Supermamapreneur Sighting: Claire Chiang, Banyan Tree Hotels & Resorts Co-Founder

An original Supermamapreneur

When you meet Claire, you know right away that you’ve met a Woman of Substance.

And it’s not because of her many awards or that she is the better half of one of Singapore’s high profile power couples.

Claire possess what many people don’t: a fire-in-the-belly type of passion for what she believes in, a presence that will make you sit up and pay attention (you’ll know she has arrived when she walks into a room) and a contagious, fun energy – the kind of energy that only comes with being truly interested and wholehearted about what she is doing in and with her life.

Claire Chiang and Lise Chew

 

Google her and you’ll find countless articles on who she is and the things she has done.

Claire has been at the forefront of many things, like being the first woman on the Council of the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce & Industry and helping AWARE set up their helpline.

She’s married. Has 3 kids. Was former Nominated Member of Parliament. Her World Magazine’s Woman Of The Year 1999. Amongst many other things. Business. She is by all counts an original Supermamapreneur.

One of her businesses is Banyan Tree Gallery, which retails art from indigenous artists and Asian botanical blends. The idea behind this business was to retail items to empower local communities and their trades. I thought this was an excellent idea, given their already established platform that is Banyan Tree Hotels & Resorts.

I finally got to meet her at the Shirin Fozdar Programme Annual Lecture At The Frontlines of Change: Women Who Dared (By Dr. Noeleen Heyzer) last Friday. She invited all her mentees to this event and I must say it was thought provoking.

Claire speaks with conviction and it is clear she is an ambitious woman.

And when she pulled all 4 of her mentees in for a photograph with Dr. Noeleen Heyzer, she said to us, “You better be on stage in 15 years!” She’s even ambitious for us.

When I went up to her and introduced myself, she received me with a warmth and enthusiasm that I didn’t expect. And when I mentioned that my mother used to be her neighbour, and when she realised who it was, she started speaking to me in Hainanese like I was long lost family.

I am so very lucky to have her as my mentor and I’m looking forward to learning from her.

 

 

National Day Parade 2016

Happy 51st Birthday, Singapore!

Amidst the hullabaloo of the things we had to do on National Day and the husband’s exciting evening out with Singapore’s leaders, I have been remiss in sharing about our trip to the National Day Parade (NDP) this year.

Highlights:

  1. It’s the first NDP back at the spanking new National Stadium.
  2. Everyone was excited about doing the Kallang Wave. I believe I counted 5 rounds before it died out. The hosts for the evening had to move the programme along and talked through at least 2 rounds of the waves.
  3. This year’s performance part of the parade was amazing. The lighting, the props, the costumes, the storyline, the flying performers – it was really entertaining and relatable. Beatrice Chia-Richmond and her team really did such a beautiful job.
  4. The use of technology was awesome too. We had little wrist lights that were so high tech that the lights could be controlled remotely. Depending on the scene of the performance, our little wrist lights would glow gently, or pulse according to the music, in varying colours.
  5. We got to sing-a-long with our favourite National Day songs. I think this is a really important part of the NDP. These are songs I grew up with and fostered nation building. I remember at the first NDP that I went for, the organisers somehow thought it would be a good idea to introduce a lot of new songs, and then tried to make it sound cooler by doing a techno or super fast paced version. It just wasn’t enjoyable!
  6. We learned sign language for the song Count On Me, Singapore, so we could sign along with the hearing impaired.
  7. The funpacks were really cool looking and easy to carry. My son loved his red backpack so much he wanted to carry it home by himself.

I was a little disappointed that there were no Red Lions parachuting into the stadium or gigantic fireworks (only little ones) because the stadium’s domed roof remained closed.

But this year’s performance more than made up for it. The general theme was about Singapore in the next 50 years, and us getting ready for it.

This will forever be stuck in my head.

You’ve got to watch this clip with the flying unicorn we had!

It was so beautiful. It was part of a scene that encouraged us to dream and chase those dreams. I tried to take a photo but the photo really didn’t do this scene justice. During this scene, everyone’s little wrist lights were pulsing in the same colours as the unicorn’s, so they looked like jewels against a black velvet backdrop.

I really appreciate how Singapore has evolved and changed.

As a child, I don’t remember anyone encouraging dreams or any out-of-the-box thinking. It was always, “you must do well in math and school, blahblahblah. killmenow. Needless to say I always felt a little out of place with all my ideas. But I’m glad we’re moving forward.

To end off, here are some photos of us enjoying our day! Oh I must say that the NDP volunteers/helpers did a really good job. They were attentive and helpful. And even when there was a huge crowd waiting to get onto the trains at Stadium MRT Station, they managed to keep everyone calm and orderly. There was no stampeding and no one was pushing to get onto the trains. Other than the fact it was really hot while we waited, (this is where the fans in the funpack came in handy) I really have no complaints.

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Walking to our gate outside the National Stadium
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Having some snacks while waiting for the parade to begin
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Daddy’s girl
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Me: “Smile Allegra!” Hence this half-assed-stopaskingmetosmilemama-smile.
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Family picture, minus Xaxa. There was no way we could bring her with the crowd and logistics. She did go for SG50’s NDP though, while she was in my tummy 🙂
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This little darling was happily dancing, and posing and smiling and enjoying herself. There are not many photos of Kaius because he doesn’t enjoy loud noises and he didn’t want to do much.
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The props in the air represent Singapore in 2065.
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Sing-a-long, fireworks, balloons and confetti!
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Sing-a-long, fireworks, balloons and confetti! Yeah that’s Kaius’ head and the bottom left corner of this photo and his little hands covering his ears.

Breakfast With Billionaires – Mr. Philip Ng

5 Lessons From a Billionaire Boss – CEO of Far East Organization.

5 Lessons From A Billionaire Boss, CEO of Property Developer Far East Organization

This week, I had the rare opportunity to attend a business breakfast with Billionaire and CEO of property developer Far East Organization, Mr. Philip Ng. According to Forbes, Philip and his brother, Robert, top Singapore’s rich list with a combined wealth of $11.5 Billion (as of Jan 2015).

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Clearly we were barely awake, but happy to be there!

He talked about his Christian faith and how it has impacted the way he conducts his business. Though I am not Christian, it was still a real privilege to listen and learn and it was like having a business mentor advising us on what to do and what not to do.

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Other than his sharing, Philip also answered some questions from the floor and these are the 5 lessons I learned:

#1: Be Smart & Shrewd For What Is Right

Philip shared about The Parable of The Shrewd Manager, which can be a very confusing parable. (Google it and you will be even more confused!)

In summary, there was a dishonest manager who was looking at losing his job. He then went to his boss’ debtors and discounted what they owed his boss, so that even after he lost his job he would still be welcomed by other people around him i.e. he would still be able to find a job and/or favour with these other people. His boss commended him, this dishonest manager, because he had acted shrewdly and used his creativity and wits to survive. (Yes, I know. Confusing, right?)

In the Bible, Jesus points out that what the shrewd manager did was clearly wrong, even though the boss of this shrewd manager commended him.

In essence, the point of the parable was that we must be clear about what is right and what is wrong, even though the world may not be. Do what is right and apply your creativity in the light to really live.

#2: Integrity Is Important

Secondly, with regard to the master commending the dishonest manager for doing something dishonest and illegal, the learning point here was just because something is “the done thing to do” in business, it does not necessarily make it right.

Integrity is important and your anchor will determine your value system.

#3 If You Want To Be At The Top, You Have To Do More Than What Everyone Else Is Willing To Do

Philip mentioned that he used to work a 6-day week plus Sunday for half a day (7am to 1pm) for site visits. While he admitted that he did work his employees very hard, it was also obvious he worked extremely hard as well.

When I was a lawyer, we represented Far East Organization in some financing deals. I do remember their in-house counsel mentioning they had to work a lot, probably even more than some lawyers in private practice.

To Philip, it was important to work all day on Saturday because there would be no meetings and no phone calls to take, so it would be the best time to review what they had and what they needed to do.

I so understand this point but in relation to working late at night or early in the morning, whether it is the weekend or not. There are no kids to bother me and I have time to think, review and strategise.

#4 Management 101: Empathy

However, when Philip became Christian, he realised that he needed to be more empathetic towards his employees in regards to their need to have time with their families. He also felt he could have done better in considering the human aspect in management.

So now he has made changes to that effect, for example, he no longer has anymore Sunday site visits because he feels it’s the right thing to do.

#5 Don’t Be In A Hurry To Succeed

This really struck a chord in me and it was like someone was using a loud hailer to drive this home in me.

Philip mentioned that many of us are in too much of a hurry to succeed and we pursue very single-mindedly the material things, pushing aside the things that really matter. He would have also liked to spend more quality time with his 6 children.

If someone as successful as Philip can say that we should be mindful of the things that really matter and not be too in a hurry to succeed, then perhaps we should listen.

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All in all, a very good morning!

Manic (Mentor) Monday

Claire Chiang, Co-Founder of Banyan Tree Hotels & Resorts

OMG.

I woke up to exciting news today!

Claire Chiang, Co-Founder of Banyan Tree Hotels & Resorts is going to be my Mentor!

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I recently became a member of the Young Women’s Leadership Connection (“YWLC“) because I wanted to be connected to a network of women who want to make a difference and who are about something.

YWLC is committed to connecting, nurturing, and empowering young women leaders between the ages of 21 and 35 with the aptitude and attitude to lead and serve. (If you’re 35 when you join, you’ll still be able to be a member until you’re 40).

Besides their many awesome events (I got to see Annie Leibovitz live because of them! Read my post here.), they run a yearly prestigious Mentorship Programme where their members get the chance to be mentored by power women in Singapore. For example, Senior Ministers of State like Indranee Rajah and Josephine Teo, Managing Director of UBS Wealth Management Singapore, Christine Ong, Managing Director of IBM Singapore, Janet Ang, and of course entrepreneurs like Claire Chiang, Senior Vice President of Banyan Tree Holdings. The Mentor list goes on.

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Picture Credit: Banyan Tree

The Importance of Mentors

I’m a firm believer that the right mentors are important to help you get to where you want to go. Mentors who have achieved what you want to achieve and who can save you from costly mistakes before you make them. In short, because of their experience, the right mentors provide valuable shortcuts to your success.

The Importance of Someone Like Claire Chiang

As an entrepreneur, I meet and hear about a lot of big businessmen who are really successful, and they have happy families also. But right away I can’t help but think – BIG DEAL, because these businessmen weren’t the ones raising their families. More often than not, it’s because they had a wife who didn’t need to work who was at home looking after everything there.

And in terms of balancing raising a business and a family from a woman’s point of view, what these businessmen could teach me was limited. I don’t have a wife at home to raise my family. I am the wife. And so is Claire Chiang. She has a husband, 3 kids and a super successful business so she’s really someone I want to emulate. She’s an original Supermamapreneur!

I can’t wait to start learning from her. I’m beyond thrilled! Can you tell?

On a side note, I told my mother about getting Claire Chiang as a Mentor and apparently my mother knows her. They used to be neighbours and Claire Chiang is Hainanese also (I’m half!) and my mother used to play on their piano before they got their own.

OMG. This. shit. just. got. serious.

LAWGICALLY SPEAKING: PUNCTUALITY

The Importance of Being On Time.

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Be On Time!

If you’re in  Singapore, you’ve probably already read about the High Court Judge who dismissed 4 applications to partly call 4 Practice Trainees to the Singapore Bar because their supervising lawyers were late.

This is the same judge who admitted me to the Singapore Bar.

For those who are not familiar with the legal industry in Singapore, Practice Trainees are trainee lawyers and to become a full fledged Advocate & Solicitor, your supervising lawyer will need to move your call in court i.e. they basically are the ones who tell the Court you’re ready to become a lawyer because you’ve completed the necessary training.

However, this instance was a part call, which allows these Practice Trainees a limited audience before the courts before being fully qualified for the  Bar.

For a judge to dismiss these applications to shame the supervising lawyers actually means the Practice Trainees will have to do all the paperwork to apply, again. And whatever responsibilities that were initially intended for them to take over after the part call would have to wait.

The supervising lawyers actually don’t have to do anything much but show up on time in Court. But I suppose the punishment is in making them give up their time, again. And of course, because of this newspaper article, shame them, publicly.

It’s actually not uncommon for lawyers to be late for Court because of scheduling conflicts. But I suppose the Court’s stance is that’s not a good excuse, which is also true.

Well, hang in there, TheUnfortunateFour Practice Trainees. The part call will roll around soon enough.

Read the article here.

Remembering LKY: My Sister, The Eulogist.

My sister was the only female (and young!) eulogist for Lee Kuan Yew’s funeral last year.

Last week, we had a mini family excursion to Temasek Polytechnic’s (TP) library for a memorial exhibition for Mr. Lee Kuan Yew. It was especially exciting for us because TP was featuring one of its alumna and my sister, Cassandra Chew, in this exhibition.

If her name sounds familiar, it’s because she was the only female (and young!) eulogist for Lee Kuan Yew’s funeral last year. And as a thank you, she was given one of the artillery shells from the 21-gun salute that occurred during the funeral procession and it is part of the exhibition’s central display.

To give an idea to non-Singaporeans of what a big deal this eulogy thing was, she delivered the eulogy in the presence of many world leaders, including Henry Kissinger and former US President Bill Clinton. So you see, I’m not bragging just because she’s my sister. It really is a BIG deal!

Lots of people ask me how she received such a privilege and the simplest answer is this: She interviewed Mr. Lee and his family for a book about his life at home (not yet published) and the picture book Lee Kuan Yew: A Life In Pictures whilst she was a journalist at Singapore Press Holdings.

Besides the fact that she is my sister, I thought it added more heart to the whole funeral because it was important to the decision-makers that the eulogist who represented Young Singaporeans actually knew Mr. Lee and got to spend some time with him.

I brought my 2 little girls along because I wanted them to be part of this moment in time with their Aunt (Kaius was at school). When they grow up and realise what an insane honour this is, they can also be amazed (like we were) at Ah Mai* Cass’ achievements. For this is her legacy, and they got to be part of it.

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LKY & I: Exhibition Area at Temasek Polytechnic Library

 

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Wisdom. This applies to running a business too, no?
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Artillery shell displayed next to a computer replaying her eulogy.
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Up close. I wonder where she’ll put it at home when all the exhibitions are done.
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So exciting! Me & Cass.
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“We don’t have everything but we have more than most, because of your lifelong labour.”
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Left to right: My brother, Paul; Cass; My other brother, Kevin; Me; Xaxa; My mama; My helper; Allegra

 

Exhibition information: 

‘LKY & I: Remembering 23rd March’ The exhibition is open to the public from 24 March to 15 April 2016 during the Library opening hours:

Mon-Fri: 8.30am to 7pm; Sat: 8.30am to 1pm. Sun/PH & where the eve of PH falls on a Sat: Closed

*Ah Mai is Hainanese for an Auntie who is younger than her niece’s or nephew’s mother or father.

Watch Cassandra’s eulogy here. The transcript:

I did not know Mr Lee Kuan Yew personally for most of my life. We met while I was on two assignments as a journalist – documenting his life at home and collecting photographs for a picture book for his 90th birthday.

I met him up close six times, for meetings and interviews, from July 2011. Most were large, formal meetings at the Istana. Naturally I was on my best behaviour.

After all, this was the man who had led Singapore to independence, triumphed over his opponents in a storied political career spanning over 60 years, and transformed a sleepy colonial outpost into a bustling metropolis. And there he was, in person.

I didn’t dare to say a word to him until my editor made me lead one of the interviews. He thought Mr Lee would enjoy the interaction with a younger Singaporean.

I was so nervous I could hear my heart pounding before the meeting, and actually felt a headache coming on. I braced myself to be peppered with questions on whether I was married, when I planned to have children or whether I spoke Mandarin often enough – questions Mr Lee, as you know, was known to ask young Singaporeans he met.

But there was none of that during the 80-minute interview, which was focused on the beginnings of his political career. There was no room for nervousness either.

He came in, sat down, and asked, “Who’s going to start?” And with that, the interview began. As always, Mr Lee was focused on the task at hand.

Over time, I gained more glimpses of what he was like as a person. For instance, it was a thrill for me to learn from his oral history that he once failed an art exam in primary school. But that was of course a small blemish on his distinguished academic record.

I also learned that in his later years he craved his late mother’s gado-gado and mee siam, which thankfully, his sister, Madam Monica Lee, could replicate.

I made at least eight visits to 38 Oxley Road, where I went into all the rooms. But the only time I saw him at home was during our 20-minute photo shoot which began in his study, where he spent most of his time while at home.

He was in good spirits that day, dressed in a white, short-sleeved shirt, dark trousers and his trademark sports shoes. It looked as if he had been going through his email at his desk, which also had newspapers, magazines, binders of papers and stationery, all neatly arranged.

It was clear that even at home, his focus was on his work. It didn’t matter to him that his furniture was more than 60 years old and outdated. They served their purpose and that was all that mattered. That was how he lived his life: very simply and frugally, and always putting the country first and his own creature comforts second.

We moved to the living room, which was also a very private space because it was where the late Mrs Lee was remembered. Her photographs were displayed in two rows above her urn, and I was told Mr Lee would gaze at them daily as he had his meals.

I could feel how much Mr Lee missed his late wife. She was his partner, his anchor, for more than 63 years.

The last set of photos we took at his home are my favourite. Seated on a chair by a wooden table on the verandah, Mr Lee flashed a bright smile. They turned out to be the best photos on the reel.

No one knows about this, but to thank him for the photo shoot that day, I had prepared two chocolate cupcakes after learning how much he enjoyed chocolate. I even got the bakery to label each cupcake so he’d know exactly what kind of chocolate cupcake it was. But, on the day, I was far too excited and dropped the box before I could present them to Mr Lee.

I had been reflecting on what I was learning about Mr Lee, as a person and founder of independent Singapore, and had just begun to understand just how much he and his family had sacrificed to ensure Singapore’s success. I realised how much I had taken for granted, and how much more I had to thank him for.

To me, Mr Lee had transformed from an elderly statesman who our textbooks say did a lot for us but didn’t quite seem relevant to my daily life, to a man for whom I developed a deep sense of gratitude and appreciation. So much of Singapore began to make sense to me now that I had seen the world through his eyes.

I decided to try to express my thanks again, and wrote him a Thank You card. I had so much to say, but did not know how to say it, and ended up writing four simple lines. A few weeks later, I received a reply. True to his personality, his response was brief and to the point. “Thank you”, he wrote, and signed off as “LKY”. I was thrilled to have heard back from him, but a little sad that I did not convey what I felt in my heart.

This is my last chance. Mr Lee, thank you for everything. Some days I cannot believe how fortunate I am to have been born a Singaporean. We don’t have everything, but we have more than most, because of your lifelong labour. On behalf of young Singaporeans everywhere, I’d like to say: thank you.