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Jasmine Liu has been a “Miss Chinese” pageant contestant, the director of corporate development for a Hong Kong conglomerate, and a new media entrepreneur. Now she is adding another title to her already impressive CV – CEIBS MBA student.
How did she go from beauty pageant contestant to successful entrepreneur? “It was actually serendipitous for me to participate in the Miss Chinese International Pageant,” she says. “I won second place in a TV competition programme in Jiangxi Province, and the executives at the TV station were so confident in me they sent me to the pageant to represent the province.”
Organised by the Hong Kong broadcaster TVB the Miss Chinese International Pageant features Chinese contestants from around the world, which gave Liu the opportunity to meet peers from various cultural backgrounds. “They were from Vancouver, Chicago, Bangkok, the Netherlands, and even Tahiti,” she recalls. “The training was intensive but fulfilling. Together we rehearsed our talent performances, got prepared for the Q&A round, and tried to deal with all kinds of challenges.”
Liu says the experience helped her become more independent. “I have to admit, the contestants who grew up in the West were more proactive and bold when confronting challenges,” she says. “They didn’t have any kind of ‘princess complex’ [the loose translation of a Chinese expression that commonly refers to the narcisistic behaviour seen among some young women in China], and always tried their best to overcome the difficulties they encountered instead of complaining. This still has a profound influence on me.”
What happens when young women with different accents and languages come together? “We often had pretty heated discussions over seemingly trivial things. I still remember clearly when some Chinese contestants from abroad asked ‘why do some Chinese mainlanders call the bathrvoom WC?’” Liu says, recalling just one example. “It was beyond the understanding of someone who had grown up in a different culture.” She says this experience cultivated her critical and independent thinking capabilities. “We each have our own different growth environment and educational backgrounds, while at the same time we are all influenced to a certain degree by the same Chinese culture. Among such a group of similar yet different people, we found a way to agree to differ, think out of the box, critically reflect on past knowledge, and absorb information during discussions.”
Though she didn’t win the Miss Chinese crown she did receive a practical prize from the experience – after graduating from college she was offered a marketing job with pageant sponsor Goldin Group which was just entering the Chinese mainland. Her experience as a Miss Chinese contestant had caught the eye of senior company executives. “I was lucky that the company had high expectations of me, and assigned me tasks that were increasingly important and complicated, such as hosting annual parties and organising important PR activities,” she says. “I’m really grateful for my pageant experience. Compared to other colleagues from the mainland, I was able to communicate more effectively and be on better terms with international colleagues. These qualities are essential for a corporate PR practitioner.”
As Goldin’s business took off on the mainland, so did Liu’s career. She was promoted to Director of Corporate Development for the company’s Shanghai branch in 2013. “Because Goldin had just entered the mainland market at that time, it valued young team members from the mainland, ones it had trained and who had foreign language skills,” she says. Talking about the promotion, she adds, “My supervisors, colleagues, and key clients all thought highly of the organisational, executive, and social skills that I demonstrated at the company’s various big events. I volunteered for a transfer to the new Shanghai subsidiary in order to take on more responsibility.” Besides routine marketing work, Liu was also responsible for exploring new areas for brand promotion. She decided at the end of 2015 to launch her own new media company to provide content and brand management services to clients across different industries.
Jasmine shares how her experience as a Miss Chinese pageant contestant led to her starting her own new media company.
She faced a host of new leadership challenges when she started her company, but says that innovation and sensibility are important leadership attributes for women in both the corporate and start-up environments. Whether she is leading a corporate PR team where inspiration and ideas are required, or working to develop her own start-up, she says both traits are part of her own core competitiveness.
“There was a level of innovation can be seen in Goldin’s proposals and event planning, as well as the product planning for my own start-up project, and in marketing and communications, which is subject to constant changes. The problem we face every day is how to make use of limited resources and keenly observe the market, consumers, and competitors before coming up with an excellent revenue-generating project to implement. Innovation plays an especially important role here,” she explains.
Liu adds that while innovative ideas may make a PR newbie a master in a short time, to be a qualified leader, one still needs to have more profound insight and precise grasp of one’s team and the work environment. She believes female leaders possess some natural advantages, rooted in their gender identity. “Women have a natural advantage when it comes to empathy, which is particularly important on a team dominated by men. Female leaders are better at paying attention to and understanding team members’ various demands, and assign work and tackle interpersonal relationships in a more scientific way, which optimises team communications and work efficiency,” she says.
But she has also discovered there are some differences between leading in a corporate environment, and at a start-up. At large companies that can guarantee every kind of material and resources one needs, “the trial-and-error cost for every individual is relatively low,” she says. “Leading a department at a big company gives me a sense of steadiness, which comes from the company’s own strength and the support as well as cooperation from team members. It allows me to more easily find a balance between personal life and work.”
Being an entrepreneur, Liu admits, is more labour-intensive, in part because she can’t just focus on the things she does best. “Instead, I have to put my energy into every function, including finance, management, marketing, and operations,” she says. “This is a big challenge – you have to make choices between life and work. At the same time, you need creative planning skills as well as decisiveness and perseverance when exploring new areas.” It was these challenges which led her to enrol in CEIBS’ MBA Programme. “I hope to grow into an all-round and really brilliant female leader,” she says.
(This article is contributed by CEIBS.)