Employee Spotlight: Phil Zhong

Like many of our other WhiteWater employees that not only jet around the world frequently but find themselves living in cities thousands of miles apart, Phil Zhong has had the privilege to have been able to call both Shanghai, China and Vancouver, Canada home. Phil started his career with WhiteWater over a decade ago, and is part of an integral group of people that played a major role in successfully bringing our presence to China. Today, 8 years since he moved home, Phil still makes trips back to Vancouver with his family on vacations, going on adventurous mountain hikes and long walks along the city’s famed beaches.

Please tell us a bit about yourself

I was born in Shanghai, China, and I moved to Canada after finishing my undergraduate studies. I joined WhiteWater in 2006 as a Project Manager, then moved on to the role as AquaPlay Value Stream Leader, to Plant Manager, and finally to Engineering Service Manager. Finally, in 2011, I moved back to Shanghai to help set up WhiteWater’s operations in China.

I met my wife Joan in Shanghai while I still working in the Vancouver office, and we have two daughters, Claire and Chloe. We moved back to Shanghai when Chloe was 1 and Claire was 3. They both proudly tell their friends that they’re Vancouverites because they were born at the Vancouver Women’s Hospital, even though they have spent most of their lives in Shanghai.


What do you do at WhiteWater?

I am currently the Chief Operating Officer of Asia and I look after WhiteWater’s operations in China from our Shanghai office.

What do you love about working at WhiteWater?

I love the fact that we’re working with our partners to create a fun, unforgettable experience and the fact that our customers and projects are globally-based. I love the fact that our projects always have start and end points, so no matter how challenging some of them are, in the end, we can always reflect on and learn from the experience.

What’s your favourite WhiteWater product?

I like the Boomerango because it has a fun raft ride section plus an exciting, big drop. My older daughter and I tried the slide together last summer, and she loved it. I can’t wait for next summer when the younger one will be tall enough to ride together with us.

What’s on your bucket list?

I don’t have a bucket list. For me, if there is something I really want to do and it’s achievable, like visiting somewhere exotic or obtaining an MBA, I just come up with a plan to make it happen.

There are a couple of things on my current to-do list:

  • Our Asian team has grown so much over the last few years that we now need a bigger space, so I’ve been busy working on securing a new location for our office
  • On the personal side, our two girls enjoy playing sports, so we’re trying to help them to identify activities that they can commit to for the long-term.

Do you have a hidden talent? Tell us about it!

I am actually very good at cooking. In fact, if a chef could have weekends and evenings off, I’d be really interested in becoming a professional chef! Every time I travel to a foreign place, I try to locate the local food scene so that I can try out all the local favourites. I then try to replicate some of the delicious food that I’ve tried at home.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

We’re fast approaching our 10th year in China, even though we originally thought about staying for only 3-5 years. I think that says two things about making predictions ten years out: that they are inevitably unreliable, and that ten years is really not that long when you are truly enjoying yourself and doing what you like to do. But for now, I’ll hazard a guess that we’ll be back in Vancouver in 10 years.

What do you do outside of work? What’s your favourite past time?

I travel a lot for work, so outside of work I tend to spend most of my time with the family. Before we moved to Shanghai, we enjoyed hiking in the mountains and walking on the beach. Unfortunately, Shanghai is not known for its beautiful mountains or beaches, so, every summer when we come back to Vancouver for a vacation, we try to do as many outdoor activities as possible.

What is the most interesting place you’ve visited and why?

Before we had kids, we spent over a month in East Africa. We found that trip so fascinating and learned a lot, too. The part of the Africa we visited was very different from what we imagined based on what we saw on TV. Although today, we can “experience” another country through the wonders of the internet—with videos, photos, instant news coverage and the like—I found that firsthand experience can’t be replaced if someone wants to truly understand a country or culture. My 9 years of on the ground experience in Asia also supports this argument.

Most of the people that we saw and met in East Africa were poor, but they were content and full of hope. I still remember the pictures that I took of kids with big smiles on their faces. Many of us in Canada don’t realize how lucky we are and sometimes take things for granted. While there, we also embarked on a whitewater rafting trip on the Zambezi river that leads to Victoria falls, and were thrown off the raft and got sucked under the water a few times. Nowadays, whenever we think back on that experience, we wonder whether the operator had proper rescue procedures and insurance in place. But at that age, we were young and fearless, and thought ourselves invincible, however unwise it might have been.

Dawn Kirby