about?

As a side note--I grew up in a family of engineers. My dad was an engineer. He has a PhD actually. My brother was an engineer. I was an engineer. I didn't know anything about marketing. And it, and also as a manufacturing person, I often wonder, you know, whose crazy idea was it to put down this “new feature” on the diaper. And yes, I was in diaper manufacturing, making Pampers  and Loves, you know, and that was just a side story…but anyway,

Chris Marshall
I mean, we need, we need that. We need those.

Tai Doong
This feature, this “new feature”, was significantly decreasing my line, productivity of my line, you know, it's like, but then after taking a few of those marketing classes, I realized, hmm, it was those marketing people, or in P&G, it was called brand management, who were responsible. So I've become more intrigued about marketing and took more marketing classes.

I start to really enjoy the whole brain nature of marketing, half creative and half logical and strategic. And also in those classes, I learned a few case studies about P&G. So I was like, wait, I work for P&G, why am I taking classes to learn about P&G? So that's why I decided to start transfer from manufacturing to brand.

And that whole process was quite something as well. When I share with my plant manager, that's what my intention is transferred over to a brand. She told me, okay, she was very supportive of it. And she told me that she put my name in eight different systems that she found, four formal, four informal. And she even told me that, hey, I've heard that it'll be easier for you to quit P&G and reapply back in. So she told me to be patient. I'm like, okay.

And I also learned that from her that, you know, in P&G, Brand has the highest priority when it comes to staffing. So if Brand wanted me, I could be transferred pretty quickly. And sure enough, I graduated from GSM in September. And December, I have already sold my house and moved to Cincinnati. So that's how quickly we have moved on that. So, and that's what got me into marketing. And from Cincinnati, I went to Toronto and as an expat with P&G, then left P&G to join the... “digital revolution” 2000, right before the bubble burst. So,  I went to consulting first, not sure if a part of technology I like to get into, there's consumer electronics, telecom, and just huge range. So, and then once I did that, I just go, huh, there seems like Oracle or Reba back then, the commerce one, all these B2B enterprise software seems to be growing. So I decided to join startup to see if I like it or not. I absolutely hated it.

 It was one of those things, the long sales cycle and the selling to a large group of people. I just realized that wasn't for me. So then I decided, OK, now I know that I like to focus on consumers or small businesses since the purchasing behavior of small businesses were like consumers, right? They behave much more like consumers. But I still couldn't figure out for staying high tech or go back to CPG. So I went back and forth between Del Monte and Intuit twice. And then finally decided to stay back on the CPT side because I like the whole general management track quite a bit. So, so then after Dalmonte, I went to Mars and then now here I am in Torani, which is a B Corp company that provides a flavor to coffees, like I just said. So, yep.

Chris Marshall
Yeah. Awesome. I mean, it's always interesting to hear the path that people are taking and, you know, across that path, you've got 20 plus years of experience, working in marketing. And how have you seen the marketing landscape change? And what are the biggest surprises as well as how are you able to stay up to date on the marketing trends?

Tai Doong
Yeah, I think I think I don't know if I would call them surprises because I kind of see them evolve. But one of the big two of the big changes that's going on right now in marketing that we haven't seen that versus 20 years ago.

Yeah, it's a first as how to use the tremendous amount of data to provide a better experience for customers. So, whether you use any of one of these current industry buzzwords like unified experience, integrated experience, seamless experience, personalized experience, it's all about using technology and data to provide a better experience for the consumers, right?

So, then the challenge becomes how do we collect, store, govern, analyze, and act upon these data? And in the old days, personalization was quite easy. I still remember when we first went in my consulting days and when doing the email campaigns, by just putting the first name in an email address, in an email campaign, it's already quote unquote personalized. And that was a level of personalization that was considered personal. Nowadays, of course, that's not even close to be what consumers are expecting.

 So, and as a result from that, then it requires a lot of partnership between marketing and IT that we previously had never experienced before. So that was one of the big changes. And also it requires the marketers to have additional skill sets, things like, in the previous, in the old days, data analysis, just putting your data into Excel and you can do some quick analysis, you're pretty much, you consider, a “good analyst.”

But now you need to be considered a very good analyst, you need to have some of the almost like programming type of experience, like SQL, R, Tableau, and that type of experience to be considered a good analyst, so. And then, so that was the first one.

And then the second big change I see is that the impact, how to create a greater social impact. That's in a lot of the marketers mind. And that, when I say social impact, I also include environmental activities as part of that.

So what I see the change right now is there's definitely a greater emphasis on social impact as a whole, but unfortunately there are some companies, maybe actually quite a bit of them, start to, they talk a good talk about making social impact and servicing stakeholders. But at the end, it really is still all about the shareholders. When that happens, that's why we start seeing a lot of the accusations of greenwashing and whatnot when people are talking about ESG initiatives, ESG, environmental, societal, and governance initiatives.

And as a marketer, I really do believe that we need to make a positive impact versus just using this talk of ESG to drive more sales. And that's just one of the things that... I found a little discouraging when I see other companies do that. And then to answer the second part of your question is, yeah, these are changes. How do I stay up to it? Right? So how do I stay up to speed with these changes?

What I found is useful for me is I found attending relevant conferences and subscribing to newsletters are a good way to start. And also I encourage my team members to meet with vendors and attend conferences to understand what's latest out there. And then I learned them through one-on-ones.

That's a key because one of the things is you gotta learn how to scale your learning, right? Yeah, I can go to all the conferences. So basically the quick question is how do I use my team so that I can continue to be developed and they are developed as well. So that together as a team, we're staying up to speed what's going on.

And then if I realize I need to go dig deeper into something else. I actually do take classes or workshops. And for example, in this past quarter, I audited a class in GSM on database management. Right. So, and then, and also I attended an eight- week course at University of Oxford, the Saïd Business School, economics and mutuality to learn more, to learn more about how to make a greater social impact. So, so yeah, in some, it basically is a conference, newsletters, learning from vendors, classes, and then do that through myself and also through my team. So that's how I stayed up.

Chris Marshall
Well, and certainly one of the perks of being an alumni of the Graduate School of Management, you have the opportunity to audit any of the in-person classes that you'd like. But I wanna follow up a little bit. I know that you are a leader that cares about leading with purpose and your social impact. I mean, you mentioned ESG and the trends that we've seen. Do you see that becoming more entrenched in the US or is it plateauing?

Tai Doong
I do see it being more entrenched, but I also see that... from an ESG perspective, it probably will start to evolve, especially given what the dub-dub backlash, some of the backlash we're seeing, because one of the reasons why ESG is facing challenges, besides the fact that I just shared, some of the companies don't really mean it when they actually say it, is that it's actually really hard to implement, because with ESG, you're focusing a lot, you're focusing on a lot of different stakeholders, right?

And then when you try to please all stakeholders, you end up not pleasing anybody. So that's why a pharma company try to implement ESG is really, really tough. So what I see instead of what's happening is, I believe there's another model out there, which I don't know which model is gonna evolve into, but one of the model that I see that seems to have potential is called the purpose model. So it encouraged the company to be very specific on what particular impact they would like to have. And... or what specific problems would they like to solve? And while solving those problems, do no more harm to the other stakeholders, including the planet.

So basically you're making positive contribution in one area, but you're maintaining the same, at least neutral on all the others. So in that model, if all the companies are doing that, of course we'll be in a better place. So that's something that I'm seeing. So my answer to your question is, yes, I do see it be increasing, but it will continue to evolve to other models like the purpose or something.

Chris Marshall
Yeah, and speaking of models, I mean, I had the opportunity, I could hear you speak a couple of times. And one of the things that always sticks out to me is your model on leadership. Can you tell us a bit more about that?

Tai Doong
Yeah, I have a personal leadership model. And by the way, I would encourage everyone to develop their own leadership model. And as you learn from others, keep on refining your model as you see fit. So it's truly you in terms of how you see leadership.

My personal models are the five Es. The first three Es, I started from P&G. It was the P&G leadership model. At that time, P&G only has three Es when I first started with the company. Now they also evolved to five, but it's a different five. But then the fourth one I added was when I was working at Intuit. And at that time, we had a CEO who used to work for Jack Welch. So, there's a little GE influence in there.

And then the fifth E is the one I have just added earlier this year. And that is I was preparing for a five-side chat with Dean Unnava here at GSM to talk about collaborative leadership. So what are the five E's? The first E is envision. As a leader, you need to be able to provide a clear vision and lead the development and strategies to achieve that vision.

Then comes the second E, which is energize. Once you got a clear vision, you need to get people excited and engaged to achieve that vision. And when they do that, they'll likely run into barriers.

And that's where the third E comes in, which is enable. And as a leader, you should be breaking down barriers for others.

Then of course, well, that's the fourth E, which is execute. That means you need to deliver with excellence on whatever you have committed to, right?

And then the fifth E, again, that's the one I just added recently, which is evolve. And which means you need to be humble and continue to learn and evolve in your thinking.

I gotta say, I have used the first four E's for over 20 years. And get like, I was telling you, I just add the fifth E and the concept being humble, you know, and learn that fifth E was not a characteristic that would, that you would call a strong leader back in the day, back in the 90s or the early 2000s.

I still remember I was taught that, you know, to be a leader, you have to demonstrate strong, visible leadership. So strong leaders are those vocal in meetings, almost like pounding on the table and pointing the directions that we're going that way. You know, like that's the that's sort of the characteristic of a strong leader. And those who are strong behind the scenes, which is not quite as visible, are often not recognized.

So when they get results, people are always going, huh, maybe they're just lucky because nobody can clearly identify what exactly, what behaviors have they actually done that's getting those results. So people just assign those to clinical luck, even though some of those individuals have been getting consistent results like year after year after year, but they still be considered as lucky because they couldn't see any clear visible leadership.

So one of the characteristic of this 5E model is that it also reflects how much time a person typically spend as they move up their career. Okay? So, and it starts from the bottom, the fifth E first, and going up, going upwards.

So, when your career first starts, or actually before your career even starts, like when you're in the GSM, you need to be, you're learning basically. You're in the learning mode. You're humble, you're here for knowledge, you keep learning and evolve.

And then, as you continue with your first, when you first join the workforce, you start to do a lot of execution. So yes, you continue to evolve and learn, but you start doing, you also do a lot of execution. And you typically are assigned a task with pretty well-defined scope. And then you start, you can demonstrate, you can still demonstrate other ease, but bulk of your time is spending executing.

It doesn't mean that you don't have any vision of what your project look like and things like that. You can have some of that, but bulk of your time is spending executing. Then as you become a manager, you need to help others succeed by helping them breaking down the barriers that they face and enable them, right? So, and too often what I see is that people who are very good, great individual contributors, but fail as managers because they can't really deliver results through others, right?

Instead of coaching people to help them break down the barriers, these managers typically decide to do the work themselves. And as a result, they can't scale and eventually fail. So that's a very important skill to be able to pick up as you start becoming a manager from an individual contributor is the ability to enable others.

And then of course, when you become more of a middle management or senior management, you start spending more time with those two E's, right? Envisioning and energizing. And these two are not in like a sequential order like the other three are. But they sort of go kind of hand in hand together. And one thing about energizing and envisioning is that   some people are naturally good at one of them. Some people are really good. I'm sure throughout your career, you have seen people who are very good energizers, and there are people who are very good at setting strategies, envisioning, and thinking what we should go do. Very rarely are people gifted at both of those things.

But what you should do at that time is, which is perfectly okay, as you build your team, you should think about what is your strength. And how should you build your team so that you're finding people that compliment your skill? Like if you're very good energizing and envisioning is one of your most slightly weaker areas, you may want to find people who are very good in envisioning, uh, people who can generate great visioning as part of your team.

 So that at that time, when you, when that happens, this, not only you're able to learn from them. So, you're being developed, but also you're going to be able to achieve great results at the same time. So, it's not like you're developing so your results may not be as good and things like that. You're not compromising anything in terms of your results while getting development.

And also, of course, I'm sure you have seen people who are very good energizing people, so what happens is the team's morale is high, everybody's feeling great and whatnot, but yet the results are just sort of spinning in a circle. You're not really getting any results, and that's when you realize, okay, maybe you got somebody who's a very good energizer, but not. necessarily good at envisioning and setting strategies and things like that. So those are some of the things that I keep in mind.

Chris Marshall
Yeah, when I know that, you know, becoming a good leader, you pick up cues from the good leaders that have led you. And I know that, you know, mentoring is an important part of what you do as a leader. But who are some of those mentors and leaders that had the biggest impact on your career trajectory?

Tai Doong
Yeah, there are a couple of people that pop to mind. The first one is very early in my career. H is name is Mark Blair. And when I was in production line manager P&G, I have 32 direct reports in my production line. And all of them were older than me. And some of them even the age of my parents, right? So it was quite an experience getting used to that. And because of that, what I did, which is very consistent with what my peers did, is we spent, and by the way, my peers were almost all Brooklyn engineers because at that time our plant was in Modesto.

And then we were often out on the production line building relationships with the team, getting to know the issues firsthand and try to help them, resolve them and things like that. Mark, on the other hand, who was a very experienced line manager and he doesn't have a college degree, he basically worked his way up from manufacturing frontline. He just sat in his office most of the time and only periodically goes out to the line to see how things are going. And yet his results were significantly better than us and consistently better than us.

So finally one day I couldn't help it and I had to ask him, Mark, how do you do it? You know, we're all busting our bottoms here working with the team on the floor and things like that. You just sit in the office and your results are just phenomenal. And then so he laughed and says, Tai, when you see me sitting in the office, what do you see me do?

And I said, well, you just chat with people. And he's like, I was thinking, you know, early in my career, I didn't even think that's real work. It's not like he's doing any kind of analysis or anything like that. And then he says, exactly, I have a lot of one-on-ones. And through them, I get a deeper understanding of what is happening on the floor, whether it's people0related or line-related.

For example, if Sally says, hey, Joe is being a jerk. And then, Andy says, Joe is being a jerk. And Thomas says, hey, Joe is being a jerk. Then when I go on the floor, I need to assess what behaviors that others have, I need to assess whether it's true what the others have observed in terms of the behavior that Joe was doing.

If yes, then I can pull him into my office or aside and confront him based on what I observed firsthand, right? So he told me, people often do not see things unless they intentionally look for them. So once you know what you're looking for, you'll be surprised what you see. And that... So I took his advice and my results also shot up as well. And when I expanded to my roles with 64 direct reports, I still had one with all of them at a quarterly cycle.

And now, of course, I make myself available to anyone who wanted to meet with me in Torani regularly. And that includes people outside of marketing. It's like anybody in the organization who found useful having conversation with me. So that was the first person.

Second person that had a big impact in how I think is Scott Cook, actually, the founder of Intuit. I had the pleasure of working with Scott when I was at Intuit. He's such a gentleman. Talk about being humble. He's very, very humble when you talk to him. And then while I was working with him, I always found that he provided great guidance and he was a great coach. At that time, I didn't realize the characteristic of a great coach until now I have more experience and things that I reflect back and go, wow, he is actually a really good coach.

 Every time I had an issue and I talked to him, he listens carefully, he asks really good questions, and then based on my logic, he will suggest things that I may want to consider. So you know that he has listened and sort of bouncing off ideas. He will say things like, okay, if I understand you correctly, you're saying X because of Y and Z, and based on Y and Z, would you also consider C? And I was going, and that's when you, I typically have a light bulb moment in this, and I was realizing, wow.

This is the power of asking the right question to help unlock different potentials. And that's definitely a role of a coach.

Chris Marshall
So, well, and, and you, you talk about meeting with 64 direct reports, quarterly. I mean, that's, that's wild. That's a lot of people and a lot of people that you don't have kind of day-to-day interactions with. I mean, how, how do you approach those meetings? What's the method, um, for getting the most out of all those meetings? That's a lot of time.

Tai Doong
Yes, it is a lot of time. And then like I was saying before, right, when you look at the, the five E model, As you move on higher up in the organization, you spend a lot more time envisioning and energizing people. And energizing, by definition, also includes engaging, right? So that's, to me, is a way to make sure that the team members continue to feel engaged and develop and things like that.

So yeah, I'm a firm believer of one-on-one, and I'm a firm believer that one-on-one should be beneficial to both parties. It's like, if you're a manager, and all you do is use one-on-one to get status updates from your direct accords. and just go down checklist, then one-on-ones are not really beneficial to your direct reports, other than just making sure that you know what they're working on, right?

So good test for me on whether or not people are having good one-on-ones or I'm having good one-on-ones is check if the person you're meeting with are actually excited to meet with you every single, do they look forward to the one-on-ones, right? Or they just feel like, oh, this is something I have to do to check off my list and kind of thing. Because if that's the case, they're not truly seeing any benefits from meeting with you.

So, so when I have one, one with my, uh, my team members, I typically have, um, the other person drive the agenda. I may have one or two items, you know, depending on the urgency of some of those things, but typically they drive the agenda. They let me know what they want to talk about. And it could be about the project, something long-term like the career.

Or, you know, any specific skills they would like to be developing and like project management or advertising, because sometimes I go really deep at lower level in terms of just help. People who are in operations want to learn about advertising. You know what, I spend the time and talk to them about it just if they're wanting to learn and develop because then they have better understanding of what marketing does, which is like, as you know, one of the things I didn't have the privilege of doing when I was in that role, so yeah.

 So and also have them set the frequencies and such as once every other week for half an hour, once a month and things like that. And typically what happens is the more junior people will come to me with a project list or things they're working on because they kind of do wanna know what I'm, so that I know what they're working on.

But in those cases, I would typically try to focus on gaining a good understanding on their thought process. That's how I would be able to provide them with feedback and coaching and whatnot. With the more senior people, they typically have two to three key things you wanna dive deeply with me and then that's why I provide my thoughts. And then one of the things, as I shared before in my conversation with Scott, what I learned from Scott is when I say coaching, it's not about telling them, but you think the answer is.

Instead, start typically, what you will be good is you should be asking the right probing questions that think through the challenges. And what happens is the outcome of that, both parties beneficial because there may be things that came out as an option that need to consider. So let's say you have an idea in mind, you know, okay, this is based on this thing, I think we should do option A. And then I'll put other person in the stack, you know, I think I need to do option B. And then instead of getting a discussion on which way to go, which then gets to a game of persuasion, you know, I'm trying to tell you why A is the way to go and they're trying to tell me what B is the way to go.

Typically, if you go, there's another option out there, which I call option C. It's that may be actually a better way than either option A or B. But if you start getting the game of persuasion, you're never gonna unlock the option C. So the way to be unlocked option C is to be open, continue asking probing questions and build on each other's thoughts. Just like in the example I just gave what Scott did to me. He's like that now, and so I go, ah, that makes sense. Because Scott may not have the background in terms of the situation and Y and Z and all the rationale behind it, but he has some other question that unlocks it for me too. So it's like, okay, both of us learned something new.

Chris Marshall
Yeah, it's super, super insightful. And it's also very challenging. when you're trying to find those questions and kind of mine that information.

Tai Doong
Yeah. And then part of the challenge is you think your value add to the company is that your manager or somebody took your recommendation, right? I mean, the option B or something like that. You won the battle and then that's why you, that's why you justify yourself versus thinking what's the best for the business, right? The best for the business is actually C.

And if you do that often enough, you will get recognized. You don't have to be the winner of every recommendation or things like that. If you consistently deliver results through your recommendation and things like that, and always come up with option C, which is the best one, you will definitely get recognized.

Chris Marshall
Well, and that's the toughest part too, right? You wanna be a leader and it takes confidence to lead. And then also the humility of not having to win all of those battles. I mean, that to me feels like one of the most challenging components.

Tai Doong
Yeah. Definitely. That's why it's actually kind of easier to some degrees. It's easier and harder at the same time in the old world versus today's world, right? In the old world, you just need to come up with very good, strong rationale and recommendation to win the arguments and things like that. And then the more you do that, you're going to get recognized. And then the challenge now is, in the new world is... the manager needs to be developing these special skills in terms of asking these questions to unlock things and whatnot. But it's actually easier in some way because you don't have to have all the answers. Because you know, even if you don't have the answers, you have to pretend you know the answers so that you can perceive it as something. Otherwise, what's your value as a leader, right? If you don't have the answer.

Now it's okay not to have the answers. But the point is, okay, now if you don't have the answers. What are you gonna do about it, right? How are you gonna continue to generate great results when you don't have the answer? What's your value at? It's being able to have that skill set, asking those questions, unlocking the new options is basically what that value is gonna be.

Chris Marshall
Yeah, absolutely. And we touched briefly on how you were able to prepare yourself to transition from an engineering role into a marketing role, educating yourself, getting advice. And you worked at some big companies, I mean, P&G, Mars, Intuit, Del Monte. I mean, was there a time where you thought about changing positions or companies and you thought it might be a risk? And then what was the most challenging transition in your career in terms of your title and responsibility?

Tai Doong
Yeah, one of the big ones from a risk standpoint was definitely that transitioning from manufacturing to brand, right? I mean, I still remember Like I've said before, I grew up in an engineering family and I didn't, I kind of know what I'm getting myself into, but I don't really know what I'm getting myself into. I still remember that conversation because I was calling my dad in my entrance and telling him that I'm going into marketing and whatnot. He has some major concerns because he doesn't really believe marketers actually did anything because he doesn't really create anything, you know, being a typical engineer, right? There's nothing tangible that marketers do and whatnot, so he was really concerned about job security for me in the future and whatnot.

But it definitely put some doubt in my mind, but at the end of the day, I trusted my gut and went for it, and of course, I'm really, really glad I did.

Chris Marshall
You’re still doing the work.

Tai Doong
Yeah, yeah, exactly. So, but that was definitely something. And then from a job transitioning standpoint, the most difficult one, what I would say is when I first left P&G and joined consulting, because consulting is very different than being on the client side, right? You're constantly rotate on and off project at different times. And, and I feel like, I like in the sense that, you know, you get to expose to many industries and companies in a very short period of time, but I didn't like it that you're only there for a very short period of time. And then you never see anything come to life, right?

It means that you give a recommendation, things like that, you have to keep on staying in touch with them, you wanna know what's actually happened and whatnot. So, and then also one of the things I did learn, I started to remember just vividly in my head is this concept of framework.

When I was in P&G, whether it's in marketing or manufacturing, we didn't talk a lot about frameworks, right? And so when I went to... consulting, I still remember asking, what do you mean by framework? Do you mean that Chevron chart? You know, or something else and whatnot. Now, of course, those who knows me is all about, know that I'm all about frameworks, right? Because that's the easiest way to explain what you're trying to do to somebody who is not as deep as you are in terms of how to think about certain things.

And then, I now sort of remember during the time when I was doing consulting, I go, okay, because I didn't feel comfortable moving from project to project. And I decided, you know what, if I ever come, when I go back to consulting, it's when I'm about to retire or retire.

So I don't have to worry about job security as much.

Chris Marshall
So, yeah. And we touched on data being an important part of marketing becoming increasingly important. You've had the opportunity to see data on both the manufacturing and the marketing sides. And when you're acquiring that data, I mean, how are you able to get good data and navigate the privacy laws? And make sure the information that you have is good.

Tai Doong
Yeah, Chris, acquiring data and data governance, including navigating through the privacy laws are definitely not easy. And this is something that I'm still learning. And I think a lot of us are still learning. And these are hard because things are rapidly changing on both fronts. Collecting the data as well as the privacy laws are constantly changing. So, and then with the increased pace of technological advancement, we're getting more data than ever, and they're coming all different ways, right?

 So, the question is, how do you streamline it? How do you cleanse? What's the cleansing process and whatnot? And then, as I mentioned previously, the best way to stay on top of these practices are through, for me at least, is conferences, newsletters, learnings, and then scaling your learning from your team members and others and whatnot.

So, and then a good example of that is, I just learned something from one of my team members who attended a conference is to think about rewarding people for their data instead of their purchases.

So when you think about typical loyalty program to this day, a lot of those loyalty programs are based on X amount of purchases, you get points and based on points, you get more discounts and then more product and things like that. So instead of doing that is, we will give them those discounts based on the data they provide you.

If they give you a social media handle, reward them. If they give you their mobile phone number, reward them. You know, that kind of thing. I use that as an incentive. I go, huh, that's pretty clever. So that's one thing that from, from who attended the conference. So yeah.

Chris Marshall
Well, I mean, I, and I think, I mean, the internet has me figured out. I mean, I get targeted with stuff that I didn't know that I need and then I buy.

Tai Doong
Yeah, exactly. Those star marketers!

Chris Marshall
It's like, oh yeah, Chris, he wants this. Let's send it to him. But that's always helpful for me. I don't have to go out and seek anything. It comes right to my computer and I see it and buy it. That's fun. That is an excellent segueway into the next question about AI. And obviously, it's leading into nearly every industry. It's out at the forefront of a lot of conversations. How do you see that changing the way that we market? And is there any way that you can predict the future of how that might go?

Tai Doong
Yeah, we have been this is one of the biggest topic right now in our company right now is how AI is going to impact consumer and how should we think about f marketing and also as an entire company, right? Because AI can help you not only in external facing activities but also internal activities, right? So. but from my marketing perspective, it's definitely going to impact marketing in major ways in the next five to 10 years. And by the way, we're actually currently working on our 2030 vision. So for the companies, we're sort of taking the picture. But in the next five to 10 years, consumer expectation on personalization, entertainment will change significantly versus today, because of the increasing technology, whether it's AR, VR, or AI kind of enable stuff.

And we're going to be, as I said before, the email campaign for first started out just by addressing people's first name, that's personalization. And now I have just heard a company who was able to create a thousand different commercials by using AI through adjustments through AI. So depending on what they're thinking. So basically, commercial you're watching is different than the commercial I'm watching for that same brand with different changes.

Yeah. So that's already started happening. Now, of course the results may not be as good as just showing everybody the same. commercial, right? It means you may get the, but the fact that they started doing that, they'll be able to continue to refine that. I am sure the results are gonna be better, you know, when you look at five to 10 years from now, and then they'll be able to do that.

So, and then through the, so basically, based on what I just shared, is through AI, the experience with a brand will start to vary based on our preferences. So that's not to say the values of the brands would change, or the values of brands would probably still pretty similar to whatever the brands, the values are, but they may choose to highlight different parts of their values depending on who you are.

So, for example, if you're somebody who cares about product performance more, you may get a quality, you may get a lot more of that kind of information and descriptors and messaging and things like that when you're associating yourself with that brand. And then if you care more about social impact, you may get a lot more information on that. So that will increase your positive association with that brand. kind of thing.

So, and then less on the product performance and whatnot, which is still important. I'm sure you'll have some of that, but it's like, depending on what you like, the message you may start to cater quite a bit, your experience may start to change quite a bit. But even though the two of you are literally sitting right next to each other or something like that, your experience of bandwidth change quite a bit.

Chris Marshall
So, well, and sort of a follow-up, I mean, just spit balling here in our one-on-one, because I want to be able to provide some value to you as well. It's obviously when you talk about the commercials being, you know, hyper personalized, I mean, is there ever a place where you envision hyper personalized flavors or something that really brings in the information that you're able to collect and comes up with more individual flavors?

Tai Doong
Yeah, I think here's the thing. This was my point of view on personalization in terms of the way to get there. From a personalization standpoint, it's basically another way of thinking personalization. And that's actually one of the ah-hahs I have from taking the GSM class is that, it's basically you think about segmentation, right?

 And then keep on segmenting until the segment is segment of one, right? When you have a segment of one, then really becomes a personalized experience. So what we think that will happen, at least from us, from when it comes to flavor and personalization standpoint, it probably will be an evolution as well. And how it's going to evolve is that the flavors, well, there will be a lot of trends that's going to be built.

And then one thing we know about the younger generation is, and also how social media works with all the trends and whatnot, is they come and go pretty fast. And then that's only going to increase as time goes on. So what happens is all of a sudden, this form and expanding, formation and expanding process will happen pretty rapidly. So for a company to be able to pick up on that and be able to deliver something really quick, let's say all of a sudden there's a huge social media push on coconut, we didn't have coconut, for example, we need to quickly come up with coconut as a product and serve it before it's gone.

That's a challenge from a capability standpoint it's going to come to. So that's going to be one. And if it turns out that... So that's where the beginning of segmentations are, right? Figuring out the newly formed segment and be able to provide the flavor that resonate with that particular segment in a short period of time is going to be a key competency that we need to develop.

And then another one will become, when you think about the actual getting down to individual personalization is basically that's where the AI and data will start coming in, right? So somebody who like caramel and things like that and lavender, once we have all that data, What would be a flavor that this person might enjoy? Whether it's already in existence or what would be a new combined flavor?

 And if you have enough of these people that have the new combined flavor to be the same profile, that may be the new flavor you develop and that become the target. The people who belong that segment becomes the target you're targeting towards.

Chris Marshall
Well, I'm certainly looking forward to my future food printer already knowing what I wanna have for dinner and then you got it. Cause then I won't just end up having a bowl of cereal like I normally do.

And along the line with the new syrups and flavors, what's the timeline for when you're coming up with coconut, for coming up with a new flavor? And how many flavors or sort of concept flavors or things that you're working on that might come to the surface or might not?

Tai Doong
Yeah, each year, depending on the year, we have anywhere from 10 to 10. to maybe even up to 15 new flavors that we come out. And of course we also sunset some of the discontinues some of the less popular flavors and whatnot. So we don't get into major skew rationalization. And as you know, me being from manufacturing is a big deal.

 In terms of not providing too many skews with little runs and whatnot. So, but, and so the timeline is typically, you know, for a typical flavor, because the process we go through, which is what we call gold standards. Once we go, whenever we have a new flavor in mind, just use, let's say it's coconut, since we're talking about coconut in mind, we start thinking about what exactly is that flavor profile we're going after. Is it a ripe coconut, a coconut, some other dessert, or what is that profile?

So, that's when we start going to the go standard process, which an R&D team as well as marketing team goes out there. grab a lot of different data, including the food themselves. Like we'll go snacks, grab snacks and things like that. So, everybody has a taste in terms of, what do we think is the best flavor profile for a coconut syrup and whatnot.

And that's always fun when you have a whole bunch of people opening a whole bunch of snacks and eating and drinking and talking about that particular flavor. So, once you figure that out, right? And then we work with the... the flavor companies, right? The ingredients, flavor companies to figure out, okay, this is what we're trying to match, what do we have in mind, and how do we think about what's the best way? So, R&D people work very closely with them on that.

So, as you can imagine, then of course, then becomes a normal, you know, the development process with tasting and whatnot. So, the whole process takes about anywhere, depending on the flavor cells, like nine to 12 months, they're about to figure it out, you know. talking with it, figuring out what the gold standard is, talking with vendors, trying different things, then you got to do your, of course, the plan pilot runs and things like that, so about, you know, nine to 12 months for that.

Chris Marshall
Okay, and then, you know, circling back to GSM, obviously, where the podcast, the graduate school management, it's been a little bit of time since you've come through the doors here, and I just wanted to have you reflect. I mean, is there anything that you would have done differently, and what's the advice that you have for... both current and incoming students?

Tai Doong
Yeah, I think one of the things I probably would have done differently is, I probably would make sure that I truly networked, in terms of when I was in the business school. And that's one thing I tell everybody who's about to go to business school, I tell them, make sure you spend enough time networking with people, because that's gonna be such a key. And I've been through a lot of different jobs right now.

I was lucky. I've been through a lot of different jobs, but I can tell you all except for one, which is this current one. It's all through networks. And because I have such a strong P&G network when I was young, it's like all the referrals I had, all the previous jobs I had, even though I've been in a lot of different companies, were all from P&G network. So, and then, so why I tell people that grad school, it's a, especially business school, is one of these. perfect opportunities to network because you have group projects, you have things like that. Make sure you spend enough time networking and staying in touch with people, especially now it's so easy in terms of with the technology and whatnot. Make sure you spend enough time networking with people. So, and then also I would say there's two takeaways, that was probably the thing I would do differently.

Two key takeaways I would sort of let people know is I will call them like the two C's, right? I mean, curious and care. What I, with, curious, which is very similar to what I just shared before in terms of continuing to learn, be humble, and stay curious, and keep your mind open because you never know what you're gonna do because I didn't know I was gonna go marketing when I first joined GSM, right?

I was thinking I'd do finance. So, and just keep your mind open in terms of what's out there and try different things while you're in school and whatnot, try to get exposure to different parts of what the MBA program has to offer. Even though you don't think you may be concentrating on that, you know what, just take a class and see how you like it and whatnot because you may be surprised, which I definitely was. And then, so that's the whole curious part.

And then the second part is care. And you gotta do something that you truly enjoy, right? And then as you think about, you know, when you complete your degree or getting close to completion of your degree and things like that, and you start looking for a job, don't just chase titles or compensations. A life really is too short to be just doing, not to do something that you enjoy. And if you, and by the way, if you do something that you enjoy, you're going to get a better job. You're going to do a better job at it and you're going to be rewarded.

So, all the titles and compensation will come when you truly find something you care about and have a passion behind it. Because those things, those are more of a result rather than something you were chasing rather bad. So that's probably what I will say.

Well, and this is the netWORKed podcast. So before I let you go, you know, I have one more question about What's the best advice that you've gotten about networking? And what would be the best way for, let's say a GSM alum to reach out, the most effective way for them to get that contact and be able to talk with you?

Tai Doong
Yeah, the best way to sort of reach out is, do not, LinkedIn is great, okay? But do not, I can't hear, I'm telling everybody. Do not send out a LinkedIn without any kind of sort of a message or text in terms of why you're reaching out some, I don't know, I can tell you how many I get from the, from the, those type of daily basis. And most of them I reject. I mean, of course I look into the person to see, you know, what, do I have any kind of people mutually, you know, that we know any mutual friends or things like that and, and whatnot.

But if somebody actually has a text in terms of writing something that's more personalized, that why are they reaching out to me and then things like that, instead of generic message, I actually, most of the time, I would definitely respond and many times I would accept and whatnot.

So, what I would say is that when you're going to classes and also any kind of workshops or things like that, when you do meet people right after that, send them the LinkedIn terms of, versus waiting for like two or three. you know, days later or up to three weeks later or two months later and things like that. So, when refreshing people's mind in terms of their interaction with you will help quite a bit in terms of making sure that you stay in touch with the right people.

And then because of that, let's say you have a speaker of something and then after the person speaks and you can just stay after and just talk to them. Right. And then just get their perspective. And then when they share whatever information they share with you, make sure you remember that. and play that back in your LinkedIn nearby. I think that way that person will remember, oh yeah, I remember just the first time I told them about CS, right?

And then when you play that back, it will highly increase your chances of being accepted from LinkedIn. But I would say LinkedIn is a very, very good way for networking.

Chris Marshall
Awesome. Well, Ty, I know you're busy. I really appreciate you taking some time. It's always super insightful when I get the opportunity to talk with you. I always learn something new. I feel better for having this conversation with you today, so I'm so appreciative that you're willing to share all your knowledge and experience with us.

Tai Doong
I'm really glad to be here. Thanks for having me, Chris. This has been fun.

Chris Marshall
Awesome. So be on the lookout for some new sour flavors for your, for your energy drink, which I'm super excited about and make sure you put some context in your LinkedIn request. Thanks so much.

I really appreciate you being a part of the network podcast presented by UC Davis Graduate School of Management. To learn more about us, please visit

For more episodes, please be sure to follow us on your favorite podcast platform. Until next time, I'm Chris Marshall. That was Tai Doong. See you soon.