Today, Jo Jones, SBD Automotive's Chief HR Officer is interviewing Connie Gu, who is currently providing maternity cover for a Senior Specialist position at SBD China. She has worked with us for almost ten years and has rapidly developed her career alongside the rapid growth of the company itself.
Jo Jones: So, before we get into your time at SBD Automotive, I was wondering if you could shed some light on your background before joining us?
Connie Gu: Sure! So prior to joining SBD, I did an International Business degree in China followed by a master’s degree in Strategic Marketing at Cranfield University in the UK. After that, I noticed a job advert for a temporary research role where being fluent in Chinese was a key requirement. While I wasn’t as experienced in the automotive side at the time, I had studied market research – so everything was new to me back then. I started working at SBD 10 years ago in December 2011, meaning I’ve spent a third of my life working here!
JJ: What do you remember about that first temp role with us?
CG: I remember working on a big project for SBD UK that involved researching features and fitment of connected car services. Back then, the company had around 20 employees at their UK office, now we have more than 100 people working around the world! When I was briefed and shown what to do, I really found it interesting to do desk research. This involved searching for information on websites and presenting that research as a PowerPoint report. The project itself was very detail-oriented, which I really enjoyed.
As I continued working with SBD, I found the people there to be really friendly and welcoming. It was a small office at the time, and everyone was really nice to work with. I continued as a Temp until I saw opportunities for consumer studies work, which I was interested in and quickly become involved with. Business in China-focused research increased at the same time, and because of that I was offered a permanent role at SBD in March 2012.
JJ: It’s great that you were able to develop and learn so much in such a short frame of time! Since taking up a permanent role, what has your career involved and how did your needs change?
CG: I was usually involved in consumer studies projects but continued working on desk-based research for reports and client projects. Two years after this, I became a specialist. I then took maternity leave in 2018 and returned part time. I think flexibility is an important factor as to why I stay with SBD, especially when I have a young family. I really needed that flexibility, so SBD gave me the opportunity to work part time in March 2019 and it was agreed with no problem. I then returned to working full-time in August.
JJ: Soon after that, the UK was in lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic, what did SBD to support you through that time?
CG: During that time I was able to work different hours to balance working and looking after my family. SBD allowed me to work during these non-conventional hours, sometimes after 8PM or earlier in the morning. This flexibility really helped me during that time. In August 2020, I moved to China and since then it’s been busy. I’m now covering for a Senior Specialist at SBD China while she is on maternity leave as part of my development plan. I was first made aware of the role through SBD’s new policy of advertising all vacancies internally and was the first employee to accept an internal move through this practice.
JJ: It’s great to hear how supportive SBD has been over the years and how much you enjoy working here! What is the working environment like at SBD China and how is it different from the UK?
CG: We’re quite busy with consumer research studies in China. Right now, I’m involved with two studies that involve focus groups, in-depth surveys, and in-car testing – all of which I find are very interesting processes to carry out. The industry telematics and autonomous vehicles are both developing areas here and there’s a good future for both. I find that I work in an industry that is developing so quickly with so many new technologies and that’s why I enjoy working with SBD, because working on something so new and so exciting really keeps me engaged.
The work environment itself is dynamic and intense, which has helped me grow very quickly. For instance, clients in China often want a quicker turnaround than those in the UK and prefer to meet face-to-face rather than on the phone. So with that added intensity, I enjoy both the pace of the work and how it has improved my confidence when facing clients and communicating with customers.
JJ: What has been your biggest development and growth opportunity with SBD?
CG: One of our clients is an expert in autonomous driving technologies and is currently doing a consumer study focused on it. They’re a consumer expert in the field and have a lot of experience, so I was able to learn more about consumer studies skills and techniques through them. I also learned more about the technologies that go into autonomous vehicles, including how the systems in these vehicles work and the different sensors they use. Both myself and the client were discussing these vehicles with the customers on-site which gave me valuable insights into project management as well as customer co-ordination and communication.
The project broadened my knowledge of the automotive industry as a whole, with a lot of my work focusing on connected car technologies. My experience with SBD China has been my biggest learning opportunity at the company and, now that I’ve stepped into the Senior Specialist role, I will have even more opportunities to learn. Compared to my career in the UK, I’m learning so quickly now because of how quickly the industry moves here. I’m also having a lot more exposure to clients here, talking to them directly rather than on the phone.
JJ: What’s your favourite memory from working at SBD?
CG: It’s always great to receive positive client feedback. We are dealing with the client’s request so effectively and efficiently that we are thinking ahead of them on what they need to do next, so it’s really nice to have this kind of feedback. Another client, a major OEM, also told us that SBD China is ‘one of the most professional teams they have dealt with’.
JJ: Lastly, what’s the culture and atmosphere like at SBD China?
CG: While the atmosphere is generally busy, we also make time for downtime and fun. Recently, we’ve been out for dinners for both offices for the mid-autumn festival and we often take part in other team-building social activities outside of work.