Welcome to APAC Trailblazers, a series highlighting individuals who are blazing trails to great platform and career development within our #SalesforceOhana. These blogs shine a spotlight on the 1,000s of stories in our Salesforce community that, we hope, will inspire you to take your own Salesforce career to new heights.

This is a special edition of the APAC Trailblazers series, focusing on a first time Dreamforce Trailblazer and his experience blazing a trail through Dreamforce 2016.

Profile: Ravel Lai, IT director for Pizza Hut, PHD, and KFC franchises in Asia, Jardine Restaurant Group

Megan: Thank you so much for chatting with me Ravel. First, can you tell me a little bit about yourself?

Ravel: I’m an IT veteran with over 24 years’ experience in the retail industry including Fashion, FMCG, Food & Beverage and working for a shopping mall. I re-joined Jardine Restaurant Group HK about three years ago as Group IT Director managing the IT teams for Pizza Hut and KFC in HK, Macau, Vietnam and Myanmar.

I’m also currently the Digital Marketing Head of Pizza Hut HK and the Social CRM Lead of Pizza Hut and KFC HK. I’m responsible for driving the digital and CRM strategy to engage with customers across different digital channels including website, social media and mobile app.

I’m not only an IT professional but I also hold an MBA major in Marketing. Outside of work, I’m a die-hard Liverpool football fan and the personal chauffeur for my nine year old daughter.

"I wanted to become a master in the field so that I could take on the role of IT and Marketing."

Megan: It seems like a rare combination to have an IT Director who also holds an MBA in Marketing. Can you tell me how that came about?

Ravel: I’m very passionate about Marketing. Fifteen years ago I had a marketing campaign idea for a fashion brand I was working for. I talked to my boss about the idea for the campaign, but unfortunately she pretty much thought ‘How would you know?’ and sent me back to focus on IT. But then two weeks later, the idea came up again and my boss ran with it. I decided to take action and get the credentials to back up my future ideas. I wanted to become a master in the field so that I could take on the role of IT and Marketing.

It was very difficult to study Marketing while working full-time in an IT role, so I did virtual degrees online in my evenings and weekends. I spent ten years studying marketing and earned my BBA and MBA in Marketing. I now know how to use technology and speak the marketing language.

I could see from an early time that the IT role was going to change long term and even in previous roles I didn’t want to be pigeonholed into just doing IT. When I left Pizza Hut in 2010 it was because I decided to take a digital marketing role in China. I built up my skill set and experience and I’ve been back at Pizza Hut since 2013. I’m now currently awaiting an update to my title from IT Director to Group Digital Director. This was important to me as I feel IT is a sunset role but as a Digital Director I’m more focussed on transformation, efficiency and effectiveness.

Megan: You were a true Trailblazer to see the trend so early in Hong Kong and what an amazing story of determination to make your career dream a reality. So, when did you first meet Salesforce?

Ravel: I had heard about Salesforce long before I was first introduced to the technology three years ago. I had started looking around for different social CRM systems but didn’t know if we had anything in the market, especially in Hong Kong. We were comparing three different products at the time when I came across Salesforce. We choose to go with them and today we are a very heavy user of Marketing Cloud.

Megan: I wanted to ask you about attending your first Dreamforce. How did you find the experience?

Ravel: Well it was not only my first time to Dreamforce but my first time to the US too. I never would have thought that a technology conference could be that big - there were people everywhere, from Moscone to Union Square.

The Salesforce Partners presence was huge and they were very energetic and engaging. It was an incredible networking opportunity, I would get stopped and start chatting everywhere I went. I did get to ride over the Golden Gate bridge too, which was an amazing San Francisco experience.

"It was a great experience for my personal brand and for Pizza Hut."

Megan: How did you prepare for Dreamforce 2016 and how would your preparations change next time?

Ravel: I worked with the Salesforce Customer team closely leading up to Dreamforce as I was doing a breakout session with them. We were really well rehearsed so I felt very relaxed about it in advance. As I said earlier, I know people say how big Dreamforce is but it doesn’t quite dawn on you how big it is until you’re there. I pretty much showed up with no plan apart from my presentation and tried to play catch up from there. I did however wear comfortable shoes, which is a great tip.

Next year, I would spend more time studying the agenda and booking the sessions and breakouts best suited to me. I would also block out some time to spend at the partner booths as that was very valuable to me this year.

Megan: How was it presenting at your first Dreamforce?

Ravel: It went really well and after the session I exchanged cards with a lot of attendees and got some really positive feedback. It was a great experience for my personal brand and for Pizza Hut. If you ever have the opportunity to speak at Dreamforce, I would highly recommend it.

"As I mentioned, talking to partners was a priority because in Hong Kong or even Asia the partner space is nowhere near what you can tap into at a global event like Dreamforce."

Megan: What did you pack? How would it change next time?

Ravel: Next time I need to bring bigger luggage! I had to buy another suitcase for all the swag I got and shopping I did. Apart from that, as I said comfortable shoes are a must. I didn’t use my laptop once so next time I would just bring my phone or iPad.

Megan: What were your top priorities for Dreamforce? How will it change next time?

Ravel: I wanted to know how else we can leverage Salesforce especially Marketing Cloud. Apart from my presentation, I wanted to get the full conference experience. As I mentioned, talking to partners was a priority because in Hong Kong or even Asia the partner space is nowhere near what you can tap into at a global event like Dreamforce. Maybe only 10% of what there is in the US.

Next year I plan to research some partners before the event so I know who I want to meet with and even book in some meetings in advance.

Megan: Any tips to make it through the week in one piece?

Ravel: I went with the flow and tried to not hurry and just enjoy the experience. I had early nights, which kept me fresh each day and with good energy levels.

Megan: What advice would you give to other first-time Dreamforce attendees?

Ravel: Definitely prepare before the event and spend some time going through the Dreamforce Agenda Builder. I would also plan out which people you want to network with and connect with while you are there. We had team members from other offices going and it was really valuable to have dinners with them while we were all in the same place and focused on Salesforce.

I would say plan more as a team so you can get the most out of the event. When they say take time to prepare and plan because it’s big, they really mean it. You’ll miss a good opportunity if you don’t. Most importantly, just enjoy the experience.

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