Women of Influence: Sonia Wu

par Donna Glasgow | August 18 2014 09:00AM

Sonia Wu

Overcoming obstacles and reaching the top

Life has indeed been very bright lately for Sonia Wu and her team at Sun Life’s Metro Vancouver Financial Centre where she is Manager. In 2012, the centre was the top performer in the company’s career network and was awarded an Excellence cup. Wu is the first female financial centre manager to achieve this for her centre in the insurer’s history. Success, however, did not come easy. Wu recalls that her early career performance was anything but shining.

I came here with two pieces of luggage and a few hundred U.S. dollars. That’s all I had. I had no relatives, no friends. I just had hope of a better life.

In 1989 she came to Canada after earning a medical degree in Shanghai, China. “I came here with two pieces of luggage and a few hundred U.S. dollars. That’s all I had. I had no relatives, no friends. I just had hope of a better life.”

Her qualifications from China did not allow her to practice medicine in Canada, so she did any job she could to survive. “After a couple of years, I tried to see how I could do better. I thought I cannot always be a waitress or a nanny. You have to move up.” A friend suggested she look into becoming an insurance advisor with Sun Life, which she did in 1993.

She faced many obstacles at the beginning of her career as an advisor. “I was not doing well because I had language challenges. I didn’t speak English and most Chinese immigrants in Vancouver at the time spoke Cantonese, totally different from the language I spoke – Mandarin (Wu has since learned English and Cantonese). I had a networking challenge. I didn’t know a lot of people. My only few friends were Chinese students.”

Her manager talked to her about her poor performance and she became worried that she might be asked to leave. At that point, she decided that yes, she was going to leave, but on her own terms – as a success and not a failure. “I said to myself, ‘I have to prove something to everyone and to myself – I will do well and then I will quit.’”

Commitment made the difference

This commitment to herself made a huge difference. “My business took off! I enjoyed it and have been doing it for more than 20 years.”

She explains that the commitment made her do things differently, such as overcoming a resistance to making cold calls. Then opportunity came with an increasing wave of immigration from Taiwan – investment immigration. “They’re quite wealthy and their language is Mandarin. I didn’t have connections but I made cold calls and I did very well in that market.”

In January 2010 she took over as manager of the Metro Vancouver Financial Centre – an underperforming centre at the time. “I had a dream that we were going to make number one someday…It was in my heart, in my blood…” She shared the dream with her advisors and they took up the challenge. As a leader, she said the most important influence that you have is the culture you build. “We created a winning culture, a winning team.”

She understands how difficult the early years can be for advisors. Wu also knows from experience that those challenges can be overcome. “Many times I say to advisors, ’If you think about quitting, that’s normal. I don’t know how many times I thought I couldn’t do it, but when difficult times come, hang in there, be patient. You’ll overcome the challenge. You’ll make it.’”

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