The 25th anniversary of the Student Soybean Product Innovation Competition needed to be special. Purdue University President Mitch Daniels saw to that by hosting it at Purdue as one of the university’s 150th year anniversary events. The event also needed a special keynote speaker. After all, as Jay Akridge, Purdue provost and former College of Agriculture dean said, “Competitions like this don’t last 25 years — they just don’t.”
Yet this one has. So, what could be more fitting than asking a competitor from the first competition in 1994 to return as keynote speaker? Jocelyn Wong was part of the winning team that developed soy crayons, one of the best-known innovations to come out of the competition. Today, Wong is a senior vice president and chief marketing officer for Lowe’s.
The soybean new uses competition is sponsored by the Indiana Soybean Alliance and supported by Purdue University.
“The soybean new uses competition was very important to me, and became a big part of my life,” Wong told the crowd. “I keep a box of the original crayons on my bathroom vanity, so I see them every day. It reminds me of what went into that effort each day.”
Wong noted that to understand her story, she needed to start at the beginning. Her parents immigrated from Hong Kong to the U.S. She is the eldest of three daughters. “In Asian culture, being born a girl is the first obstacle,” she explained. That and her father’s expectations for success set her on a course to spend the rest of her life proving girls can do great things.
Wong grew up working hard alongside her parents, helping her mom clean houses and do whatever else she was asked to do. Living in the Chicago area, one of her early dreams was to attend Northwestern University.
As Wong continued her story, she shared seven lessons she’s learned along the way.
1. Be self-aware. “Figure out what drives you at an early age, and let it be your strength,” Wong said.
2. Learn from your regrets. Wong related how she filled out the application to attend Northwestern and then stopped herself at the mailbox. “I never mailed it,” she explained. “I was afraid of rejection. We must learn from our regrets. I decided then I would never let fear of rejection stop me from doing something like that again.”
Instead of going to Northwestern, she followed her boyfriend to Purdue. “We broke up before classes even started,” she quipped. “I was going to be an engineer or a doctor, so I went for engineering. But those classes were hard. I certainly wasn’t an A student.”
A College of Agriculture professor convinced Wong to join the soybean new uses competition. When her team won, she was excited. Then real life set in.
3. Find the open door. Wong advised the audience to look for what keeps you going, even when things don’t seem to be going well. “You’ve got to look for the sun behind the clouds,” she said.
Her team sold the rights to soy crayons, but she still needed to graduate and find a job. “I remember interviewing at a job fair here at Purdue with a tough recruiter from Procter and Gamble. He looked at me and said, ‘Why should I hire you?’ I pulled out my box of crayons, began drawing, and told him, ‘This is why you should hire me.’ And he did.”
4. Play to your strengths. Wong acknowledged that being an engineer just wasn’t her thing. “I was a clumsy engineer, and after two years, my rating was low enough to get me fired,” she recalled. “That was a low point, but a great lady at Procter and Gamble believed in me when I didn’t believe in myself. She saw that I had a flair for marketing, and I stayed there for a long time in that division, doing good things.”
5. Find work you are passionate about. Wong said she was passionate about developing soy crayons, and she found her passion again in marketing. When you’re passionate about something, you won’t have self-doubt, she said.
Wong eventually took a leap of faith and accepted a different position in California. She worked in management in marketing for Family Dollar before joining Lowe’s in 2015.
6. Let go of your fears. Sometimes even once you have success, a little voice in your head raises self-doubts, she explained. “You can continue to be fearful, or you can let go of fears,” she continued. “You’ve got to let go of fears. If you can build your confidence, anything is possible.”
7. You need a team. Wong said she had a team of people helping her all those years ago when she helped develop soy crayons. It wasn’t just her fellow students, but also faculty and others supporting her. She encourages working as a team in the business world today.