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Spotlight on Women Leaders at SAP: Mary Shinn Lives the American Dream in Korea

February 16, 2017 by Susan Galer

Mary Shinn, chief operating officer at SAP Korea, began bridging global cultures at the tender age of nine when she emigrated with her family from Korea to Houston, Texas.

Navigating cultural change has become Shinn’s lifelong North Star, having relocated back to Korea after earning her accounting and finance degrees from the University of Texas at Austin, and a stint in public accounting and high technology sales. She’s built a life and career in Korea for the past 20 years, and now has a pivotal role leading SAP Global Customer Operations teams in this important growth region.

In this exclusive SAP News interview, Shinn looks back at how her parents’ quest for the American Dream unfolded to an amazing round-trip journey that continues to this day with her own daughter.

My father wanted his children to live the American Dream because…
He felt the United States was the only place where we would get the education we needed for a successful future.

I had to grow up fast because…
We arrived in a totally foreign place where there weren’t many Asians. My parents worked two jobs and I was responsible for taking care of my two younger brothers.

Three pivotal things that have brought me to where I am today are…
A willingness to push myself beyond my comfort zone, a strong sense of responsibility, and being in the moment. Five-year plans are so overrated. I’ve always focused on doing things that I like, and doing them well so that people trusted me, paving the way for bigger opportunities.

I’m passionate about making a difference for women to…
Move into non-traditional positions like senior management, IT, and sales. There have been some changes but Korea still lags far behind other parts of the world when it comes to cultural transformation supporting women in the workplace.

Major cultural change is the only way to attract more women to build business careers, beginning with…
How young girls participate in school curriculums and who mentors them at home growing up. Women need the same networking that men have; it’s a challenge we’re addressing by opening up a local Business Womens’ Network at SAP, which offers educational seminars, and other networking opportunities. I’m also sponsoring a local chapter of the Back-to-Work program, which is being sponsored by Adaire Fox-Martin, president of SAP APJ, someone I greatly admire.

SAP is dedicated to a supportive workplace for women by…
Offering employees flexible working hours and benefits, including paying for a portion of pre-school fees for their young children. Women face enormous cultural pressures from their families and society at-large to shoulder the entire responsibility of child-rearing and homemaking. There’s no magic formula for quick change, but business can start with these small steps.

SAP is dedicated to a supportive workplace for women

In a sea of fast-paced innovation, I…
Stay centered and productive by making things simple and bridging communication. If I don’t understand something, it means other people won’t either, and it’s important to speak up to gain clarity.

My advice to women considering a career in high tech is…
To not be afraid. Although there aren’t many of us in Korea, changes during the past 10 years are making the workplace a much friendlier place for women.

Assuming a leadership role at SAP has allowed me to…
Have an instrumental role using my skills to bridge two cultures – global and local Korean. My background is from both cultures so it’s a natural fit.

The trend I’m obsessed with today is…
Minimalist living. Too much stuff clutters your life, and you realize that what matters most are experiences you build with the ones you love. I’ve spent many years focused on my family and work, and now it’s time for new experiences like learning how to golf.

Volunteering to teach English at an orphanage has…
Been meaningful to me, especially since my daughter is away at college in the United States. A group of boys I’ve been working with were recently admitted to a technical high school. We’ve expanded this relationship with SAP conducting design thinking workshops on dream design and career planning. This has given these children the chance to speak up, have a dream, and think through what they want to do in their lives.

Shinn poses with two boys she taught English to for six years at the orphanage where she volunteers. They have been accepted into technical high schools. Image via SAP.

One of the most influential roles models in my life was…
My father, whose incredible generosity has shaped my relationships with people. He was a constant giver throughout his life. He set up a medical foundation in North Korea that partners with Korean-American physicians to provide much-needed expert care for patients.

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