School of Graduate Studies

School of Graduate Studies
School of Graduate Studies

Jialin Sun: Mentoring the next generation of industry leaders in Asia

December, 2015

Alumnus - Jialin Sun

PhD Mechanical engineering, Queen’s, class of 1989
MA Mechanical engineering, Queen’s, class of 1986

Vice President, Performance Materials Asia Pacific at INVISTA, Shanghai, China

Ms. Jialin Sun has been leading a successful career over the past 26 years working for INVISTA in Canada, China and across the Globe. Ms. Sun is currently the vice president, performance materials for Asia Pacific Region and is based in Shanghai, China. She has worked for INVISTA in Kingston (formally DuPont Canada) almost 17 years before she was relocated to Shanghai China as an expatriate in 2006.  Her main goal nowadays is to pass on her vast knowledge and expertise in operations and management to a local team in Asia in particular Chinese INVISTA employees.

Ms. Sun achieved the goal of expanding and growing INVISTA’s business in Asia since she relocated to China. During her nine year journey in Asia, she has experienced the booming Chinese economy, global recession, and the rapid growth of China’s automotive market and her own business unit. She felt extremely lucky that she has been supported by an experienced global team and led a very talented young regional team. By leveraging the global expertise and her own experience in the field, INVISTA now has a state of the art manufacturing plant in China, making high tenacity and high quality Nylon 66 fiber primarily used in automotive airbags.

Ms. Sun’s remarkable professional career started when she landed a research engineer job with DuPont Canada in Kingston, which has become INVISTA. That’s after finishing her PhD in mechanical engineering at Queen’s, in 1989. “I have worked my entire career in one company, which is almost unthinkable in today’s job market in particular in China. However, I moved various jobs within the company and every job was a new challenge which allowed me to learn new skills and acquire new knowledge. ” Says Ms. Sun. “I’m totally satisfied with not changing company but within the company there are plenty of opportunities. There are always challenges, which I enjoy having them.” adds Ms. Sun.

INVISTA is one of the world's largest producers of polymers and fibers, primarily for Nylon, spandex and polyester application. “For 26 years, my career path is about Nylon 66, it’s one of our core products. The application that I am focusing on is in automotive airbags,” says Ms. Sun.

Ms. Sun rose through the management ranks during her impressive career at INVISTA.  She credits the education and mentorship she received at Queen’s for helping her succeed in her professional life.

Mentorship at Queen’s

In the early 80s, Ms. Sun decided to leave China, where she got her undergraduate degree, to pursue a post graduate education in North America. She picked Queen’s because the university offered her a scholarship. “I had a desire to see the world even though I had a good job in China at the time,” says Ms. Sun. “I heard Queens was a good school with strong reputation in engineering. I had great professors. It turned up one of the best decisions I’ve made to choose Queens,” she adds.

Ms. Sun considers her two supervisors at Queen’s her mentors. She says they both had a profound impact on her career. “Curiosity, embrace challenges, working hard and being around with outstanding people, these will set you on the path of success,” says Ms. Sun.

Ms. Sun says her M.Sc. supervisor, Professor Ken Rush, encouraged her curiosity. “He encouraged me to think different ways of solving a problem, always find out why,” says Ms. Sun. She explains that professor Rush always asked tough questions which made her to think more broadly and find the optimum solutions, meaning the most cost effective solutions. She learned to build experiment apparatus, which she had never been done before.  “After joining DuPont Research Center, one of my projects was to build and run a large mixing tank to model high viscous Nylon flows in reactors. It was very challenging, but we discovered something which was used in one of DuPont’s inventions,” Ms. Sun says. 

Ms. Sun’s PhD supervisor was Professor Oosthuizen. “He was always working, day and night,” Ms. Sun recalls. “Dr. Oosthuizen seemed always in the McLaughlin building, he enjoys his work, he was a good role model in work ethics, there is no short cuts,” Ms. Sun says.  While finishing her PhD thesis, Ms. Sun started applying for jobs. She sought career advice from her PhD Supervisor, Professor Patrick Oosthuizen. Ms. Sun says she asked professor Oosthuizen where he thinks she should work. “He said you should work at a place you always have some outstanding people around you, and don’t be the worst one either.” Ms. Sun explains his reasoning why she should surround herself with people who are outstanding and better is that she would be able to continue improving and developing herself.

“His advice turned out to guide my entire career path,” says Ms. Sun. “In my career I found outstanding people and I learned from them, so I advance myself and become better and better,” she adds. Ms. Sun finds her professor’s advice still rings true. “You benefit from them so much by just working with them,” says Ms. Sun.

Career snap shot

At first Ms. Sun started working as researcher engineer at DuPont Research Center. At the time, she only aspired to spend her professional life working in the lab. “All I wanted to do was to become a very good research scientist wearing a white lab coat and discover something. That was my initial thought, but challenges in the jobs took me totally far away from that,” says Ms. Sun.

“After the first two years of developing high speed data acquisition system detecting temperature and pressure profiles in heat seals, I was in charge of developing a unique sensor system to make nylon fiber better quality,” says Ms. Sun.  By developing this unique technology, process engineers can improve the spinning process and control the quality.   “That device was first implemented in Kingston and then it was implemented in our global assets in Germany, and in Japan,” says Ms. Sun. “Through the implementation of technology I had the opportunity to learn about manufacturing and quality control on a global level,” She adds.  “When working in the plant in Germany, there were no women working in the spinning area in the night shift, and in Japan you can hardly see women in manufacturing facility. Our plant in Japan was a big site. You would be given a bicycle at the gate so you don’t need to walk a long time to get to the office. Again, I had to ride a bike to find a rest room for women. It was a very challenging job. Our Japanese colleagues, all males, gave me tremendous support,” Ms. Sun says.  Being a woman engineer, these experiences gave her more confidence in herself.  

On the next phase of her career, Ms. Sun started working on a new product development directly with INVISTA customers worldwide. With her in depth knowledge in airbag applications, the company offered her the job of marketing manager for air bags.  Her task was to promote automotive safety especially in the US. “We put together an automotive safety road show with Jeff Gordon, the NASCAR race driver. We also put a show room in Detroit to engage safety design engineers. I got the position because I have the knowledge in applications and the market,” says Ms. Sun.

However, after doing the marketing job for three years Ms. Sun realized marketing wasn’t her true passion. “In your career path if you want to start something different you can…but you have to be honest, I don’t think marketing was my skill set and I didn’t enjoy it that much so I stepped back and went back to technical,” says Ms. Sun.

In 2005, the automotive industry in China started booming and INVISTA decided to set up a new manufacturing plant in China to make automotive airbags fibers supplying, in the region. “The company sent me to Asia as I have the comparative advantages in language, culture, technical knowhow and credibility in the market,” says Ms. Sun. “As airbag industry is highly regulated in its performance needs, my job was to lead the effort of setting up specifications and getting the new products from the new plant qualified and also to help start up the brand new plant,” adds Ms. Sun.

“I was really excited about the job. ” says Ms. Sun. “First of all I was going back to the country I grew up in and then the challenges in itself  presents excitement.  In addition, the project leader of building the plant is one of the outstanding individuals. Working with him has been a true learning experience and pleasure” adds Ms. Sun. The new plant had a successful start-up in 2008 and the products have been in high demand. INVISTA decided to build an expansion two years later. Today, the site has doubled its capacity producing high quality fiber. “All this wouldn’t have happened without the support from the experts in the Kingston site and the UK site,” says Ms. Sun “Working in a global business is absolutely exciting and challenging, you develop optimal thinking skills,” She adds.

Becoming a Mentor

During her time in Asia, Ms. Sun changed her job from a technical manager, to a business director then the vice president for the regional business.  She has gradually been shifting her attention from running day to day operations to developing local leaders in Asia. “For a global company, it is critical to identify and develop local talent and make them the future leaders to run the business,” says Ms. Sun. “My current focus is to develop the future leaders in the region, that’s my number one priority,” adds Ms. Sun.

 “INVISTA has a strong company culture, guiding principles, and Market Based Management®. We believe a successful business is built on strong culture and talents.  And we need leaders. I am in the position to help young talents. It is a true pleasure watching them grow the business and to create real values for the industry and society,” says Ms. Sun. “I truly enjoy being a coach,” adds Ms. Sun.

“We have a very good team in Asia and the operation is currently run by the locals very well, I contributed to make it a success and found fulfilment in the process,” says Ms. Sun.

With her wealth of global experience, Ms. Sun would like to take some writing courses, so she can share her career experience and life journey.  “I know Queen’s has a writing club, maybe I will go back and take some writing courses, I think I’d like to do that,” says Ms. Sun.

Ms. Sun says that what kept her going through the years is that she is a curious person who enjoys challenges. “I just enjoy what I do…as well as being around with some really hard working and outstanding people,” says Ms. Sun. She says the aspects related to discovery in her career satisfied her sense of curiosity. “There is always something new and unheard of before,” she says. “For example, years ago, I went to South Korea for a business meeting, again, male dominated world. I was wearing a business jacket and a tight skirt.  When we arrived to a dinner place, everyone was expected to sit on the floor. Try to sit on the floor with a tight skirt, not funny.  You have to be there to see it,” she laughs.

Know yourself

“I am not afraid of changes. And enjoy a challenging job,” says Ms. Sun. “I think if you give me a cushy job I probably wouldn’t like it,” she says.  “Everyone is different.  My experience is not necessary applying to others. Just be yourself and surrounded by outstanding people. You will know if you are making the progress or not,” adds Ms. Sun.

Now, together with some of other Queen’s Alumni in China, Ms. Sun wishes to support and help Queen’s new comprehensive International Plan. The plan involves attracting top students and professors through greater international collaborations and exchange in research and education.