Elisa spends her day immersed in “the world of music, podcasts, livestreaming and all-round audio entertainment” and clearly loves every minute of it.
The incumbent Women in Digital Awards UX Leader of the Year, Los Angeles–based Elisa is Amazon Music’s Global Head of Design Research and Beta. It’s a role that was created to capitalise on her unique combination of experience, skills, qualities, strengths, values, interests and knowledge – as were a number of her previous roles, which include senior leadership and management positions with GoPro, Electronic Arts and Pureprofile.
While it’s evident that she excels in a career that was quite literally made for her, Elisa didn’t originally plan to pursue a career in business. The self-described “very confused high-school student” studied textile design, advanced mathematics and chemistry among her HSC subjects, and had only “a very loosey-goosey idea” of what career she might want to pursue. “I wanted to be a fashion designer, or maybe an actuary ...” she recalls. “There was even a moment when I researched becoming a professional stunt person.”
When she was accepted into a fashion design course straight out of high school, her parents suggested she complete a business degree first. Their reasoning was that when she then pursued fashion and was ready to establish her own label, she would be better equipped to succeed. Elisa reflects now on how pivotal this advice was in her professional journey, since she didn’t end up pursuing fashion after all, as she fell in love with the multifaceted world of business.
During my initial business degree – a Bachelor of Commerce with majors in International Business and Operations Management and Decision Science (2011) – I fell in love with statistics.
“I had an incredible tutor for my introductory statistics class – we’re actually still good friends to this day – and he saw a spark in me. He’s one of those people who always asks the right questions, at the right time, and can unlock awesome ideas. The questions he posed to me helped guide the first steps in my career.”
Still, on graduating, Elisa wasn’t sure exactly how she wanted to apply her degree. While working in her first role as a project manager, she found herself concerned that her qualification was perhaps too broad to meaningfully propel her career forward, so she returned to complete a Graduate Certificate in Innovation and Enterprise (2012). With the passage of time, however, she says she has since come to value the comprehensive grounding of her initial degree. Its breadth was not a drawback but a strength, she says, in that it has offered her the freedom and the confidence to shape a uniquely satisfying career, during which she has complemented those solid foundations with a wealth of more specific skills and experience.
“For me, the overarching narrative of my life and career is that there are just so many things that are exciting to me,” she says. “Back then, I didn’t know what I wanted to pursue, so I feel very fortunate to have chosen a degree that allows for flexibility, can be applied to so many different roles, and could take shape with me as my professional interests solidified.
“As my career has progressed I’ve realised that, as far as degrees go, broad is not bad. Although it can be hard, because there’s no clear career path to follow with my chosen majors, a degree with subject breadth like the one I did actually allows you to have a dynamic career, and can take you in whichever direction you choose. I think my career is a really good illustration of that. A broad initial business degree can be shaped into any career you want – however, it takes intention.”
Elisa’s clear sense of focus and intention has seen her forge a career that resonates strongly with her personal values, strengths and passions – which include a firm commitment to bringing her whole self to work every day.
I believe in always showing up as your authentic self, with vulnerability and empathy – in life in general, and especially at work.
Her career has now matured to a point where she is deservedly recognised as a leader in her field. In addition to earning the prestigious national Women in Digital Award, she is a guest lecturer at Harvard Graduate School of Design and at Monash University, she mentors for the Ocean Impact Accelerator Program, she regularly speaks at various events, including the Business School’s Women Leading in Digital Breakfast and Panel Discussion in March this year, and she continues to innovate in her role at Amazon Music.
Outside the world of business, Elisa is a scuba divemaster, freediver and snowboarder. She travels to remote parts of the world and takes incredible wildlife photographs (elisaschan.com), while living her passions of sustainability and marine conservation by mentoring and volunteering with the Ocean Impact Organisation, the Sustainable Ocean Alliance, ORRCA marine mammal rescue and WIRES wildlife rescue.
It’s a well-rounded life that maximises her impact by honouring her personal values and unique strengths, both at work and outside it.
“Knowing who you are, your skills, your values, your passions, and what makes you unique as a person is what’s going to serve you,” Elisa says. “Being able to share your story will help you to stand out in your career, just as in life. Your degree is just one of those components – it’s not the deciding factor in itself.”
“Brené Brown’s books have helped shape how I relate to people – family, friends, colleagues. They’ve helped me to read between the lines and made me a more empathetic person (and leader).”
“Who doesn’t love a read that makes you laugh, cringe, and teaches you something all at the same time? Books written by comedians often have deep narratives – sometimes stories that are a little dark or socially difficult to approach – that are delivered in much more approachable ways, with humour. Some of these books have been a positive influence on how I communicate – in life and at work.”