Verizon’s media technology division Oath promoted Rose Tsou, Head of Oath APAC, to Head of International for the business in October, effectively making her the first person to be appointed to this newly created role. In her expanded role, Rose is mandated with driving the strategic direction of markets outside of US and Canada, including India. In a conversation with YourStory, Rose spells out Oath’s growth strategy for the Indian market, how she went on to script Yahoo Asia’s success, and what motivates and drives her every day.
Oath, Verizon’s media division which includes the iconic Yahoo and AOL brands, is looking at India as an important market to drive the company’s target of reaching 2 billion users by 2020. And Rose Tsou, Oath’s new Head of International Business, visited India shortly after her promotion in October, highlighting the significance of this emerging market for the division, which will soon be renamed Verizon Media Group.
When I met with Rose in Mumbai to interview her later that same month, I wanted to understand her journey to holding one of the most powerful positions in a global media and technology company. And over the course of our conversation, it became increasingly apparent why.
For Rose, who is mandated with driving the strategic direction of Oath in markets outside the US and Canada, some things in life have always been very important. They are: winning, building, and having the ambition to win – all of which she made abundantly clear to Yahoo Founder Jerry Yang, when he interviewed her for a job to lead Yahoo Taiwan nearly two decades ago.
But increasingly, Rose says, her core focus is also on making a difference, creating an impact, and helping others – motivations she attributes to the values taught to her by her Christian faith and her parents.
Rose’s mother and late father, who was a Vice Admiral in the Navy, never treated Rose and her two sisters any different from their brother. “There was never a moment when I was asked to be like a girl, or to restrict what I can be or what I cannot be. So, I’ve always been given a lot of freedom,” Rose says.
That’s why, when you ask her the reason for her success, she credits it to her family life, one she enjoys with her husband of 13 years and two children today and the one she was born into over five decades ago. She explains that her family, particularly her parents, always encouraged her to be the best that she can be and to never settle for anything less than that. Early lessons, which, she believes, helped her to dream and to reach for her dreams without abandon.
And in the year 2000, when she sat down to interview for a role in Yahoo, she did just that – not settle for anything less than the best.
At the time, Rose was the General Manager of MTV Taiwan. Before that, she had enjoyed a successful career working in various roles at Warner Music, Procter & Gamble, and Ogilvy & Mather. And in between those jobs, she had even earned a second major, an MBA, at the NorthWestern University. Her first was in Mass Communication from Boston University.
In the two years that she was at MTV, Rose had popularised music television in her home country Taiwan and was driving efforts to make MTV the most popular music channel. As an avid music lover, Rose, who even has a music album to her name, was “quite happy” at MTV. But she sat down for that interview with Yahoo’s Jerry Yang because she saw the far-reaching potential of the internet. Even then.
“I was actually really doing well in MTV. But then I saw what the internet was becoming and you could see what was going to happen. So, I took the interview with our founder Jerry,” Rose says.
That interview, in the year 2000, marked Rose’s foray into the digital space.
And yet, the defining moment in that interview was not when Jerry asked her whether she thought Yahoo was a media company or a technology company. The defining moment was when she told Jerry,
“I only care about one thing, you have to win. I don’t want to join a company where you don’t have the ambition to win.”
Jerry, of course, said he wanted to win. “To which I replied, ‘Okay, I am in’,” Rose recounts, very matter of factly. I stop her midway through her next sentence to confirm if she did indeed say that to Jerry Yang.
“Yes, that’s what I said in the interview,” Rose replies with an unassuming smile. She then went on to join Yahoo Taiwan as the general manager of a company that had just around 20 employees then. At the time, the portal itself was “not very big” in the country.
But under Rose’s leadership, Yahoo quickly became a brand that was synonymous with the internet in Taiwan. A year after joining Yahoo, Rose led the acquisition of a local portal, which had 85 percent market share. It was Yahoo’s first acquisition outside the US and Rose went on to head that combined entity.
“With that, we started building community services. That’s why I’m passionate about communities,” Rose says, adding, “I’m a builder myself. I’m not a seller.”
Rose built Yahoo into an undeniable force to be reckoned with in Taiwan. With Rose at the helm, Yahoo Taiwan went on to command 98 percent monthly reach on the consumer front and 60 percent market share when it came to its advertising business at its peak.
Just like her intuition about the internet, Rose quickly took on eBay in the auction business and was responsible for making Yahoo Auction the most successful auctioneer in the market. To expand Yahoo Taiwan’s capabilities in B2C shopping, C2C auction, and B2B2C solutions, Rose focused on strategic initiatives, acquisitions, and partnerships in the market.
So, when Rose was promoted to Senior Vice President and Managing Director of Yahoo’s APAC region in 2007, she brought that same tenacity, rigour, and drive to win to her new role. But her promotion too came about because she didn’t shy away from speaking her mind – again – to Jerry Yang, much like she did during her first interview with him.
To be precise, Rose was driving when Jerry called her to sound her out about another person who was being considered to handle a bigger role. This time too, she caught the founder off-guard when, instead of replying to his question, she pointedly asked him,
“Jerry, why don’t you consider me? Have you thought about me?”
“My heart stopped when he stayed silent,” Rose recalls. “And he said, ‘Yeah, sure, let me think about it.’ And of course, it was nerve-wracking,” she adds. But a few weeks later, Rose was appointed head of North Asia and was later given the additional responsibility of managing South East Asia and India as well.
“It was really a credit to building little by little,” Rose says. “You are brave enough to ask after you actually deliver, because even though Taiwan is among the smallest country in the world, we became the second largest region after the US, when it came to user and revenue,” she explains.
Today, in her expanded role as the overall head of the EMEA, LatAm, and APAC regions, Rose is looking to replicate the success she saw in her prior roles – as the head of the APAC region for Oath since 2017 and before that for Yahoo since 2007.
Rose is focused on driving deeper and more meaningful growth for the company in international markets. And India is a big part of that international growth strategy – one that will be driven by pursuing strategic partnerships and opportunities in the country on both the consumer and advertising solutions front.
“I think India is absolutely important. You can tell this by just looking at any global company who cares about not just the next month or next year but about the next 10 years. You can’t not have India in your mix,” Rose says.
India, with its large and growing number of Internet users, offers Oath the opportunity to significantly grow its existing global user base of 900 million.
Like Oath, many other content and media firms have been making a big push to expand in India, in the hope of winning over the large user base that’s prevalent in the country.
“Over 300 million people are on 4G now. India is changing and India has changed. We want to build on the core assets we have by really thinking about what the next chapter really means,” Rose says.
To be clear, core assets at Oath include its consumer offerings such as content platforms like the HuffPost, TechCrunch, and Yahoo News, as well as its set of advertising solutions, Oath Ad Platforms, which combines the best assets of Yahoo Gemini, ONE by AOL, and BrightRoll, for brands and publishers across the globe.
Indeed, she believes Oath’s advertising technology can serve as a second alternative for publishers and brands that want something more than the current options available in the market.
“On the advertising side, our advertising technology has a lot (of role) to play in the country… There’s a strong need for a second alternative and we definitely want to be that alternative,” Rose says.
“We’re happy to work with publishers and ad agencies as well,” she adds.
In India, as with other markets, Rose wants to expand Oath’s reach through strategic partnerships with local companies and local talent.
“We want to be in India. To be honest, we’re not like a Google or Facebook. So, we have to be careful in where we place our bet. So, partnerships with local companies and local talents will be one way for us to strengthen our presence in the country,” Rose says.
Apart from local partnerships, Oath’s consumer focus will also entail building on its core competencies such as sports-related content like cricket and making a bigger push to go beyond textual content and into video content.
“When you consume content, it is no longer about text. It is about video. We’ll have to crack video,” Rose says.
According to a report from Cisco, video consumption is expected to account for 80 percent of the world’s internet traffic by 2019, up from 64% five years earlier in 2014. Already, users are consuming more video content, with studies showing that companies that use video enjoy 41 percent more traffic through search than non-video users.
Rose’s focus on video content and India is reminiscent of the time she decided to join Yahoo in the early days of the digital era and assume the challenge of making Yahoo Asia a success story.
“You don’t always get to make all the decisions on resource and so on, so I must say, we have missed a lot of opportunities. Which kills me,” Rose says, adding that she too struggles with the question of ensuring the company stays relevant not just today, but in the years to come.
“I always think from the consumer perspective. The market is very disruptive and I’m also struggling with the question of how can I manage my existing business and think so many steps ahead,” Rose says.
And yet, Rose’s actions today are motivated also by a strong urge to help others, one that stems from her family values and Christian faith.
For Rose, family rituals are very important, including the weekly Sunday lunches at her parents’ home for the last 40 years that sees the participation of all the children and grandchildren, including Rose’s own 12-year-old son and 23-year-old daughter.
“I think we have a happy family. We love having fun and we’re always doing things together,” she says. “Faith has brought our family together very tightly,” she adds.
Quite serendipitously, 2000 was also the year that Rose found her faith, making it an important year not just for her career but also for her family and her life.
“When I found my faith, it helped put things in perspective,” she says, adding that she finds herself wanting to help others now that she is in a power to do so. “I believe Jesus would ask me one day if I helped another person when I enjoyed the power to do so,” she says.
That’s why, when I ask Rose what is her big dream today, she answers saying that it is to create an impact by helping others.
“I would really love to be able to help a lot of people and create an impact – both in their careers and in their personal life. That way, I will be able to say that I have lived a full life,” she ends with a flourish.