Success means different things to different people. To Jennifer Moe, an Open Innovation manager at Procter and Gamble, it means achieving a balanced life, in which she gets to use her training and strengths to solve important yet challenging problems at work, and be an involved mother and wife at home.
Born and raised in Colombia, Moe always knew she wanted a family and a career in her life. It’s no doubt that her parents, an entrepreneur and a homemaker, played a huge role in Moe’s view of life.
Both European descendants, Moe’s parents encouraged their three children, Moe and her two younger brothers, to be all they wanted to be in life. Her parents sent their children to a German school that offered strong math and science programs where Moe fell in love with chemistry. “You can make smells or colors appear or disappear by making just a small change to a molecule. It was fascinating to me,” Moe marvels as she recalls fond memories of her high school chemistry classes.
It was no surprise to her family that after high school Moe decided to pursue higher education in chemistry in the US, an uncommon adventure for girls growing up in Colombia back then.
“Jenny has always been extremely driven and very smart. She is very passionate about learning and she is very inquisitive,” says Greg Leupin, Moe’s younger brother who followed Moe’s footstep to study abroad.
Moe knew limited English in high school, but that didn’t stop her from taking the SATs and applying for colleges in the US. Eventually she was accepted by a small university in Florida. In 1984, Moe flew to the US, accompanied by her parents. She first studied chemistry at the University of West Florida in Pensacola and later pursed a PhD in organometallic chemistry at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. And from there, she started her pursuit of success both at work and in life, on her own terms.
From the Front End of Innovation to Open Innovation
Upon graduating from UNC, Moe was recruited on campus by P&G where she has been working the past 22 years. At P&G, She worked on many different assignments ranging from technology development and formulation to program management in the Front End of Innovation programs. She enjoyed using her expertise in chemistry and problem solving to improve existing products and help develop new products.
However, after 8 years Moe started to “feel restless.” “I was doing okay, but not shining,” she recalls. Besides her scientific knowledge, she was hoping that she could better use her other strengths as well. To find out what she could do in other areas, she sought an assignment in the home appliances group that few scientists at P&G wanted to join. This change in assignment was a turning point in her career. “It was a whole different culture and experience working with appliance companies, and I got to use my strengths in blending cultures and in making connections,” she says. Moe loved the experience so much that when a full-time opportunity in the Open Innovation program came along, she grabbed it.
Moe cherished all her previous roles at P&G, but she admits that she enjoys her current role as an Open Innovation manager the most because she gets to use her ability to adapt; her passion for creating win-win situations; and her strength of making connections, between people as well as between problems and potential solutions. And her colleagues agree. “Jenny is a true collaborator with a great vision,” comments Wael Safi, an Open Innovation leader at P&G. And that, he believes, is really helping Moe make all the necessary connections both internally and externally.
Would she be happier if she had started with the current position? Moe doesn’t think so. She believes all the roles she has played collectively contribute to her success today. She credits her previous roles for helping her understand the culture, the technology and products, the formulation, and the challenges at P&G, which is essential knowledge for her to make suitable connections between teams at P&G and with outside partners.
Striving for Balance
A fulfilling career, a supportive husband, and two thriving daughters-- at 48 Moe is living a life that many working parents envy. Moe herself is happy with what she has achieved so far: a balanced life.
Achieving a work-life balance, however, was not always easy to Moe, especially when her children were young. To be able to return to work, Moe had to put her young children at a full-time daycare when they were only three months old. Today, she still remembers the days when she had to stay at home with the girls when they were sick, all the while feeling that she needed to make a statement at work. But as the children grow older, things are easier to manage, Moe points out.
Moe attributes her success in managing a work-life balance to a supportive husband, an employer with family-friendly policies, and her strong desire for “having it all.” For many people, trying to “have it all” could create huge pressure, but Moe has managed to use it as her motivation.
Insights and Advice
Looking back, Moe has no regrets in her pursuit. She hopes her pursuit and success can inspire her daughters to go after what they want in life. And she wants them to know it is possible to be a loving mom and spouse and have a satisfying career at the same time.
To working parents who are at the early stages of their careers, Moe offers the following advice based on her own experience.
- Know who you are and what you want.
- Improve your weaknesses but focus on your strengths. Your strengths are your true assets. Use them the best you can and they’ll help you stand out.
- Embrace your uniqueness. “Being different is awesome,” Moe exclaims. Your uniqueness sets you apart from others, which means you may have something valuable that others don’t. So use it to your advantage. A Spanish-speaking female chemist from Colombia, in the early days at P&G in Ohio, Moe was surely different from many of her colleagues. But as P&G continues to increase its strong global presence, Moe’s multicultural background and her global perspective are helping her thrive in her current position.
- Learn from others but set your own aspirations. Moe thanks many colleagues and supervisors at P&G for their support and advice. She accepts helpful suggestions and learns as much as she can from others. But again, everyone’s life is different. To be successful on your own terms, you have to “set your own aspirations and go after them,” says Moe.
Yanni Wang is a principal scientific writer and the owner of International Biomedical Communications, a company dedicated to translating research data into clear messages. Yanni has a PhD in chemistry and writes about biomedical research-related topics for professional audiences and the general public.