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Thought Leadership | May 17, 2023

Advancing Leaders Through Opportunity

Jessica Zhao, Raypak Sr. Director of Finance

As I thought about the theme for this year’s AAPI (Asian American and Pacific Islander) Heritage Month, Advancing Leaders Through Opportunity, I had a chance to reflect on my life journey moving from China to the US, and the tremendously valuable experience I have had working at Rheem.

I grew up in a small town in northern China. My cultural heritage instilled in me a fundamental idea that I live and breathe the concept of Yin and Yang. I learned at an early age to always seek balance in everything: Bad things must have a bright side. Good things have risks.

Earning high college-entrance scores (#1 in the city; #2 in the state) allowed me to attend one of the most prestigious universities in the country. After college, I worked in Beijing for about two years, and immigrated to the United States with my husband. Upon arriving to the States, I sought my MBA at Atlanta’s Emory University—in a much warmer climate and a diverse city.

I can still remember in 2014, I received an out-of-the-blue LinkedIn message from Sr. Vice President, Corporate Controller Chris Fox, asking me to interview for a FP&A (Financial Planning & Analysis) position at Rheem. At that time, I was working for a logistics and distribution company in finance. I didn’t know much about Rheem, but my natural curiosity won out, and I came for an interview with Chris and Chief Financial Officer Greg Henry.

Neither Chris nor Greg knew me then, but they saw something in me that I didn’t even know I possessed. I can’t thank Chris and Greg enough for leading me into a career opportunity that has provided tremendous personal and professional growth along the way and is still full of potential today.

After a few years, I was invited to participate in Rheem’s Accelerated Management Placement Program (RAMP), a cohort for high-potential leaders chosen from across the organization. As part of RAMP, I was assigned a mentor: Stacey Gearhart, who was Vice President of Global Product Management and Marketing, Global Water before she was promoted to Vice President, General Manager of Raypak. (Coincidentally enough, Stacey and I are working together again at Raypak.) During RAMP, she was highly effective in helping me navigate a matrixed organization and how to accelerate talent growth. Stacey continues to be a great resource.

With RAMP, I leaned into not being afraid to take on new challenges and, with my colleagues, created a plan that would eventually save Rheem about $1 million a year. Many days, I wasn’t sure about what I was doing. I was out of my comfort zone, yet, expected to deliver an outcome in a field—in this instance, procurement—that was new to me. Instead of letting uncertainty hinder me, I took on the obligation to seize this opportunity as I have the confidence that a good stretch is the best way to go.

Rheem has provided several opportunities for me to grow into various leadership roles. After accepting the position of Sr. Director of Finance at Raypak, my family and I moved west to California. While I miss Atlanta, you can’t beat the great cuisine and beaches found at every turn; however, the trade-offs may include the excessive cost of gas and electricity!

My advice to people who are starting their careers or mid-career or higher: be confident when opportunities are presented to you, and the best opportunities are the ones with a stretch. Most importantly, connect your passion and your strength with what you do at work.