Stephanie Cheng: In The Shoes of A Successful Nonprofit Leader

Stephanie Cheng knew from a young age, that she would never become a doctor. She was not a fan of getting her blood drawn and was never comfortable walking through the halls of a hospital. However, she loves helping people and was sucked into the world of nonprofit work after watching an episode of Oprah in Africa, in addition to her exposure of the immense poverty on TV.

Stephanie is no stranger to the nonprofit world. In high school, she was heavily focused on community service and social justice. Stephanie was the President of KEY Club where she received a Bronze Community Service Award from the former U.S. President, George W. Bush for her successful volunteer work, coupled with her outstanding leadership role in the community.

During her undergraduate years at Stony Brook University, Stephanie majored in Business Management, with the thought that she would end up working in the world of finance or become an entrepreneur – but things didn’t work out that way. However, she graduated Magna Cum Laude with a Bachelors of Science in Business Management – where she was very much involved with Marketing for a while.

She definitely did put her degree to good use. She is a Partnerships Specialist for the U.S. Census Bureau under the U.S. Department of Commerce, where she specializes in connecting businesses, nonprofits, local city and state governments to many resources such as promoting social corporate responsibility as well as establishing partnership agreements.

Left – Stephanie Cheng (Board Member of Charles B. Wang Community Health Center) / At a Press Conference

Currently, Stephanie sits on the Board of Directors – of the Charles B. Wang Community Health Center for almost 6 years, which provides free and affordable healthcare for the underserved community. In her role as a Board Member, some of her many tasks include approving the annual budget, establishing policies and making business decisions to ensure the delivery of a positive impact in the community.

Stephanie Cheng speaking at Press Conference

Recently, she was appointed to a national expert advisory board for the National Association of Community Health Centers and the Association of Asian Pacific Community Health Organizations (AAPCHO) under a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Stephanie Cheng speaking at City Hall In Your Borough
To the left of Stephanie – Peter Koo (NYC Council Member of District 20)
To the right of Stephanie – NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio

If you are interested in learning about joining nonprofit work, joining a nonprofit board, Pro Bono Consulting or volunteering, feel free reach out and connect with Stephanie on LinkedIn!

In her free time, she enjoys traveling and has been to over 42 countries. In addition, she enjoys building websites and she dabbles in acting.

• You currently have been serving as a Board Member at Charles B. Wang Community Health Center since 2014. How has this professionally shaped your career and leadership?

Being a board member of a federally qualified health center gave me a high level overview of the strategic direction of the organization, but also being a patient allows me to see first hand the great work that our doctors and healthcare practitioners are doing.

Collaborating with people from different backgrounds gives me a sense of responsibility and drive. You are always representing the health center. 

• What sparked your interest in connecting businesses, nonprofits, local city and state governments to establish partnership agreements?

I think I was always concerned with how I can maximize impact. Growing up in NYC, I wanted to make a change after seeing people who are homeless or students going hungry at school while trying to learn. I remember when we were recruiting, I signed up a number of people who were homeless. I love working and meeting people so I can’t think of a better way to extend my reach other than giving people an opportunity to work. I think we all want to make some type of impact at work or in our personal lives.

• How has your role as a Partnerships Specialist at U.S. Census Bureau helped the NYC community and Manhattan region in the past year?

We’re building NYC for the next 10 years. The Census determines how billions and billions of dollars are distributed across the country. This is money for the street lights in front of your favorite restaurant, public schools, universal pre-k, school lunch programs, and even how much funding hospitals get. Being a native New Yorker, I’m proud to help my community and make sure that everyone is counted.

• I am aware that during your free time, you enjoy building websites and incorporate some coding. That is an amazing skill set to have on the side! What is your purpose of this and what do you hope to achieve out of doing this?

I have a travel blog, and I have a new website up, for a book I’m writing called Zombicon Valley – when zombies take over Silicon Valley. I just submitted a screenplay for this to a screenwriting contest. 

I created these websites using HTML/CSS and some Javascript that I copied from GitHub ’cause I rather do things myself especially when I could host it for free using Netlify. The cost for a website is $10 a year for the domain name and I get to learn a new skill, which seems like a good deal to me.

• You participated in a Hall Council at Stony Brook University. Could you tell me more about how this led you to your passion today? How did this help you thrive in your career?

I became a Resident Assistant because I needed a place to live. I literally camped out on my friend’s dorm in a sleeping bag for a semester because the dorms were full and I didn’t apply in time. 

When you’re an RA, you get free housing at the university. And there were a number of notable people that were RAs including Hillary Clinton and celebrities like Adam Sandler, so I thought that could only be a plus on my resume.

As an RA, I worked with a diverse group of students in helping them navigate their school year. There were many issues that came up including the occasional roommate problem, but also issues surrounding mental health. I was a confidante, mentor and friend to people who might/did not have any friends. 

This role taught me another layer of empathy. I remembered having to write up a student because there was a strong smell from his dorm. He was a hoarder and had collected so much garbage and plastic bags that you could not see his floor. We dealt with all types of people and I saw that most of us are going through something.

• You have a very diverse work background. You were very focused on Public Relations and Marketing. How did you make your transition into the non-profit and public sector? Is there anything unique about getting into this sector?

I thought I would go into finance but when I studied abroad in Beijing at Tsinghua University, my plan went out the window. During my winter break, I was in the Gobi Desert where I met a fellow New Yorker who gave me an internship working for a greentech conference for a month. Then, he introduced me to a music producer where I basically hung out with Jimmy Page from Led Zeppelin because they were working on a nonprofit project. When I got back to NY, I thought to myself “Do I really want to work in the corporate world or do I want to make a difference?”

I don’t know if there is anything unique about getting into the nonprofit sector but being kind and having empathy would be at the top. You never know who would get you your next job, so you want to talk to as many people as you can.

• How would you recommend someone who is interested in the same career pursue a similar path?  

Anyone can go into the nonprofit or government sector. It’s probably easier to get into than in the corporate world, however the salary would not be comparable. So make sure you take care of yourself first. I was lucky that I didn’t have any student debt when I graduated. That allow me to pursue anything I want, ’cause I didn’t owe anyone anything.

• What would you have told your younger self that would have added more value into your career today?

Fail fast, learn fast. Watch everything at 1.75 times speed. Speak less, listen more.

A Licensed Real Estate Agent Who Tied Her Career and Passion Into Her Business Venture

Leah Azizian always thought that she would be an attorney from a very young age. Growing up, this was the only career choice she had in mind. She was extremely sharp when it came to answering back her parents or siblings, and debating on different topics.

Of course, she joined the debate team in high school and knew headstrong that she would be an attorney when anyone inquired. But suddenly something shifted, and Leah became more open to exploring other ideas. In high school, she decided to intern as an audit analyst at DHS (The Department of Homeless Services) and ultimately as an Administrative intern at a real estate brokerage firm in Queens.

Ever since Leah’s internship in Queens, her interest was piqued. She remembered sitting in the office, watching agents go in and out, exchanging stories about the properties and clients they have just met, and some of the difficulties that they were facing. The barriers to entry seemed relatively easy: 72 hours at a real estate school of your choice, with a school and state exam to follow. She remembers thinking to herself that regardless of whether she would stick with it as a career, it was worth giving a shot.

After meddling with the thought for several months, Leah obtained her license and decided to partner with a firm that had great charisma, and one where she knew that she can make just as much of an impact as she grows within the field. What Leah enjoys about real estate is how intimate and meaningful her relationships with her clients are, and how important one’s representation on their behalf is. Not too far from being an attorney, but different. There is a lighter side to being in real estate. Each day, Leah and her colleagues gets to listen to the stories of their clients: what their clients’ dreams are, why they chose to purchase properties in NYC, and some of the challenges they’re facing.

This is precisely why the real estate field has become so meaningful to Leah, and why this led her to partnering with her colleague in creating a platform called Ambitious New Yorkers, that showcases the voices and stories of others, and most of all the idea that to be a New Yorker is unquestionably a frame of mind.

Leah is a graduate of Queens College and Macaulay Honors College. She holds two degrees: a Bachelor of Business Administration in Finance, and a Bachelor of Arts in Economics.

Leah puts on many different hats in two of her roles at LG Fairmont.

Leah is currently the Head of Business Development & Project Feasibility at the Developments & Consulting Division, where she is responsible for the growth and engagement of developer relations, as well as the identification of new project opportunities. In supporting the developer community, Leah conducts a comprehensive analysis of project viability and the direction for the development that will maximize success, exposure and profitability.

As a Licensed Real Estate Agent and Advisor, Leah and her team focus on working with buyers, sellers, investors and developers, primarily in Manhattan and Brooklyn. They pride themselves on their creativity and abilities to think outside the box. New York City is a diverse city, one that is continuously evolving, and requires forward thinking. Contact her today to discuss your real estate endeavors! Connect with Leah on LinkedIn.

You may find more information about Leah’s work on her recent transactions, her press kit and her client testimonials here on the LG Fairmont biography page.

Here, Leah illustrates her in depth perspective of her career aspirations in the real estate field.

• How were you able to find a deep motivation in being able to genuinely connect with your clients while you were juggling your life as a full-time college student?

I started my career in the real estate field while being in college, and at first it was a bit difficult to manage a full schedule of classes while working, but I was highly focused and created a very organized system that helped me stay productive. I’ve always been fully committed to whatever I do, and I know that once I join the industry I would find a way to juggle both. It was never difficult for me to stay motivated, rather I knew that it was important to dedicate enough time to both and I leveraged a really hard-working and efficient team to help me manage both, work with more clients and close more deals.

• You recently co-founded Ambitious New Yorkers, congratulations! Can you tell me more about this and how it relates to the work you do?

Ambitious New Yorkers is a platform my partner, Zoé Kellerhals-Madussi (President of Sales & Marketing at LG Fairmont), and I created to share the stories we hear from our clients and friends. We started it in the midst of quarantine, to encourage others to share their voice and connect with fellow New Yorkers. New York City is incredibly diverse, with plenty of dreams, and what connects us all is our unrivaled mindset.

• Time allocation is so crucial for real estate agents. How do you plan/prospect your pipeline of leads?

Yes, time allocation is crucial. I’ll spend every night going through my pipeline and organizing which clients need to be reached out to the next day, on a level of immediate to “not so immediate” based on how far we are in the process and how active they are as a client or their timeline. In building my pipeline, I’ll frequently touch base with past clients and my friends to see who can use a hand with their real estate goals. I’ll also set time during the week with my team to actively prospect by cold calling, sending letters to neighborhoods I’ve closed in before, and putting together creative campaigns to target specific buildings or zip codes.

• What are the pros and cons of going into a real estate career?

I think the pros and cons tend to be of the “same coin”, yet it depends on your perspective. As a real estate agent, you are the CEO of your business. All agents are in complete of control of how they’re going to run their business. I believe that to those who are free-spirited, hungry, strong-minded, and sociable, real estate can and should definitely be one to consider. Of course, your passion for real estate and selling, definitely comes into play. But those are the general characteristics of highly successful agents. If you’re someone who is looking for a 9-5 career, or someone who feels comfortable in an employer-employee relationship, with others dictating your day-to-day work and assignments, then I wouldn’t suggest entering the field as an agent or broker.

• Are there any general tips you’d like to advise for those who are just starting out as a real estate agent?

For those who are starting out, I always advise to take a moment to understand that being a successful real estate agent is a long-term play. Monstrous success doesn’t come with just a few years in the industry. It takes time, and a lot of patience. It also requires methodology and crafting a system to keep you highly efficient and organized. I also always advise to meet many people as possible, and create meaningful relationships. Real estate is a people’s business, and the more people you personally know, the better.

• What is your favorite part of being a real estate agent?

My favorite part of being a real estate agent is meeting all the wonderful people that I do. I love new meeting people, learning more about them, hearing their stories, and helping them achieve their goals.

• What is the most challenging part of being a real estate agent?

One of the most challenging parts of being a real estate agent is setting and meeting your clients’ expectations. With whoever I am working with, I always make it a point to have a consistent, clear line of communication and set realistic expectations as to what can be achieved and how.

• Are there any goals you currently want/need to accomplish as a real estate agent? 

My most immediate goal is to actively work with developers in NYC. This is a new endeavor that our team is taking on, and have been building strong traction with so far. Working with developers requires a unique mindset and creating a marketing strategy that tells a story and depicts the lifestyle of the residents for the building. It’s fascinating to work on new projects that make the landscape of New York. Our philosophy is always to smoothly integrate the building into its neighborhood, while creating an everlasting market imprint.

How does the housing market look right now? How has it changed since COVID-19 hit? What was it like before?

For the past couple years the housing market has been advantageous to buyers, and COVID-19 has helped accentuate this. In the past few months, real estate activity has slowed down globally, due to the lack of showings, but has picked back up in NYC since Phase 2 began in the end of June. I think it’s important for buyers to recognize that now is a time of opportunity and that the real estate market moves in waves. In a “down” market like this, it opens the doors to first time buyers and those building their investment portfolio; depending on your level of courage, the market is your oyster.

If you are in the NY area and interested in going into real estate, make sure to check out Leah’s 3 Entry-Level Tips and a Guide to Joining the Real Estate Industry.

A Career Snapshot of James G. Norman – Exploring The Corporate Finance World

James G. Norman has always been passionate about financial literacy and is very well acquainted with the business world since his teenage years.

Throughout his early years at The High School of Economics and Finance, he has held prestigious internships at Ernst & Young, one of the Big Four accounting firms as well as Moody’s Corporation, which is a credit rating, research and risk analysis firm located at the World Trade Center – in the heart of the Financial District. He recently graduated from Susquehanna University on May of 2018, holding a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration and Management. Right out of graduation, he was offered a full-time role as a Financial Institutions Group Analyst from Moody’s, which comprised of insurance and asset management.

James started his new role as a Risk Management & Analytics Associate on January 2020 and was recently promoted to a Risk Mitigation Manager at TheGuarantors, a Fintech company that offers innovative insurance risk/products and financial solutions for the real estate ecosystem in residential and commercial properties.
I can confidently say that anyone who has closely worked with James, is extremely grateful during a pivotal time in their career and any team would be privileged to have him as a leader. James has successfully scaled business and tackled challenging numbers during his time at TheGuarantors. While he is transitioning his responsibilities into his new role, I can assure that he is bound to build a great culture for his team from the ground up to succeed. James is the definition of a T-shaped business leader, leveraging his breadth of experience and inherent curiosity to tackle new challenges and surface actionable solutions that have long-lasting impact on the company.

He is in transition from finance to public service as he has always enjoyed working with the community and giving back. At just the age of 24, James has accomplished so many incredible things – let alone, achieving extraordinary success so early in his life.

When I think of James, this saying comes to my mind:

The idea of the young prodigy is by no means a modern phenomenon.

When it comes to James’ presence and reputation, I only have positive things to say about him, his leadership, his motivational speeches, his incredible relationship building, his keen intelligence and his business acumen in the professional world. He is a visionary, an inspiration, a role model and an original to many.

James as a keynote/alumni speaker at Working In Support of Education’s (W!se) 20th Anniversary Celebration held at the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE)

James is a very goal oriented and gifted kind of individual who’s qualities outshine in a way that truly motivates his peers, classmates and colleagues to hit their own individual goals. From the way he presents himself in front of a group of Millennials and Generation Z’s, I can see the emotion that’s written on him as he speaks. He shows humor, empathy and compassion in the work that he does. James is a quick problem solver and would swiftly turn around any obstacle into a great learning experience, despite any challenges and blockers.

James and alumni giving back at the High School of Economics and Finance Seminar

Being the dedicated and well versed professional that James is, he truly believes that if you want to achieve something, that you will do it. He is eager and driven in giving back to his community and setting young students up for success by teaching them financial literacy, identifying their personal/professional goals, developing leadership skills and planning career moves and transitions. The one who always goes the extra mile and is airtight in his delivery. Many great things will come of the financial sector and the NYC community due to his excellent work ethic coupled with his go-getter attitude/mindset.

Finance is very dynamic field due to the expansion of the global economy, the proliferation of new financial instruments, and the fluctuations in laws and regulations.

Is finance a dream career that you are looking to pursue OR a career that you are looking to transition into? Are you mathematically gifted and love working with numbers? Do you possess strong analytical and quantitative skills? Then this may be the trajectory that you want to take.

Not only do companies seek for the hard skills, however soft skills are just as major. According to GoGig, many companies hire finance employees based on personality as well – such as those who hold common traits of resilience, curiosity, persistence, loyalty, integrity and professionalism, team spirit, empathy, and sense of humor.

Below, James outlines a more detailed career snapshot of his journey.

• Many folks are uncertain about their career path until they enter college and even after they graduate. How did you know that this trajectory was “the one” for you? In other words, what propelled you to go into the finance sector?

From a young age my godfather, Leslie Roberts, introduced me to the world of finance. I remember in the summertime I would visit him in New Jersey and some days we would just go to the library to learn the ins and outs of the stock market. That is what birthed my interest. No pun intended. That combined with knowing I loved business and helping individuals solidified my interest down the line. People hold their finances near and dear to them. So, if I can help improve that aspect of their life in any capacity, I am happy.

• You have an excellent proven track record as a business leader throughout high school, college and the clubs/organizations that you were a member of. Could you tell us more about how these experiences molded you personally and professionally?

I have always enjoyed using my skills to help people or improve processes. I actively take opportunities that will allow me to do this. Throughout my academic career I was afforded many. One of my favorites was being CEO of my Virtual Enterprise class during my senior year of high school. This was a class but took on the format of an actual business. We specialized in selling 401K plans to other “businesses” across other high schools. This experience allowed me to learn a great deal about myself as an emerging leader and professional. I learned how to work with many different personalities and unify them to accomplish one common goal. I also learned that when you are tasked with leading, you must take the good with the not so good. As a company we did well but we did have our bumps, however it brought out the best in us. This experience set me up for what was to come in college and my professional career. I also took on many other positions such as SGA Treasurer and my fraternity, Phi Beta Sigma’s, Treasurer in college. I was able the use my skills in financial management to create budgets and funding that would prove beneficial to all stakeholders of these respective organizations.

• You have held various roles throughout your career in the field of finance. Which one would you say is your favorite and why?

My favorite position in the field of finance to this date would have to be my internship of Summer ’16 at Moody’s in their Treasury department. I had an active hand in the cash management section of the team. Being trusted with some of those checks made me feel official because those amounts were crazy. My boss, Zeeshan, was a savant when it came to treasury. I learned so much from our 1 on 1s. Lastly, I was able to work closely with the Treasurer and CFO of the company. They knew me on a first name basis, and I sat in on many meetings with them leading. It was an overall cool experience that I will never forget.

• I know that you recently started a new role at TheGuarantors. What does your current role involve? What do you enjoy about it? Are there any challenges?

My role at The Guarantors is a Risk Mitigation Manager. I am responsible for making sure our loss ratio is as low as possible. Being that we are a real estate tech start-up that specializes in providing insurance products, we need to make sure that we limit the amount of loss we take on. I do this by making sure tenants are honoring their lease obligations as well as being in constant contact with landlords and property managers for when cases do arise. This is my main responsibility, however given the nature of start-ups, I wear many different hats around to the company. I enjoy being given free range and the trust to control my own projects and responsibilities. Knowing that my work is directly impacting the success of the company is something that makes me put my best foot forward. There a few challenges, however. The main one being that in a company structure like mine, it is learn as you go. There are sometimes where mistakes are made but it gives you the chance to remedy and learn from the situation. This just comes with the territory.

• What key skills are entailed to be successful as a Risk Management & Analytics Associate?

Some key skills that are vital in being a successful Risk Associate are great communication, attention to detail, empathy, and negotiation. You need to be able to get your point across clearly and concisely to stakeholders, no matter what the problem is. Attention to detail is important because we deal with a lot of numbers and documentation. One missed piece of information can be detrimental. When dealing with tenants, you must be empathetic of their personal financial situations. This will in turn show them that they are valued and will prove helpful in trying to accomplish a predetermined conclusion. My mother always told me “you get more bees with honey than you do with vinegar.” Lastly, you must possess great negotiation skills. I constantly am trying to negotiate lease changing options with tenants or recover losses from them. Finding out how to best glean your desired outcome has proven to be a skill.

• Some of the job seekers and recent college graduates (with minimal to no experience) that I’ve coached, don’t know where to begin when it comes to networking. Do you have any useful tips to offer and potentially share a success story on how your experience in networking with professionals got you to where you are today?

It sounds cliché, but networking will honestly take you farther than any job application ever will. This means that building relationships across the industry whether small or large always has the potential to pay off. Remember that a relationship is not only what one can do for you, but what you can also bring to the table. For example, I attribute my success at Moody’s to networking. I knew from the get-go that I needed to form strong professional relationships with the people who had the power to bring me back. Establishing that I can do the work was half the battle. Networking and setting yourself apart from the rest are the other half.

• What advice would you give to those who are looking to advance in their finance career?

It is important to remember that like many other industries, Finance has hundreds of positions you can take on. I recommend doing lots of research and snagging as many internships as you can. This will give you firsthand experience and allow you to see what you like and do not like.

What about those who are looking to switch their careers? (Let’s say someone who comes from Investment Banking or even another field outside of the financial sector and wants to go towards Accounting or Risk Management)

Let’s be honest, being young professionals, some of us do not know exactly what we want to do career-wise. This is totally fine. Everyone’s journey is different. There comes a time where you might want to switch careers. The best advice I can give when exploring a new route is take time to evaluate your strengths, characteristics, and interest. Once you have these mapped out, try, and find a career or job that will best compliment all of your listed attributes. Landing yourself somewhere where you can be yourself and apply your skills will produce your best work and will begin to give you a sense of belonging. Remember that it is a process. Most of us do not figure it out overnight. But, laying down the right framework for making your next move your best move will prove helpful in your journey.

If you feel inspired and motivated by James’ story, please feel free to reach out! He does not bite. He is always open to speaking with like-minded individuals and loves networking – a pro at it! Once you get to know James, you won’t regret it. He will be there in every step of your way to mentor/guide you on a both professional and personal level. Connect with James on LinkedIn.