The Hallmark of Good Business

Posted by cservaes on June 19, 2012 in Alumni, "School of Business", "The College" “When you care enough to send the very best…” “Life is a special occasion…” Hallmark Cards, Inc., based in Kansas City, Missouri, is famous for knowing just what to say. The company was founded in 1910 by a Nebraskan teenager. It now employs 13,000 full-time employees worldwide. Ottawa University graduate Joel Ma ’88 has been part of that legacy for 22 years. His latest adventure with the greeting card giant is a three-year stint in Hong Kong. Ma, a former OU trustee, along with his wife, Myla ’89, and their daughter, Hayden, made the choice to move around the world as a family, with each playing a part in the decision. The choice was made easier because the Mas had made the same decision a decade earlier, when Hallmark sent them to Hong Kong just days after the attacks on 9/11. While in Hong Kong in 2005, the Ma duo became a trio when Hayden joined them through the miracle of adoption. With this recent decision to return to Hong Kong has come both incredible opportunities and, as Ma puts it, “Hong Kong moments” when life just doesn’t make sense to foreigners in a foreign land. Yet, Ma isn’t completely a stranger to Hong Kong as he was born and raised there. In fact, one of the deciding factors in Hong Kong’s favor was the chance for Ma’s wife and daughter to better know his mother, who is now 92. The opportunity for Hayden to experience another culture was also a motivating factor. Before arriving in Hong Kong, “my daughter did not have a clue about Korean seaweed snacks and did not like to eat shrimp due to its texture,” says Ma. “Now, she loves Vietnamese pho noodles and sushi. The multicultural aspects of life in Hong Kong have helped shape her personality, as well.” Ma is not just in Hong Kong to feed his daughter seaweed snacks. Hallmark sent him there to develop and oversee the implementation of sourcing strategies for Hallmark’s core product categories for its North American marketplace. Ma and his team manage an annual spend of more than $300 million. Ma travels between Hong Kong, China, Thailand, and other Asian countries, and he works with more than 120 team members. Needless to say, he is a trusted, valuable Hallmark employee. Ma’s career with Hallmark officially began in 1990. However, his connection to Hallmark is lifelong: When I was growing up in Hong Kong, I loved walking through specialty and card shops in shopping malls. I was impressed and touched by the wonderfully crafted messages included in the greeting cards of this globally known company – Hallmark Cards, Inc. I told myself it would be worth everything if someday I could work at Hallmark.Years went by. I came to Ottawa for my bachelor’s degree, and then I was offered the opportunity to interview with Hallmark as I was graduating from my MBA program at KU. While working part time as a graduate assistant in the management development program (part of the University of Kansas School of Business), providing management training to executives and managers for many telecommunication companies and other consumer product companies, Ma met a few Hallmark managers. One of them asked for his resume, believing someone at Hallmark would be interested in Ma’s background and skill set. After two days of interviews at Hallmark’s Crown Center headquarters, Ma wrapped up his graduate studies and began his new job. “I started at Hallmark in the product buying services, which we now call global procurement,” says Ma. “I held various job assignments in inventory management, marketing, and sales and returned to procurement in 1996.” Ma credits his Ottawa University education for setting him up for long-term success at Hallmark and in life. His education helped him understand the importance of finding balance between success in the business world and in humanity. “If we only go after one or the other,” says Ma, “the outcome may be short-lived.” Balancing work and family and being willing to take a few risks has allowed Ma and his family to travel all over the world, to fully appreciate the blessings that come with being U.S. citizens and at the same time to immerse in the joys and surprises of other cultures. “I truly felt God had a plan for me at Hallmark. Just like OU, Hallmark is my family outside my immediate one in Hong Kong. Yes, 22 years is a long time for someone to stay with one company, but, it is not just any company… it is Hallmark!” From his years of experience with Hallmark, Ma has some advice for young OU graduates heading into the business world: • Be clear about what your beliefs and values are and what you are willing to stand up for • Proficient and effective communication skills are paramount in building a strong foundation for careers in the business world • Effective networking with others is a journey, not a project, that should be planned from the beginning when you step into the business world • Be genuine and passionate about what you do • The best leader knows when s/he should lead by example and also when s/he should listen and follow