In episode 152, Erik and Kerel talk with Jessica Lee-Wen, Chief Marketing Officer at Thrive FP, a company focused on investing in real estate while also doing good in the community. Jessica was first generation-born Canadian, born to her mom and dad who are both from China who met in Vancouver and had her and her brother. Her mother, a pharmacist commuting two hours everyday for work, taught her a lot about having a strong work ethic, and her father really showed her a nurturing side as he managed restaurants that her family owned. Jessica got interested in marketing after watching the movie “What Women Want” and dove into really understanding people, helping them feel like they belong and creating a community.
Jessica shares how she started the Casoro Group Education Foundation which focuses on closing the generational wealth gap and increasing diversity in the real estate industry through education, experience, and opportunities. She gives her biggest advice to people looking to get into the marketing industry and how she approaches mentoring others and cultivating relationships. Jessica touches on her experience with discrimination in the marketing world including sexism and how she overcomes that and also how she draws inspiration from stories of resilience and grit.
“I think one of the things that I always encourage is, ask questions. So much to the point where I establish, like, every time we meet, or every time we're in a meeting with other people, I'm expecting you to ask me, or ask the group, at least two or three questions, mandatory. It could be, you know, "What is that term that was used? What does that mean?" Whatever that question is. So I think as mentors, we should be encouraging and creating an environment where the mentees feel comfortable asking questions.”
We want to welcome all of our listeners to another episode of MRP with Erik and Kerel. Each episode we talk with leaders in business, tech, and media. And today joining us is Jessica Lee-Wen, who's the Chief Marketing Officer at Thrive FP. Let's jump in and get to know Jessica. Jessica, welcome. How are you?
Jessica Lee-Wen 00:28
I'm doing fantastic. Thank you, Erik and Kerel, for having me.
We're excited to have you, Jessica. So much to cover. I want to ask you, obviously, about your career and how you got started, but first, I love sort of like your line about a "CMO using her powers for good and better homes for better lives." Can you tell me what that means, Jessica?
Jessica Lee-Wen 00:51
Yeah, so, you know, I come from a marketing background. And when I first decided to go into marketing, it was really interesting, because a lot of people like said, "Oh, marketing, advertising that's like lies, and you're spitting lies and selling us things," and I was determined to prove them wrong. And so as I started off my career, I really looked for opportunities that I could use my marketing skills for good, for a better impact, inspiring a better community or not just, you know, selling products, but really for larger vision. And so I eventually stumbled upon into the real estate industry, and investments, particularly. And this was where I realized we can really, really create an opportunity where no matter what kind of real estate you're dealing in, you are dealing with lives, so how can we create better lives in the industry?
That's awesome. I want to ask you a little bit about how you got into advertising, because I noticed very early on you decided to pursue that, and higher learning and your experiences there, so I'm fascinated with that. But for those that don't know, can you tell us a little bit about Thrive FP and what makes Thrive FP really kind of unique?
Jessica Lee-Wen 02:12
Yeah. So they're really focused on not only investing in real estate and providing investors with a great return, but they really focus on doing good in the community as well. So that really spoke to what I set out to do in the marketing industry and finding ways to use the skill set that I have to help further those types of missions.
That's great. Jessica, tell me a little bit about you. Where did you grow up? And tell me about the early days for Jessica Lee-Wen? Tell me about where you grew up and where you're from?
Jessica Lee-Wen 02:49
Yeah. So I'm actually first generation born Canadian. My parents, they were both born in China. And sometime during their childhood, they each made their way to Hong Kong, and eventually to Vancouver, BC, in Canada, where they met and married and had my brother and I. So, it's been really interesting growing up there. My mother, she was a pharmacist, and she would commute an hour outside of the city every single day. So that's a two hour commute back and forth, to go to work. And that's what she did. She's such an example of, you know, hard working, work ethic, providing for the family. And my father, he managed restaurants that some of our family members owned, and I had so many childhood memories hanging out at one of the restaurants in Chinatown and eating steamed shrimp dumplings and egg rolls and drinking way too much sprite and ginger ale. So that's where I grew up. But I think other than that, that's probably the extent of my Chinese heritage. My dad's side of the family embraced Western culture a lot more, so I feel like my family compared to my cousin's definitely leaned on the western culture more so than the Chinese-Asian culture.
Yeah, thank you for sharing that because that's such a real story too, right? Embracing the change for them, right? They made a huge change and now that is just like your reality, right? Like that is your world, right?
Jessica Lee-Wen 04:33
Yeah. It was hard, though I'd have to say because with my cousins, you know, they all went to Chinese school. They spoke, they wrote quite fluidly and at gatherings, I almost felt like I was the one that didn't fit in because we embraced Western culture more. And then when I went to school, although it was multicultural, it was still "Oh, I'm still Chinese." And still got teased for my, you know, lunches not looking normal or smelling weird. So, it was kind of an in between, for me.
That's fascinating. You know, I can think of some of my family moments, who were Filipino side of my family when they came over in World War Two, they felt like they were here to fit in. Just as the Civil Rights Movement was sort of kicking off, their mission was to have the kids assimilate a lot easier into society. And they left behind a lot of, you know, what they sort of grew up with. And that's a very real story too, you know? I'm curious, you know, I'm thinking about that long commute your mom had and sort of that long super commute, it's kind of a newer thing, right? Where you would go that long distance and all that time, your father around family and the restaurant, what are some things that you think you learned from both of their sort of work experiences and sort of life experiences that you think about today?
Jessica Lee-Wen 06:02
Yeah, so I think definitely, my mom has taught me to work really hard, and try not to complain too much, and just nose to the grindstone and just get the work done. My father taught me a lot about, I guess, the people side, the building relationships and the nurturing part, I think. Which is really strange, I think, from a, you know, Chinese family, I think there's usually a lack of personal, you know, signs of affection and whatnot. But my dad really, you know, I guess it was embracing the Western culture, he definitely was the more nurturing parent. So, I was fortunate enough to have both sides where, you know, I had this strict work ethic, the studying, but as well, I also had the nurturing part, as well, for my father.
Interesting, Jessica, Chief Marketing Officer now and also you have some experience really kind of like, early on with companies and sort of ground level founder perspectives. Can you talk to us a little bit about that?
Jessica Lee-Wen 07:07
Yeah, so one of the things that from a ground level up that we've started working on a few years ago was Casoro Group Education Foundation. And actually, if you don't mind me telling the story of how that came around...
Please tell, please tell.
Jessica Lee-Wen 07:23
So, I guess this all seems like a long, long time ago. 2020 was, you know, a bit of a mess, you know, we had COVID and we had lock downs and, you know, we had hospitals overflowing and people dying. And then we had events like Asian hate crimes, and George Floyd. And his death was really a catalyst, I think that spotlighted a lot of the inequalities that still existed in the country. And for myself, growing up in Canada, I knew about the inequalities and the racism in the United States to the extent of just what I saw in movies, or what I read books. But you know, a few years ago, like with everything going on, I really felt the emotions and the tensions that so many people in the country was experiencing. So I started to dig a little deeper into to learn about that and I think that's when my eyes were open, you know, and I learned about redlining and how the laws and regulations in this country discriminated against minorities from owning real estate or even getting a loan from the bank. And I learned about how that affected where people lived, and their access to quality education, and the jobs they were able to get and how that contributes to the wealth gap. Even drastic statistics, like the average household net worth of a black American family was $24,000. And that's like, $164,000, less than a white American family. And so I'm thinking $164,000, that's a down payment on a home, or an investment property right there. And then I started finding out all the statistics about the lack of diversity in the industry. So a number of us who were at Casoro Group, at the time started talking about what can we do, we're all in the business of real estate and and if real estate contributed to the wealth gap, how can we be a part of the solution? And so we created Casoro Group Education Foundation and, you know, we're happy to say that we've had a very successful first year. And the foundation's mission really is to help close that generational wealth gap and increase diversity in the real estate industry by offering experience and education and opportunities to students that are economically disadvantaged or minorities. So being able to use something that we're passionate about and wanting to make a change and starting that from the ground up, it's been a fantastic journey. And to be able to use that, and use my skill sets towards furthering that mission has been a huge honor for me. Well, Jessica, thank you for explaining that to us and to our listeners. And I think when Erik and I are doing the podcast, or we're out and about in market, people will always ask us, you know, I want to do something, how do I get started? How can I help and impact and make a change? And what I love the most about your story is you saw a situation there and you figured out how you could use your profession and your current skill set to do something within your industry that moves the ball forward. And so like, that's what I take from the story. And I really appreciate you explaining that. Erik, I think you had a follow up question.
Yeah, I think it's interesting thinking about, for real estate, is, you know, you were talking about it and also, I think you've had a particular focus on something that I think is just really of the time right now, but also, of the past. And what I mean by that is like, I think a lot of people grew up in sort of, you know, multifamily real estate or multi generational sort of real estate. And I think that is somewhat of a unique thing for different cultures. And so having a focus on that, can you talk about, like why that's important focusing on that type of real estate and not maybe other sort of real estate that has a brighter light shined on it?
Jessica Lee-Wen 11:51
Yeah, you know, in the end from an investment perspective, people always need somewhere to live. You know, I think what the pandemic has shown, you know, offices shuddered during the pandemic. So if you're investing in office space, that could, we saw, there's potentially downturns in that. Same with entertainment, retail hospitality. You know, during the pandemic, we've seen how those types of real estate asset types were affected. But when it comes down to it, everyone always needs a place to live. And specifically with multifamily, what you find is, when there are economic downturns or when we're talking about minorities, immigrants, anyone who may be even more economically disadvantaged, multifamily, like your apartment complexes, your apartment buildings, those are the homes that they are living in. And I think, focusing on that and creating value, so that it's not just an apartment for them, but creating a value in that experience of living in that apartment so it's actually a home for them. I think that is where it's really important. So whether it's making sure you have affordability, when it comes to rents, or even some of the programming and the activities that you offer at some of these communities. They could be financial literacy classes. It could be resume writing classes, English as a Second Language classes, after school care. I've seen a number of organizations offer after school care, or homework help for a lot of the children that live at their communities. And I think focusing on that focusing on the people to make sure that we're providing that type of value, in addition to you know, just collecting your rent and making sure it's maintained and things are working, that's being invested in people's lives and not just into a building with four walls.
Jessica, how did you get into marketing?
Jessica Lee-Wen 14:04
I'm almost a little bit embarrassed at how I actually chose this field. So, I waited a little bit before I went to school, I had my family early. And so we made the conscious decision first for me to stay home until the kids were in school full time. So it gave me a little bit of life experience before I actually went and explored a career. But it was coming to the time to figure out what career I wanted to pursue and what to take in school. I was watching a movie called What Women Want and it stars Mel Gibson and Helen Hunt. And they were working at a marketing and advertising agency. And what really drew me to that was the creative and fun part of business. But more importantly, it was really understanding people and helping them feel like they belong, or that creating a community that really drew me to it, and really understanding other people. Instead of just saying, "Hey, I know what the benefits of this product is, and this is why you need it," but really understanding, are we creating products that the target audience really, really needs? And what is the best way to communicate with them? And that really takes someone who can have some empathy and some compassion and to really listen to who you're trying to target.
Gotcha. Okay, thank you for that. In terms of the marketing space, or even in the real estate space, right, strides have been made in both areas in terms of inclusivity. But I think we could probably all agree that every industry needs some work when it comes to inclusivity. And I'm curious to get your thoughts on, how can either the marketing industry or real estate, do more things to make it a sort of a more inclusive space?
Jessica Lee-Wen 16:00
Yeah, well, in my industry, like real estate, and I think this is true for any any career path, but your network of professional relationships is vital to your success, right? And your connections can influence, you know, in the real estate industry, they can influence by how you find good investments, how you raise money and buyers for your deals, or even your next construction project or career move. So I think internships are a huge, huge component into improving inclusivity. And not just internships, but internships geared towards diverse students, because then you're allowing them to start building those crucial relationships that they need in order to succeed in an industry. So if we're really dedicated to helping the rising generation, and it's sincere, then I think having the opportunity to offer internships and have a DEI focus on that is really, really important.
Jessica, I want to ask you about your own personal sort of experiences, as you've navigated, you know, your different positions and companies, you know, and I think about real estate, and maybe some of the moments that you've had where you felt different, or you had someone made you feel like you were different. Can you talk to us a little bit about your personal experiences with facing discrimination or any experiences like that?
Jessica Lee-Wen 17:34
Yeah, I think being a female in this industry, specifically real estate, that can be a struggle. It's a very male dominated industry. And when you go to conferences, and whatnot, it has been difficult in the past to be taken seriously. And sexual harassment and inappropriate comments, those are a real thing in their industry. And unfortunately, it probably still happens now and then as well. But I think there is a bright silver lining. I've seen a lot of organizations put focus on elevating women in this industry, not only in marketing, but in real estate and investing as well. And I think, for companies to partner with organizations that can help promote women, and develop programming that can help guide them throughout their career and to experience professional growth, I think that's vital. I think women bring definitely a different perspective, when it comes to leading a company. And really investing in the people, in the teams and looking for opportunities to inspire and mentor and grow those that you have within your teams is really important. And I think women, we naturally have that nurturing aspect about us that I think if we see more executive women out there that would take businesses to the next level, because we're cultivating and we're mining the best potential in all our team members.
That's great. Thank you for sharing that. And you mentioned sort of mentorship. I was curious about sort of mentoring and sort of mentees and really just sort of working with folks. What are some ways that you're currently sort of passing those things on or sort of working with others?
Jessica Lee-Wen 19:40
Yeah, I love working with with the youth. And I think one of the biggest things that I love to make sure that I do as I mentoring youth or even those that are on my team, is really to understand where they are at. I think it's taking a lot of listening and it's really understanding where they are in their journey and in their knowledge, and then keeping that in mind as you guide them and counsel with them. And I think one of the things that I always encourage is ask questions, so much to the point where I establish, like, every time we meet, or every time we're in a meeting with other people, I'm expecting you to ask me, or ask the group, at least two or three questions, mandatory. It could be, you know, "what is that term that was used? What does that mean?" Whatever that question is. So I think as mentors, we should be encouraging and creating an environment where the mentees feel comfortable asking questions. That's one of the ways that I like to mentor, it's making sure that they feel comfortable enough to ask questions, and then understanding where they're at so I can cater the information that I'm delivering to them in a manner that they can understand.
Gotcha, Jessica, where do you draw inspiration from?
Jessica Lee-Wen 21:07
Ah, I love personal growth stories. I love resilience. Like, stories about resiliency, and underdog stories. I draw a lot of inspiration from that. So I try and surround myself, even on social media, or the stories I read or the media that I consume. I try and surround myself with those types of stories that can remind us of the human experience that we are all struggling with something but we all have the grit and the resiliency to grow and to just really shine on the other side.
Yep. Love that. Love that. What advice would you have for anyone that's looking to enter the marketing field?
Jessica Lee-Wen 21:52
Be curious and ask questions. That's my my biggest advice, be curious, ask questions. And just network and talk to people. Ask for opinions. Ask for mentorships. Ask for help.
Yeah, that is so important to be curious and ask questions. And something you said earlier during the interview too around networking, I think is super important, as well.
Jessica Lee-Wen 22:16
Yeah. I think schools need to teach that some more is how to network. How to have conversation. Yeah, I think we're, we're so addicted to our phones right now. I worry about this rising generation. Are they able to have conversations with people? Real conversations?
So true. So true. All right, now, fun question I love asking every guest that we have on the podcast, and I've changed it up a little bit for this year. I used to ask the question around what are your favorite apps on your phone? But now I want to know what's in your music rotation? What are you listening to?
Jessica Lee-Wen 22:53
Oh, I got all ready for that app question. (laughs)
You can deliver those afterwards. (laughs)
Jessica Lee-Wen 23:03
What's in my music rotation? So, I was looking at the Grammy winners list and I'm like, I don't think I know any of these, so it's gonna be very different. So my music rotation right now, it always has Mother Mother. It's a band out of Vancouver, indie rock band. And I'd like to say I was a OG fan back in the early days. And I think TikTok made them famous again. So now, you know, they were famous in my part of Canada, but I think with TikTok, people have rediscovered their music, and it's really made them popular all throughout the world now.
Gotcha. All right. Give us the apps too since you were prepared for that one.
Jessica Lee-Wen 23:49
So, my apps are Spotify. And then this is probably different for you, but my gospel Library app, I study the Bible and and scriptures and gain a lot of inspiration from some inspirational talks through that. And then my guilty pleasure. There's a board game called Settlers of Catan and so I have the game app on my phone. So that's probably, my husband said that's probably the other one that I should mention. Top app on my phone. (laughs)
You're a gamer. You're a gamer. (laughs)
Very nice. Jessica, thanks for spending some time with us and sharing your experiences with our listeners. A lot of times our listeners like to stay in touch. What are some ways that our listeners can reach out to you and connect with you?
Jessica Lee-Wen 24:36
Absolutely. So they can reach out to me on my LinkedIn account, they can reach out there. And you can also reach out to me through our foundation as well, Casoro Group Education Foundation.
Excellent. Well, thanks everyone for listening to another episode of MRP. You can find more episodes of Minority Report Podcast everywhere you find your audio and video, just search for the logo and you'll find all kinds of great episodes there. Thanks Jessica and thanks everyone for joining us again.
Jessica Lee-Wen 25:06
Thank you so much.