She already has a million miles on United and more than sixty trips to Asia under her wings, but Victoria’s latest venture not only takes her back to her roots, but also realizes the project of a lifetime.
Grew up: I was born in Shanghai and immigrated as first generation Chinese to Madison, Wisconsin as a second grader. I knew exactly 3 words in English, “hello, goodbye, and shut-up”. Although both my parents were fluent in English, we spoke only Chinese at home. I’m still fluent in Chinese but today I’m told I speak it with an American accent.
Now live in: Newton, MA.
When I was 22, I thought I'd be: A college professor teaching East Asian Studies. In fact I came to Harvard to do graduate work and after 2 years I’d had enough of school and took a leave of absence to write a high school curriculum around Asian studies.
Describe your professional career: I’d describe is as fragmented. I’m a restless professional. I did go on to develop a curriculum in Asian Studies for tenth graders when schools had the money to provide funding for it. And then a recession hit, money dried up and I had to rethink what I was doing. I took time off and went around and talked to people. Back then, that meant all men by the way. Everyone advised me to go back to school and get an MBA. So with a young son at home, I went into the Boston College accelerated program part time. Fast forward and the next years I spent in banking, marketing, finance and corporate lending--and this was during the time when interstate banking was really taking off and mergers and corporate planning were where the big jobs were. My last significant corporate position was with Wellington Management, before family health issues pulled me away for a period of time. When I came back to work from those I started my own consulting practice.
Who were your role models and/or mentors? My most vivid role models were men at the Bank of New England. Women role models were virtually nonexistent back then, or most often negative forces. I was the oldest trainee and the oldest career changer they had ever hired and though I had no bank experience I had life experience. What these guys did, and not overtly, was put me in roles where I could shine, and gave me challenges where they knew I could succeed. They helped me maneuver around that complex organization using skills I’d developed in other parts of my life. They used to joke around about needing to hire more late career changers rather than kids right out of business school. I always got a kick out of that!
What are you up to now? For the past four years I’ve been fully immersed in a film project and initiative which I’m about to launch in the form of a web site in mid October/early November. The concept is centered on energizing and encouraging women around the world to start their own businesses by providing them with successful entrepreneurs as mentors and role models who have achieved dreams and financial independence. What’s unique is that we’re doing this through one-on-one, high impact, digital story telling.
Where did the idea come from? I had been traveling in Asia a lot; sometimes three or four times a year. Over the course of several visits I had the opportunity to piggy back a research study similar to one done for The Boston Club. I interviewed 25 Singaporean women who had all achieved significant corporate success, and I talked to them about their particular management and leadership styles. The more I thought about these interviews, the more powerful I thought these stories could be. And more universal. I decided to take these original interviews and formalize them into a larger thematic initiative, which evolved into this project.
What’s it called? The Story Exchange. The URL is www.thestoryexchange.org We struggled with what to name it, but in the end it was perfectly obvious. We know stories are so important. We learn from each other’s stories, that’s how histories are recorded and connections to achievements and achievers are understood.
What are you hoping to achieve with this project? In the broadest sense, and as I’ve written in our organizational mission statement, I hope this website and these women entrepreneurs will inspire and encourage women around the world to start their own businesses so they can improve their livelihood and take charge of their economic destinies. I purposefully started with women in Singapore to immediately give this a global intention. As the project evolved we also interviewed entrepreneurs in Hong Kong. Our portfolio now reflects women in different stages of growth and different industries; they are powerful and inspiring role models, which is exactly what I was hoping to capture and convey. Each of these women also understands her responsibility to bring the next generation along. That’s very important to me, too. The women in The Story Exchange share a lot in common with each other, yet each is remarkable in her own right. They believe in a culture of collaboration and they use female traits that business schools are all talking about, teaching, and incorporating in management and entrepreneurial studies. What’s great about these women is that each of them is also very real. We don’t have a lot of real role models here in the United States. We may have Martha and Oprah, but they’re not role models, they’re celebrities. The women in The Story Exchange are very, very real.
What’s been the biggest challenge in pulling it together and pulling it off? First was finding a filmmaker who would conceptually embrace what were loosely held ideas floating around in my head, and take them to a great creative level. I was lucky to have found a tremendous partner in that. Second, of course, was funding. I’ve been the principal producer for the project and in initial meetings with potential funders all I had were words on paper. Now we have a terrific product to show and I hope it will be a bit easier to find support for the project going forward.
What are you hoping people will be saying and/or talking about it? I hope that we’ll get a community of buzz going for our site, because that’s the intent and how we’re setting it up. It will function as a community for young and aspiring entrepreneurs and we want it to gain momentum and support globally. We’re also targeting the 110 Women’s Business Centers in the US that have thousands of women taking courses and learning to start their own businesses. We’ve had keen interest from this academic community for what we’re doing. That’s been pretty cool.
Last Great Book Read: Let The Great World Spin, by Colum McCann. A worthy read, especially given the recent anniversary of 9/11.
Your Boston Club “moment”? That’s easy! When I was asked to take over the Mentoring Committee. When I see where that program has evolved to, how many members have participated in it, and how many vital connections within the Club have been made because of it, I’m very, very fulfilled. You see, it’s all about connections, isn’t it?