William Tong: international tech team leader for Citi
Though he came to the U.S. purposefully, he fell into CS by accident, and built a career mixing tech and business for a “melting pot of great experiences”
William Tong believes that joining Citigroup in 1995 was a turning point in his life.
He joined Citi in Dallas, TX as vice president and head of strategic architecture and strategic systems for CitiFinancial North America and International.
Six years later, he was named vice president of Citi Cards, responsible for business product integration and project management of its retail sector business. From 2006 to 2007, he was in his home city of Hong Kong as senior vice president and head of product marketing.
Next he relocated to Baltimore in the Citi global consumer technology business. He was head of the implementation of a Java Platform software system called Symphony across the consumer finance business, overseeing a $120 million technology investment.
In 2011, he moved to Cincinnati, OH and into his current role as managing director and head of the international project management office, where he oversees projects and programs in Asia, Latin America/Mexico, and the Europe, Middle East and Africa regions.
“I have about a hundred project and program manager-type people reporting to me,” says Tong, “and they work with thousands of other people around the world. We manage the work of software product planning all the way through production to product launch. We carry a heavy responsibility to make things happen.”
Finding a path in a new country
Tong’s family came to the United States from Hong Kong in the early 80s before the takeover by the People’s Republic of China. They came to Detroit because of family connections.
“My initial interest was in electrical engineering. I fell into computer science almost by accident. My enrollment application for electrical engineering was late but computer science was my second choice. After I took my first courses in programming, I loved it. It was very creative.”
He earned his BS in computer science from the University of Windsor (Windsor, Ontario, Canada) in 1981 and an MA in computer science from Wayne State University (Detroit, MI) in 1983.
“A classmate worked at General Motors and so, like a lot of people from Detroit, my first job was there,” he says. “I was a programmer but I was intrigued by the engineers’ work. I wanted to know why they were asking me to do certain things to the program. I had a great boss who gave me a lot of nurturing and mentoring. I got to work on a major system replacement project, working with internal businesspeople.
“My boss impressed on me that I needed to create software not just for myself but for anyone coming along later so they can maintain it and build on it. It had to be efficient, work well and serve the customer, and also be easy for others to understand. That’s something I really appreciated.”
Consulting around the world
In 1989, when his boss left GM to join management consulting firm Arthur Young & Company (later Ernst & Young; Dallas, TX), Tong followed him. “I wrote methodologies, and worked with senior partners and consultants around the world,” he says. “When I look back, I realize how fortunate I was! We were the first in the industry to incorporate organization change management in management consulting. I spoke at client events and conferences.”
With consulting comes a great deal of travel. “You have to go where the work is,” explains Tong, “and after a while I was looking for a little more stability.
“A Sprint recruiter had an opportunity in strategic planning and data warehousing, which was a hot issue for many companies at that time. She reached out to me and convinced me that I would be the right person to help Sprint chart the course for managing their data assets. This was in 1992.
“By 1995, I had a lot of IT experience,” he says. “I had been a programmer, an analyst, and a methodologist. I also had some database architecture experience. One of the Citi companies in Dallas was interested in my background, so I came on board.”
Growing with Citi
“Citi was growing rapidly, becoming increasingly diverse and global,” he remembers. “I got to be a part of this by being involved in college recruiting for summer interns and graduate hires.
“By the early 2000s, appreciation for diversity in the workplace was beginning to mature. There was a lot of encouragement within Citi to create diversity groups. I founded Citi’s first Asian Heritage Network for employees, the first group of its kind in Dallas.”
While working in the credit card division supporting one of Citi’s partners, Tong moved from IT to the business side of the organization. “I was working on a project with one of our retail partners and my performance impressed them. I was given the opportunity to have a new career, to help them develop a product using my technology skill.
“At this time, major retailers were deciding that it made more sense for banks to run their credit card portfolios for them,” Tong explains. “We handled credit card promotions and rewards programs for many retail and oil partners like Macy’s, Sears and Shell. It was a credit card-based point-of-sale kind of product.”
The satisfaction of giving back
Tong’s current responsibilities include coaching. “In addition to product and program review, I work with my people to make sure they are doing the right things technically and making the right decisions.
“One of the things I enjoy most about Citi is its strong emphasis on mentoring. We have a multi-year rotational technical leadership program for college graduates. I support that program and mentor some of those folks, and answer their questions about my job. I learn as much from them as they do from me.
“Citi is very community-oriented,” he notes. “Every month, we do something that allows us to understand the communities we serve. Working with global communities requires a new type of understanding and teaches us how to engage other cultures, how to show trust and respect. It also teaches the importance of listening. All in all, it makes us a better global citizen.
“The early years of my career provided me with diverse experiences and knowledge of various businesses,” he reflects. “All of these help me to be a technology manager in a financial company, to bring financial solutions through customer-friendly technology. It is truly a melting pot of great experiences.”
As he approaches twenty years with Citigroup, Tong says, “I know that the company has done so much for me. I want to give some of that back, to share my experience and continue the legacy of Citi. What we’re doing every day isn’t just making money for the company; we are actually bringing the whole world together.”
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