Breakfast with Ms Burch

 

Every so often, or perhaps only once in a lifetime, you’ll have a chance to meet someone who inspires you to the very core. For me that opportunity came a few weeks ago in the form of a breakfast meeting with Tory Burch (yes, Tory Burch).

There’s a lot that can be said about this remarkable woman – super mom to three kids, design visionaire of a fashion label that’s quickly becoming the new American staple (the new Ralph Lauren perhaps?), and powerhouse CEO of a global empire valued at US$3billion. Yes, there is a lot that can be said, as you’ll soon see below.

If you’ve been reading this space for a while, you’ll know two things (1) I have a passion for profiling women who combine their passions and talent for a purpose – be it in business or otherwise; and (2) Tory Burch is, to me at least, the epitome of a woman who’s managed to do exactly that, to an incredible degree of success.

There’s a lot of talk (and an abundance of articles) about how women should “lean in,” and how we can (or cannot) “have it all.” These pieces, written by women successful in their own right, aim to inspire the rest of us to do just that – be the best mothers, professionals, human beings we can be. That’s all well and good, but perhaps we should turn our attention to women who have managed all of that, and come out on the other end as unaffected by their success as when they first began.

My day with Tory began like this, I showed up at 9.30 on the dot for a breakfast meeting with the mogul. There she was in her boutique – pint sized and perfectly prepped – surrounded by staff from her Singapore store. What struck me was Tory was standing in the midst of her people (almost completely obscured because she’s so petite), having conversations with them (instead of talking at them) about how they’ve made the store a success (a huge success at that, as I am later told by her director of international PR), and thanking them individually for their contributions.

It was inspiring and humbling to see a mogul make time for members of her team.

She refused to be rushed through this, so breakfast began a little late, which was fine by me because I got a lesson in Management 101. It’s something that no b-school course could ever teach because you had to be there to see it in person, and witness the response of her sales team for yourself, every one of whom was beaming from sun up to sun down.

Breakfast began, we took our seats. I am a foot away from her, with just a plush velvet-covered settee between us, and she’s still flawless. More details for those who don’t know her – Tory’s 46, a mother of 3 boys (her twins, Henry and Nick, are 16 and Sawyer, the youngest, is 12), the design visionaire behind an eponymous label which began in her apartment (she was redecorating her apartment and designing her line at the same time), and the CEO of a global fashion empire who took the company from zero to hero in just 9 years… and she somehow manages to look not a day over 35.

That morning, she was impeccably dressed in slim cut denim with a slight flare which she paired with an orient blue patterned sweater over a button-down shirt of the same design. Pattern on pattern, jewelled collar to accessorize, blonde hair that’s perfectly in place though it’s 9 in the morning and she’d gotten in on a midnight flight from HK. It’s all so effortless.

She’s wearing a ring, crystal (I think) set in gold, with more embellished crystal. It’s large, and should seem gaudy and oversized on someone with such refined features, but somehow it’s perfectly in place with everything else she’s wearing (no diamonds or pearls, she’s not that kind of girl). Yvette leans over commenting on how intricate it is, Tory slips it off her finger and hands it to her saying, that’s the Hagia Sophia carved on the inside – and true enough there’s the mosque, tiny though it is, it’s detailed and perfect in the smoky crystal. It’s by Sevan Bicakci, she adds, she bought it on her last trip to Istanbul.

Tory is genuinely interested in the details. Her jewellery, her work, her homes, her clothes, they’re all inspired by her travels and the details she picks up along the way. She’s attuned to the details in the lives of others, making her interpersonal skills second to none. She pays attention, she listens, she watches and observes.

I know she has a busy day ahead (her PR team has told me this), and yet when she talks to you, you feel as though you have all the time in the world, because she really pays attention. I was there to find out more about her, but I think the reverse was true – I now know that Yvette is Korean-Australian but doesn’t speak a word of Korean because she was a stubborn kid who refused to learn it, Nikki’s got a son who’s slightly older than Tory’s boys who is in University in Australia, and they all know I’m recently engaged and would very much like for Tory to design a line of home ware to fill the new place Paul and I hope to buy at some point of time.

Lucky for me, she’s launched a small home accessories line (just the day before) on her online store. What are the odds? I plan to buy this pillow, this ornamental box, and the Robinson Nutcracker. I love the idea of a good-for-nothing nut cracker.

It’s hard not to like someone who takes a genuine interest in you as a person, it’s even harder not to become a complete fan-girl when the person paying attention just happens to be the woman you look up to most in the world (barring my mother of course).

I ask her (the question I’ve been dying to ask) how do you do it? It isn’t easy, she replied, but my boys come first and everything else falls into place after that. She has an amazing team that helps to make it happen, all this (gesturing around the boutique) wouldn’t be possible without them, but her city-slicker sons come first. She talks about how she never imagined raising her three boys in the middle of the most (excuse my word for it) happening city on earth. They sometimes tell her, mom you’re a farm girl, you wouldn’t get it.

She grew up on acres of rolling green in pastoral Pennsylvania (with three brothers, two of whom now work with her in the business, a support system she does not take for granted), while her sons are in the thick of city life, she tells me they have different challenges from her. I feel as though she thinks her sons are missing out on the childhood she had, and I want to tell her she’s given them so much more just by doing what she’s doing, and if they don’t appreciate it now, they definitely will when they are older. But I don’t because I’m not sure how to, or if I’m even qualified to say such a thing, seeing as how I don’t have any kids of my own… but Dad, if you’re reading, I get it now!

And this is perhaps what I admire most about her, she is unabashed about her role as a mom. She doesn’t engage in the debate on children-vs-career or talk about how she’s had to build a nursery beside the office… she is a mom, she is proud of it. Plain and simple. She just also happens to be a mogul leading an empire worth 3 B’s.

It’s time to leave, Tory has a million and one meetings and interviews to make it to. She thanks me for making time to meet up, I want to tell her she’s crazy and that I wouldn’t have missed this for the world. But instead I settle for a more measured and gentle, no thank you for meeting with me, and tell her that it’s been such an incredible pleasure (she must be rubbing off on me). She invites me back for the evening cocktail session, and says she would love to meet my other half. I text Paul immediately, telling him he can’t miss it, no matter what.

It’s evening and we’re back at the boutique. It’s a mad crush. The serene breakfast scene has completely transformed into a pulsing party – there’s a DJ in the anteroom, champagne glasses on every available surface, and a sea of fashionably turned out women (and a sprinkling of men) literally jostling to get a view or a word in to Tory. And there she is, once again in the center of all the commotion, a mogul among the masses who doesn’t come across as one. She’s perfectly poised and totally composed while guests fight for her attention, wiggling and squirming to get closer to the hottest piece of real estate in the room – the one foot radius around Tory Burch

I stand in the outer circle, watching Tory’s perfectly perfect manners in action. Despite the crush and frenzy of activity around her, she turns to greet each adoring fan that’s wiggled their way through the crush of well-dressed humanity, flashing them a gracious smile and exchanging a couple of words. She’s elegant and refined, without the usual veneer of unapproachability you’d expect from someone so famous.

Paul murmurs to me, if I were a billionaire, I definitely wouldn’t put myself through this. And I said, that's the magic, you just wait and see.

She sees us, and with a gentle tilt of her head, we’re suddenly in the inner circle exchanging air kisses. She’s eager to meet Paul and enthused about our engagement. He’s quickly won over by the this pint-sized kingpin who looks like she should be taking her sons to tennis at the club, not running a business that employs thousands. She can level that same attention on you regardless of whether there are 3 or 300 other people in the room. Her magnetism is understated, and up close, you notice it even more. She also seems to have a boundless sort of energy. Even after a day jam packed with meetings and a week of flying around the world (she hates flying by the way, a phobia she developed when her uncle passed away in a plane crash), she looks refreshed, as though she’s done nothing but sip lemonade and have quiet conversations on the front porch.

It’s unfair really, that one person should possess such effortless perfection and be so endlessly fascinating. But my takeaway is this – Tory started Tory Burch at 36, and based on that timeline, there’s still hope for me! I’ll just need bucketloads of determination, a good deal of good luck, and a network of family and friends to fall back on.

So yes, there’s a lot that can be said about Tory Burch, and having met her, I’ll say this: she’s warm, funny and sincere, incredibly humble, very hard working, and genuinely genuine.

And for everything I’ve said above, the image that sticks with me is this – walking in at 9.30am and witnessing Tory in the midst of thanking her team. She truly is the most gracious and graceful of human beings.

Stephanie Chai - The Luxe Nomad

StephChai.png

Some days I wake up and absolutely love that I get to blog on the side while living a very conservative corporate life. It also gives me a great excuse to kay-poh into the lives of brilliant young women pursuing their passions and creating their own careers. Today, I want to tell you about the lovely (and drop dead gorgeous) lady behind The Luxe Nomad – the private flash sale site that offers members up to 70% off the most beautiful and curated list of luxury resorts in Asia, including the likes of Sri Panwa in Phuket and The Upper House in Hong Kong.

HongKongUpperHouse-CafeGrey.jpg
Never one to stick with tradition, Stephanie Chai managed to turn her hobby (traveling) into a full time job. This might have a little to do with the fact she’s always gone her own way when it comes to making life decisions.

She took up modelling (much to her parents’ displeasure) at 18 when she was still in university – that led to years of frequent hopping about from country to country, never spending more than 2 months at a time in one place. That desire to experience new things, and be exposed to new cultures, traditions, and people, led her to create a life for herself that always involved those elements.

First up, how did you first decide to start The Luxe Nomad?

Funny story. A friend of mine owed me a business idea and sent me an email with the link about The Luxe Nomad business model and concept. 5 minutes later I emailed him back and said "I'll do it!". And then, I started researching! I knew nothing about the hotel industry, ecommerce and so forth - so talk about a crash course. But I'm glad I stuck to it. The company is very blessed to have a great, small team. The best bits are working with them, brainstorming ideas and of course, having a laugh or two. Work should always be fun!

ChaiInHK.JPG

What's life like as an entrepreneur? And what do you do when you're not working?

Being your own boss means being busier than ever! Most weeks I’m working 6 days out of 7, so I relish any down time I have.

Back when I was modelling, I had a lot more time to myself. These days, you’re likely to find me unwinding in whatever little free time I have (and there’s not a lot of it), I try to squeeze in a bit of shopping, a foot massage, maybe a tennis lesson. I’m a huge fan of film, drama and politics – so as you can imagine the recent Malaysian elections was quite a hot topic among my friends.

You travelled a lot for your previous job, how has that experience/exposure helped you build The Luxe Nomad?

Quite honestly, one of the best decisions I ever made was to model. It put me in my parent's bad books for a few years (until I graduated and my dad was a happy man) but it gave me the opportunity to travel to most parts of Asia and live in these different countries. Why is that important? Because I learned to get on and work with people from all across the region, to better understand their culture and ways – this helps when it comes to negotiating and dealing with folks of different backgrounds.

stephanie_chai_3.jpg
When it comes to business, a simple thing most people tend to overlook is this: people will only work with you if they like you!

Your work continues to take you around the world – what are some of your favourite destinations and why?

I still love Bali and Phuket for a short weekend away (especially if you live in Singapore or Kuala Lumpur - it's only an hour's flight for Phuket and 2 for Bali).

The Bale in Nusa Dua is one of my favourites at the moment – white-walled villas with your own private pool right on one of the most gorgeous beaches in Bali. Nusa Dua is also a very swimmable beach which is not that common for Bali where the waves tend to be very strong.

Two of our celebrity bloggers and friends are staying at The Bale at the moment (Margaret Zhang of Harpers Bazaar Australia & Shinebythree and Camille Over The Rainbow), so you should definitely check out their instagram feeds if you want an inside look on the properties.

The luxury hotels we feature love that we bring them something different from the usual flash sale site - it's members only, luxury hotel focused (so they can be sure they're always in good company and never have to worry about being on a platform with less stellar hospitality outfits), and they get endorsed by our network of celebrities (another plus from my modeling days).

MacakiziTurkey.JPG

Other than that, Macakizi hotel in Mugla, Turkey is a hip hotel by the sea and if you're thinking of stopping by a city then The Upper House in Hong Kong is a must if you want to truly travel in style.

Finally, what’s the most valuable lesson you’ve learned through starting up The Luxe Nomad?

Don't give up!

Images courtesy of Stephanie Chai and The Luxe Nomad.

Jean Loo of Logue tells me what it's like to be a full time Storyteller

jeanloo_1800px.jpg

If I could sum Jean (the lovely lass behind Logue) up into one word it would be: Storyteller.

She tells beautiful stories, the kind that clenches at your gut then lifts you higher than you could imagine. Tales of human suffering, but also of joys and triumphs. She takes impossibly difficult situations, and turns them into something we can all understand. There is so much power in the ability to tell a good story, and she’s using her skillset to improve the lives and shine a light on others.

The owner of a boutique creative agency that specializes in photo and video documentary, Jean is a prime example of how it is possible to do good work (i.e., creative work that's good for corporates) that is also good work (i.e., good for mankind kind of work). She's brought her own unique viewpoint to the likes of HSBC, the Lien Foundation, and the Four Seasons hotel, all the while maintaining a beautiful balancing act between the corporate-commercial and her own creative spirit.

So here's my attempt to tell the story of a great storyteller, and I do hope her journey and life's work inspires you as much as it has inspired me. Here's to living our passions through our talents for a purpose.

Born Free (Sri Lanka, 2008) 
Born Free (Sri Lanka, 2008) 

A journalism major who graduated from NTU a few years ago, she decided to take the road not often travelled (and in fact, in her batch, she was the only one) and strike out on her own immediately – she was just 23, but she knew what she wanted, and she knew the corporate world could not offer it. Here’s her story.

1. From what I can gather, Logue is a creative agency. Could you tell me more about the work you do, and how it all started?

Logue is a reflection of what I love doing --

to tell stories and create social dialogue. 

I studied journalism and dived into the adventure of working as an independent photographer and writer fresh out of school. It was a big decision back then in 2007 shaped largely by the experience of my final-year project -- my teammates and I were blessed with an opportunity to travel across Southeast Asia to produce a book on children growing up amidst rapid change in the region for ASEAN's 40th anniversary. It was a pretty huge deal as I had to balance school work, plan travel logistics, photograph and interview like how a photojournalist would. That was probably where I caught the travel bug and discovered my passion to make the world a better place through photography. 

M ajestic Mahoe (Puerto Rico, 2010) 
Majestic Mahoe (Puerto Rico, 2010) 

I knew I didn’t want a gig in the corporate world – I’d experienced it for myself during internships and came to realise that a company’s culture won’t change for you, so if you don’t fit, be brave and find somewhere else or create something else. I’d encourage every young person to do as many internships as they can, in as many different areas as they can fit into their summers, it’s the only way to know which way you want to go.

It was very tough in the beginning. They don’t teach you commercialism in school. I had to learn that on the job. It was very challenging living project to project, in fact, it can still be very challenging but I can’t imagine myself doing anything else, and I enjoy the freedom and ownership of my career and life too much to ever give it up. Plus, it’s really starting to pay off, so I’m glad I got started young, and I couldn’t have been more grateful for supportive friends and family who didn’t frown upon my dreams to wander and to wonder.

As for the work we do, it’s a great mix of things. I get to work on a wide range of media projects from travel and hospitality to social advocacy and current affairs, that reflect our interests and who we are as an agency, in that sense we are very, very lucky. 

I celandic Glaciers (Iceland, 2009) 
Icelandic Glaciers (Iceland, 2009) 

2. What was, in your view, the worst experience as a young entrepreneur?

Not getting paid.

The first gig I did was for a magazine that eventually went bust, it’s hard to live from project to project when those projects sometimes don’t pay you. That’s when I learned (through an extremely painful experience) that it was very important to know my rights as a vendor, get a contract in place, assert yourself where required because otherwise you’ll just get pushed around by the big (corporate) boys. Really, know a lawyer (Jean is lucky, her sister happens to be one), know your rights, and get those contracts written. They really should teach people that in school.

3. You travel a lot for work, can you share a little bit more about the destinations you've been to and what you gained from the experience 

Travel is a great teacher.

I am thankful that work has taken me to places like Tanzania, Iceland, China, Australia, Bangladesh, Mongolia, Taiwan and Puerto Rico. Being able to travel for work is a blessing as I often end up with experiences in places that I would not encounter as a regular tourist. The process of interviewing, photographing and filming allows a deeper interaction with the locals as I really get to go beyond the touristy experience. They have all definitely impacted me in one way or the other and are (what a friend calls) "character-building exercises."  

A  Simple Life (Tanzania, 2012)
Simple Life (Tanzania, 2012)

Nothing can replicate the sinking feeling of getting lost in a rainforest in Puerto Rico with 10kg of gear in the rain and crawling alongside scientists who spend years geo-tagging trees. Interviewing a farmer on how water has improved his family's life in a mountainous village in Yunnan taught me to better appreciate the blessings of city life. In Myanmar, I became friends with a group of seven child monks who gave me more than the smatterings of English I could teach in return. Spending time in a railway community in Jakarta where I had to ask kids in a crumbling makeshift school under a highway what their ambitions were made me rediscover dreams. Hours spent on a safari searching for a pride of lions in Kenya against the vast African landscape were precious humbling moments that will stay with me forever. 

4. Logue is actively involved in Social Advocacy - could you give us a brief on how your business helps these organizations, and tell us about how you've managed to strike a balance between corporate (HSBC, IDEO) and social (Lien Foundation) responsibilities?

I take on a variety of assignments because it exposes me to different circumstances. There is always something to learn from everything – whether it’s a lighting challenge during a corporate portraiture session or planning a year-long advocacy project. 

C hildren of Mekong (Cambodia, 2010) 
Children of Mekong (Cambodia, 2010) 

Sometimes, those dream jobs come along.. like photographing and documenting the safari experience for the Four Seasons in Tanzania as part of a branding and marketing exercise, creating short films that help NGOs spread their good work. It's impossible for me to detach myself from my work, as each project becomes an extension of my personality. You have to put your heart into it, though selectively at times. That's when having assignments of varying nature works to balance things out as I get to enjoy the process and learn about anything under the sun through photography, word and film. 

Of course it helps when you have wonderful clients who respect your hard work and show it through a healthy budget, regardless of the nature of the project. 

5. Top three things to remember when starting out on your own. Go!

Plan well 

make sure you always have something in the (to use corporate speak) “pipeline,” even if it’s something small. The momentum will help to keep you going. Normally, I will have smaller pieces of work in each “quarter” of the year and one year long project as an anchor. It keeps the cash flow coming in, it also keeps me moving so there’s never any inertia to start new projects.

W eight off her Shoulders (China, 2010) 
Weight off her Shoulders (China, 2010) 
Be willing to "bao ge liao" 

when you’re on your own, it’s best to know the basics of even the most remote things that relate to what you do. In a company, it pays to specialise, out on your own, being a generalist can sometimes be your best bet. Say for example if I have to work with an external vendor for videography, if I know something about his craft, I can better direct the work. It also makes me less reliant on others for a full suite of services, and increases my value to the client as I can not only do the creative work, but help them project manage other aspects of the campaign as well.

Shamelessly self promote 

always remember that you are your greatest proponent, and your best brand ambassador. You can afford to be somewhat mediocre in a major company because you have a big brand name to back you up, you can’t do that when you are on your own. You have to be the very best version of yourself, you have to show the very best version of your work, and you have to shamelessly self promote till others do it for you (a process that takes time) but will happen if you do the first two well.

5. What are you excited about these days?

The public launch of my latest project which I had the privilege of working on with the Lien Foundation. 

After Cicely is a film and web campaign about palliative care in and around Asia. Named for Cicely Mary Saunders, the woman behind the birth of the hospice movement, the campaign looks at the lives of five women in five different countries (Mongolia, Bangladesh, Vietnam, Singapore and Taiwan) who turned their own personal tragedies into a well of willpower to drive palliative care movements to benefit others in their community.

jean_lf_ac_02.jpg
jean_lf_ac_01.jpg

Young people always forget that in order to die well, you first have to live well. Though this campaign is about end of life stages, I want to reach out to a younger audience and remind them to live well. There should be as much dignity in dying as there is in living.

I also feel strongly compelled as I’ve seen it first hand, it’s my responsibility to share it with others.

5. If you had to sum everything up into a sentence (or two)?

Plan your passion and expand your skill sets, a good dose of courage and faith will help to tide over the dark days. Positivity and hard work go hand in hand and you always have a chance to turn things around, no matter how tough it seems. 

If you would like to learn more about Logue or After Cicely, please follow the links below:

http://logue.sg | http://aftercicely.com/