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Lisa Tse: the art of entrepreneurial dreams

Studies have revealed that while men start businesses primarily for profit potential and career enhancement, women will set up businesses to achieve personal attainment and motivation; although many women entrepreneurs will agree that financial profitability is the key to survival. The competitive design industry may not be the obvious career choice for a young girl, but for Lisa Tse, the affirmative belief to make dreams come true meant setting aside all the odds. It is no surprise that her drive to be the best has made her a successful entrepreneur at the young age of 31. The list of her clients is impeccable: from schools for entrepreneurs, to packaging for world’s finest skin care; the range of products is just as diverse as the various creative designing areas she has handled with perfection. She blends creative flair with business acumen that she inherited from her father, while assisting him in running the family business. “I was lucky to learn the basics of business from an early age and realised that there was a big gap between the creative world and the business world. You tend to be visionary in suggesting a creative approach to a product, but it might not be best from the business perspective. I can mediate and navigate both worlds – they both speak very different languages.” Lisa was selected to become the Global Creative Director for the Body Shop but declined so that she could pursue her own entrepreneurial capacity and spearhead a diverse range of projects.

We agreed to meet at the Mews, in Mayfair, the heart of fashionable London. This restaurant is another feather in her cap, its swanky décor and brand identity has been the work of Lisa’s creative input. Squashed behind the main artery in a cobbled path, it is where young bankers, executives and art dealers are seen hobnobbing with celebrities. I ease the discomforting look of a bartender at the mention of her name and was escorted to a large comfy chair in the lounge area where I sat waiting for her, while the waitresses’ scurried around getting the tables ready; quarter past three is bit too early for the London nightlife to kick start. Lisa arrives 15 minutes late and orders a green tea for herself. It is hard to imagine a soft-spoken Lisa negotiating with the industrial gurus and top executives about the creative strategies to increase profit margins. Minus the no-nonsense-I-mean-business approach is counterbalanced by her steely confidence that comes across in measured sentences poured out in perfect grammar. Coming from a Chinese background, her family moved from Honk Kong to Britain, and she considers herself fortunate to have been raised with Asian work ethics which paved her way in becoming successful, “I believe in being true to yourself; if you have dreams and you can’t wait to realise them, you have to go out and get them.” But unlike many Asian families who are focus-driven to prepare their children for a career in the fields of medicine or finance, Lisa was encouraged by her parents to pursue any career choice that she wanted to: “My parents have been supportive throughout and told me to do whatever I was best at. I always appreciated that support from them.”

After graduating from the internationally renowned institute Saint Martins, in London, she was fortunate enough to be selected for some projects in the final year, and it was smooth sailing from then on. From the start, Lisa realised that the blending of brand image and logo can only work well if the focus is customer-driven, “It was incidental luck. I realised that those who make and sell cosmetics are all men; they are married, they have girlfriends but they could not understand what women wanted.”

For most women, self-employment is the ideal way to juggle family life with career demands and stiff competition in the fields that are male-dominated make it more prevalent to opt for a role where they can be their own boss and work in a routine that is flexible. Running a business is hard work and time-consuming, combined with a maverick streak for love of work, and the refusal to make a choice between job and family has led Lisa to believe that women can be their own bosses and also enjoy a number of roles, “The world is created with opportunities. It is more challenging for women because men make rules. No one can tell you that you are not good enough.” Authority is not something that is automatically granted. For a woman who works with
Lisa knows too well the importance of maintaining the right image, “I have been to board meetings where if you did not have a Mont Blanc pen it did not work and at the same time, if I was too stylish I was not taken seriously. Being in my field, people expect you to be expressive.”

She became the founder of a club, which despite its very ingrained message of introduction, “an exclusive creative business club for professional women,” Lisa likes to believe fulfills her ideals that personal achievement is not all about making it to high-powered positions but a celebration of womanhood. “I have met a lot of inspiring women, they have children, family, but all of them felt isolated. I celebrate women; there are so many different things we can do. The club is all about a platform where female knowledge can trickle down to those who can benefit from women who are ambitious and very good at what they do.” Derived from the Latin word for ‘sisters’, The Sorority has attracted the membership of some of the many high-powered names which also includes the former High Commissioner to UK, Dr Maleeha Lodhi.

In light of the prevailing economic recession, Lisa understands the fragility of the current situation, “I know things can come quickly and can disappear quickly.” On that note we ended our conversation. Outside, under a dusky sky, parked Jaguars and Porsches tighten the narrow road, as tired looking men in suits and women hobbling in stilettos and carrying designer totes walked past the rows of tables covered with starched white-cloths, to order their meals inside the restaurant.

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