Section Menu

SPOTLIGHT ON jonGhee kim

From croydon, to korea, AND NOW iceland. 

Jonghee shares how a love of chemistry led her to a global role in reykjavik. 


If we look back at your time at school, when did you attend PLC Sydney and what did you plan to do after school?

I started Yr 9 in 1984 at PLC when my family moved up from Melbourne, graduating in 1987.

I didn’t know what I wanted to do after school, but the one constant advice from my parents and teachers was that I should go to university and further my studies.

Mrs Taylor’s chemistry classes were always full of life, and when she set the lab almost on fire, I think that sealed my love for chemistry, so in the end, I opted to go and study Pharmacy.

What you did you do after finishing school?  
After the HSC finished, Mum and I went back to Korea for a trip. We hadn’t been back for ten years, and I was curious to see “my old home town”. Seoul was full of energy preparing for the summer (1988) Olympics. We visited our old house and caught up with family and friends; it was a great trip down memory lane before settling into uni life back in Sydney.

Graduating with a pharmacy degree at the University of Sydney (USYD), then the next challenge was to find my real passion. Retail pharmacy and Westmead Hospital probably were not my favourite workplaces with constant reminders of sick people who sometimes got better but other times didn’t. Both, however, gave me valuable front line experience in healthcare and gave me the impetus to move to the pharmaceutical industry. I was the first in my year, and one of the first graduates from USYD to move into a non-clinical role within the pharmaceutical industry.

A few years into my career, life presented a new opportunity for me to go and live in Korea for a period. I ended up working at the Australian Embassy in Korea. I was the representative for the federal Industry, Science and Resources Department. My education at PLC Sydney was highly regarded in this international setting and was often a topic of conversation. Returning to Australia, I continued to work for the federal government, developing a new team within Austrade, looking at intangible assets’ exports in high technology-based industries.

In 2004, I returned to my ‘home’ of pharmaceuticals and have been in this industry since. Over the ensuing years, I was responsible for business development, focussing mainly on Australia and the Asia Pacific. I joined a multinational pharmaceutical company Medis in 2013 to integrate a local business it had acquired in Australia. In 2014, we doubled our sales and continued strong growth year on year. In 2019, I was appointed as the global head and landed at the antipode of Australia, Iceland.

What does a typical 'work' day look like for you?
A typical day starts around 6 am, a quick scan of my emails to prioritise for the day, either yoga via zoom these days, or a brisk walk around the serenely beautiful Reykjavik bay followed by breakfast. My meetings with global teams start 7- 7:30 am.

Before COVID, I was travelling around Europe almost every third week, to US and Asia every 2-3 months visiting our manufacturing sites, our offices and meeting customers. Post-COVID, this is now all replaced by virtual meetings. I try and leave the office around 6 pm.

After dinner, I make sure I have a good break for 1-2 hours and have a regular weekly schedule of social events, but always check in on my emails especially as the US is only finishing their day in my evening, before going to bed. I like to keep my Friday’s free of meetings to set aside “thinking” time.
Could you tell us about a mistake you have made, and what did you learn from that mistake?
When I was younger, I was too conscious of what I couldn’t do and to avoid letting the ‘team’ down; I tended not to participate. Then I realised how much I had missed out and join in more now. That old adage: nothing ventured, nothing gained.
What's the most significant piece of advice you've received and who shared it with you?
There are two pieces of advice I live by.

The first was from my father, whose life motto was: Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. This taught me to try and see the silver lining in all situations.

The second piece was from one of the best managers I worked with, who taught me the importance of cause/effect in all things we do.

What has been the proudest moment in your life so far?
The proudest moments have to be at the graduations of my sons, knowing they had grown up to be caring, responsible and independent young men.
If you could travel back in time, what would you say to your younger self at the age of 20 or 30?
The most exciting part of life is that you never know what is around the corner, and we never have all the facts when making decisions.

Each change brings a new challenge, and I think I enjoy life more because I don’t know what is ahead.

I would tell myself nothing, not even a hint! 
What tools (apps, books, podcasts, etc.) or activities do you go to for inspiration/ideas/productivity/balance?  
I still prefer to read books. There is no replacing turning the pages on a crisp new book, from management theories to fiction.

Of course, before coming to Iceland, I read everything I could about here, including the novel Independent People by Halldór Laxness.

I also prefer to go for walks and find inspiration from how nature creates beauty seemingly from nothing.  I like to observe and learn from ‘ordinary’ people on the streets, and if I’m travelling abroad, I prefer to take public transport/walk to learn about local culture.
What role has your time at PLC Sydney played in your life? 
Coming to PLC Sydney was a game-changer.  It provided a safe learning environment where I could go at my own pace and enjoy extra-curricular activities as well. I made a great bunch of friends, and we still keep in touch today. It was not about coming first but allowing for diversity of talent, having fun, caring and going through with everyone. Even simple things like the use of the diary at school helped develop time and project management skills which are very valuable in my work today. 

In today’s workplace, we need to value diversity, and the different skill-sets everyone brings, and it is not the leader who is best at everything.

It’s making sure we have the right people who enjoy what they do and can work together in a synergistic way because then you have a top-performing team.
What are some of your favourite memories from your time at school? 
Music was a big part of my school life. As the concertmaster, I remember playing at the Opera House, the numerous orchestral performances, Yr 10 in Toad of Toad Hall, House musical concerts and the first-ever Prom Concert when the new gym was completed in 1986 (or was it 1987?).

You can connect with Jonghee on LinkedIn or learn more about Medis HERE