Celebrating International Women's Day 2018

1. Who inspires you?The people who inspire me have a mission and drive to succeed, but not at the expense of people and the greater good. They are phenomenal leaders who are focused and support others on their journeys too. To me, these individuals have great resilience, energy and courage and yet are able to remain humble and willing to learn. People like Serena Williams, Melinda Gates and many of the Leaders I work with at the Shackleton Foundation (http://shackletonfoundation.org) demonstrate these qualities on a daily basis. They truly inspire me.

2. What gets you out of bed in the morning? Knowing that if I don’t get up quickly, I’d be in bed all day?? Joking aside, coaching my clients really does. Only today I started with a new client – I was concerned that I had bitten off more than I could chew but I decided a challenge was what I needed and I wanted to learn. The session was fantastic, I really upped my game and in turn, the client was really receptive to our coaching conversation. This is what I get up for – helping people make changes that improve performance. Changes that work for them and for those around them, all for the better. Who wouldn’t want to do such rewarding and tangibly effective work on a daily basis?

3. What keeps you awake at night? Even when I am agitated, I tend to sleep really well (touch wood) to the point where we’ve had hurricanes and house alarms go off and I’m still fast asleep in bed. On the one or two occasions when I have had insomnia, it’s usually something sub-conscious and I genuinely don’t know what’s bothering me, but I know there must be something, to not be sleeping. Practising mindfulness on a daily basis helps with this – whereby I sometimes have a better insight to what is going on in my sub-conscious, and/or the mindfulness helps me relax the mind a little by focusing on the present. I also make sure that I don’t get even more frustrated not being able to sleep. By accepting that I can’t sleep, I stop fighting it, and therefore remain relaxed. I am usually able to fall back asleep quite quickly thereafter.

4. What’s your signature meal and who would you cook it for? Although I love cooking, I really don’t cook at all. Amongst my siblings, I am known as the one who washes the dishes and drinks the wine. However, once a year, I have my closest friends round for Chinese New Year dinner (these friends are my UK family for mine are scattered all over the world). Additionally I host Christmas dinner once every few years for my family. On both occasions, I ensure that grape juice is flowing aplenty before feeding people. Apparently I bake a good hazelnut meringue cake and two-toned brownies. Who knows? As a practical form of mindfulness, I would thoroughly recommend cooking – very therapeutic, armed with some cool music one can dance to.

5. How do you manage your time? An interesting question. Although I am not the most organised person on this planet, I seem to be quite good at scheduling things well so that I am never rushed one way or another. I tend to make sure expectations are managed by knowing when deadlines are and offering them to others as well. I typically leave lots to the last minute but those who know me well know that I will keep people in touch in the interim with updates and I will definitely deliver. If I can’t, you’ll have been kept abreast of things. What might help is that I am pretty relaxed about change so if things happen last minute that require a pivot, I am usually calm about it, unless it means letting someone else down. My advice to those who don’t manage time well is to break projects down to manageable sizes, communicate on where you are, and respect others’ time ie, never assume that others’ working practices and priorities are the same as yours –so you might as well be clear about how you work and understand theirs.

6. Best bits (s) of advice ever received? ‘Be yourself because you’re the only one who can be best at that’. Societal and peer pressure have been around through the ages, and it has only be exacerbated today with the prevalence and dominance of social media. It is really easy to lose sight of oneself, one’s abilities, confidence, potential and mission when others are so keen to impose an unrequested opinion on almost everything – personal or professional, 24-7. It’s hard to remember who you are at times. I’ve had a career change and although many can’t see how I could have made that very dramatic switch, I have and I have no regrets – both having loved my last career and am loving my current one. I’ve been me – it hasn’t always been smooth sailing but it had to be done.

7. What is the best and worst purchases you’ve ever made? What a brilliant question! It always has to be shoes. My first ever expensive and amazingly gorgeous pair of shoes – a pair of Sergio Rossis from Paris. I am so angry that I wore them in the rain once and they are now watermarked and ruined but I can’t bring myself to throw them out. Worse purchase, aside from my many 80s shoulder pad numbers, and a lot of bad haircuts, I am sticking with shoes again. A pair of black patent, platform Christian Louboutins. They cost an arm and a leg – I can’t walk in them because the platform is so unyielding and I DO NOT KNOW WHAT I WAS THINKING. So if anyone wants a pair of size 39 shoes, you know where to find me.

8. What is the closest thing to magic? The fact that some people can easily bend over and touch their toes and I can’t?? When I was travelling in South America, I had never really been one for nature, always preferring my Sergio Rossis to Merrell hiking boots. However, this trip was life changing – the diverse people & cultures, flora, fauna and environment, it was truly magical. Experiences can be magical and they can’t really be exactly replicated – isn’t that magic?

9. Do you have a mentor? What value do you think a mentor brings to a business? I had 2 mentors when I worked in financial services. Both were so different and that was when I learnt and grew the most. Both of them challenged me, supported me, encouraged me and were my champions when I needed that. They had very different styles and approaches but to me, that was an advantage. Their patience with me was also very much needed and necessary. One of them really took me out of my comfort zone and threw me in the deep end for something that I hadn’t even considered, but he had the foresight to know that I was not only ready but very prepared to take myself and the opportunity to the next level. Left to my own devices, I would never have been that ambitious let alone taken that leap. Good mentors are vital for true, rounded progress. Today, I don’t have a mentor but I have a peer coach who is just amazing. She and I meet up regularly to talk about our work, coach and advise each other – all the while enjoying ourselves. It is the perfect setup.

10. What unusual food combinations do you enjoy? Well, my all time favourite, common in the US but not here, is peanut butter and jam (PB&J) on toast. Great for hangovers or lazy weekend mornings in bed. At school, we used to love marmite on granny smiths. Not really a food combination but my sisters laugh at me, I really like eating stale crisps and biscuits.

11. How can female entrepreneurs further support each other? The entrepreneurial community is large and it can be very easy to feel like you’re drowning, alone or lost, even if it is temporary. Building up a support network of like-minded people, even if they are at different stages, can be helpful. For example, even if you are an experienced entrepreneur, mixing with novices can remind one of the importance of remaining somewhat free-spirited, innovative and mission-focused. It is very easy to get lost in the ‘language’ of investor demands, board meetings and reports etc. Some statistics suggest that there are only half as many female entrepreneurs as male ones and as such, your voices aren’t going to be as loud or well heard. Sticking together, learn from and supporting each other and where possible collaborating and advocating for each other will make all the difference in the world – for yourselves, for others and for future generations.

12. What’s something that will always be in fashion, no matter how much time passes? My mother and sisters always say stripes. For me, anything that is a ‘classic’ will always be in fashion – be it the colour black, the little black dress, black shoes, the “Burberry’ mac, red lipstick or nail varnish (and rouge noir), a croque monsieur, Laurent Perrier Rose, Massive Attack’s ‘Unfinished Sympathy’ – shall I go on?

13. What was the last thing you did that made you really proud? I stayed up late to watch the first half of this year’s Superbowl (Fly Eagles Fly!)… Being someone who wakes up at 5am most days (a hangup of my time in the City) – this was a feat…! On a more serious note, it was when I ended a working relationship with a business partner on excellent terms. This was never going to be easy to end given the amount of time and effort towards the business but our priorities had changed. It could have been ugly but the conversations turned out healthy and very constructive. Like most people, I find having difficult conversations really tough but they are entirely possible and through working with my coaching clients, and therefore myself, I have learnt a few tricks and made several observations to help me through this process.

14. If you were to give advice to a fellow female entrepreneur what would it be? Keep learning and don’t lose focus on the mission by losing yourself. I have worked with so many clients who can’t see the wood for the trees. One even ended up in hospital because of stress. Another said the stress was like having a permanent year-long hangover. Who wants that? It isn’t good for your business if you don’t help yourself, develop your leadership skills and your business nous. As women, we are equally as capable as men in being successful but due to unconscious bias and societal barriers, we have a harder task. Don’t make it harder for yourself. Get a mentor to help with that journey. Find a coach who will help develop you, your resilience, your performance and your psyche to really make that difference. Find yourself a team that works with you and shares your vision – you don’t all have to agree on everything but a shared vision really will make your journeys a lot less painful.

15. What does success look like to you? Success for me is having the time, health and financial ability to do whatever it is I want for me to be happy. So far, I get the feeling that I am heading in that right direction – but I am a work in progress!!

If you have any questions at all, you know where to find me!

UncategorizedKaren Kwong