“I brought you guys here to show you what we do,” David says.
“You make sandwiches now?” I joke as I look at the lanchonete counter.
David laughs. “Well that’s one way of putting it, but there’s a bit more to it: we actually work to enable and encourage disadvantaged youth to develop careers in gastronomy. So this means we provide cookery courses and help students to develop sustainable food businesses within their communities.”
“Wow, that’s pretty inspiring… definitely takes gastronomy to a different level!”
David nods. “We wanted to use food, the universal language of humanity, as a social tool to empower unskilled and disadvantaged youth to become a generation of grass-root entrepreneurs. Our hope is that they will then be able to lift their families and communities out of poverty and hunger.”
“Pretty amazing! So are you getting the results you hoped for?” “I personally think so,” says David. “But why don’t you ask Fabiana, a student in one of my classes who has become a partner in the project.”
Fabiana smiles and says: “Gastromotiva has really changed my life. I’m so proud to be part of it and to be working so closely with David, he’s a real source of inspiration. When I met him, I had a tiny lanchonete here in Paraisopolis making pastel and other homemade sweets. I’ve learnt so much about business since we started working together and I’ve been able to expand both my lanchonete and my business.”
“Do you think it’s also changed your position in the community?” I ask her.
“Definitely,” she says proudly. “I think I play an important role in the community now. I select new students for our community cooking classes, so everybody knows me and knows the work of Gastromotiva. People recognise that this project can improve living standards in the community and change the image of the favela.”
I’m in Cannes on the French Riviera. Cannes is synonymous to luxury, glamour, but it’s also the place of the big international events like the ‘Palme d’Or Film Festival’ and the ‘Lions Festival of Creativity’.
I am here to meet Alexandre Reza Lahouti, a successful serial entrepreneur who built his small empire of retail concepts, franchises and real estate.
We walk over the famous Boulevard de la Croisette and I ask him about the secret of his success.
“I think it’s a combination of things,” he answers. It is about spotting the right opportunity, believing in your own capacities and act quickly.
“I realize I make it sound real easy, but it is not. It demands a lot of time and risk management. And of course, you have to know when to exit, find the right moments to sell.
Born in Manhattan, on the upper east side of New York City, and raised between there and Westport, Connecticut, Elizabeth Marks graduated from Clark University in 1987 with a BA in ‘Psychology, Political Science and Sociology’. During her tenure at Clark she spent her junior year studying at the University of London – while interning in British Parliament for a member of the then Social Democratic Party (SDP).
After beginning her career in the marketing department of Adweek Magazine, where she later returned while earning her MA in ‘Media Theory’ at the University of Pennsylvania, Elizabeth headed to Madrid to hone her Marketing and Spanish skills at Anderson Consulting (Accenture). After leading business development at creative and media agencies for Omnicom and IPG, It was no coincidence that in 2002 she was snatched up by the Spanish-founded/Havas owned media agency MPG as their Chief Marketing Officer. From their US headquarters, Elizabeth helped assimilate the ‘new world shop with old world roots’ into the American market.
Her role also included prospecting for new business and landing quintessential American accounts, including a $27 million deal with Amtrak. For the last decade, Elizabeth has worked as an independent global business developer and consultant, dividing her time between New York and Paris; a city with which she has a long-standing love and appreciation, and traveling throughout the globe to places such Singapore, Dubai, and Brazil. I meet this impressive media maven in Central Park, New York.
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Brazilian creative Luciano Martins lives in São Paulo after periods spent abroad in London and Paris pursuing design studies, as well as an MBA. In 2005, he joined forces with businessman Fábio Mattar Puppi to establish Casa Petra where his creative mind is the driving force behind the event company’s extraordinary high-end ‘experiences’.
Experiences that run the gamut from private to corporate events and are reputed for their wow-factor and incredible attention to detail. An out-of-the-box original thinker, Luciano draws inspiration from global trends and travel. And, following demand from clients, created the 1-18 Project to extend these unique experiences to the interior design of homes and offices. Not only is this new venture currently listed as one of the Top 3 Companies in the state of São Paulo, but it has already garnered a coveted Webby Award for one project – CUBOCC – along the way. A busy man, Luciano is also the vice-president of Abrafesta, the Brazilian Association of Social Events, where he plays a societal and occasionally political role. I meet this remarkable man in Casa Petra.
The secret is in the details of the concept and the execution – Luciano Martins
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I’m in Bangkok to meet Praew Sripaisal, a Thai entrepreneur and businesswoman who is trying to change young Thai women’s attitudes and give them more confidence to lead the lives they want to lead.
Praew herself did not follow the classic path expected of girls in Thailand. “I’m not a typical Thai girl,” Praew tells me, “I didn’t do ballet, I didn’t have cooking classes, I went into sports and then after school I studied in the US for 10 years.”
After working for the family business upon her return, she launched her own fashion brand, DA+PP. She’s asked me to meet her at the brand’s latest pop-up store on the third floor of the Central World Mall in Bangkok.
“I understand that DA+PP is about more than just fashion and clothing,” I say as we stroll through the store. “You have a message you want to share with the next generation, is that right?”
“I want to tell young people to take the opportunity to be themselves, choose their own path and to create their own style,” says Praew with determination.
“So with your company you are setting an example for other Thai entrepreneurs?”
“I try to,” says Praew. “Traditionally in Thailand entrepreneurship was frowned upon. Young people were – and still are in many cases – expected to study, get a job and then slowly work their way up the ladder. The idea of starting something on one’s own and breaking with this hierarchical system is very new, it’s only in the last decade or so that people have started to see entrepreneurship as an option, but there is still a long way to go.”
“What are key challenges facing young entrepreneurs then?
“Most entrepreneurs don’t have a clear vision of what they are doing or why they are doing it and that means eight in ten businesses fail. Those who succeed are the ones who have a purpose for their brand and their company.
“In my case, I am also trying to change the leadership style at DA+PP from the traditional authoritarian style to a more horizontal system where staff at all levels can have a say and where responsibility is spread through the team. I believe this kind of inclusive leadership also strengthens the brand.”
“So in a way you are redefining traditional business and leadership models, and breaking some rules along the way?” I say with a smile.
Praew laughs. “I don’t necessarily want to break the rules, I just want to show people that there is another way. So that they can choose how they want to live their lives.
“You know that the social division between boys and girls is still very traditional in Thailand. We get pushed into a certain role. And that’s fine, as long as you know that there is an alternative.
“Especially for girls, my message is: be independent. Think and speak up about what you believe and want, and make sure there is a real purpose to it.”
I was born in St Petersburg in Russia. Historically it’s a city with many European influences. It started in the 17th century with Tsar Peter the Great. He led a cultural revolution and replaced the traditionalist medieval political system with one that was modern, scientific and Europe-oriented.
I grew up in this open-minded society and after studying psychology, I decided to follow in the footsteps of Peter the Great. He travelled incognito to Europe on an 18-month journey and ended up in the Netherlands. He learned much about life in Western Europe and studied shipbuilding in Amsterdam.
I also went to the Netherlands. Not to study shipbuilding, but to study branding. I too learned much about life in Western Europe but also noticed a huge gap in cultural understanding between Europe and Russia, even though St. Petersburg is only a two-hour flight from Amsterdam.
Initially, I saw my education and my point of view as the standard. But I soon learned that there is no single standard, no single point of view. Each culture is different and this diversity is what makes the world interesting.
However, recently I have I found that there is one thing that all cultures have in common: it’s not where you come from, but what you stand for that makes people want to connect with you. And it’s not what you do, but why you do it that makes people want to connect to you.
So I decided to build bridges between Russia and Europe by helping people on both sides of the gap explain what they stand for and thus create reasons to connect. It’s a kind of matchmaking based on vision and motivation – the desire to create a connection on a higher level.
I tell people to stop hiding behind prejudices and, instead, celebrate our differences. We are different but if you look closer, we all want the same. Trust me, I studied psychology.
So call me an idealist, call me naïve but I believe we should open up and I don’t think we need a cultural revolution to make it happen. We live in the time of globalization where, with the help of the new technologies, we can connect to each and every person on Earth.
You want to connect with people? Write your story, publish your vision. It will make you stand out from the crowd.
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Your life. Your choice. Your destiny – Aur See You
Bangkok-based Aur See You has worked with brands, including Red Bull, Nike and Philips, royalty, celebrities and political leaders. She consults, lectures and leads workshops on Dhaksa, an ancient holistic profiling system comprising personology, numerology and environmental pyschology. In short: she ‘reads’ people and houses, helping individuals through work or personal challenges by giving them the tools to chart the course of their own lives.
I meet this remarkable woman at her home in the Thai capital. A veritable oasis in the heart of the buzzing city, I almost feel as though I’m in the countryside.
How would you describe what you do?” I ask her.
“Everything in life is connected: your name, the time you were born, the clothes you wear, the house you live in. Since my grandfather introduced me to this idea more than 30 years ago, I’ve spent a lot of time studying how these things are connected and how the mechanism of certain things can influence – and even change – your life.
“The whole universe works in cycles, such as the seasons – spring, summer, autumn, winter. I can read these cycles – or patterns – and work with them. When people say ‘Well, that’s life. Something has happened and we can’t do anything about it’, I help them understand how everything is connected and show them the cause and effect; what caused this thing to happen. But most importantly, I find a solution.”
“How does this work?”
“Using nature’s four elements: earth, air, water, fire. We are all connected – humans, plants, all the creatures that live on earth. And because we were all created by these four elements, the connection is already there, from the moment we’re born. We draw on these elements all the time. For example, when you’re tired, you take a walk in nature and end up re-energised. Most of the time though, this happens unconsciously. But if you understand how the elements work together and influence each other, you can benefit from it consciously.
“Can you briefly describe Dhaksa for me?”
“It’s a combination of natural and social science; a knowledge and understanding of nature, its cycles and characteristics, and our interrelation with it. In Dhaksa, however, nature encompasses more than flora and fauna alone: it also includes man-made structures, our own bodies and everything else in this world.”
“What motivates you?” I ask her.
A few years ago, I was diagnosed with an advanced stage of cancer. Doctors told me I had only a few months to live. They were wrong, however. I survived. But it’s given me an extra drive in life. I realised that if I had died, I would have taken my knowledge with me. I now feel the responsibility to share what I’ve learnt so it won’t be lost.
“What do you want to achieve in the next five years?” I ask.
“I want to be teaching all over the world. By creating educational events and workshops on the one hand and by speaking pro bono at universities on the other. I want to teach as many people as possible how they can master their own lives. I want to truly connect the world.”
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I’m on Singapore’s famous Orchard Road, Asia’s Champs Elysées, and I’m on my way to meet Stephanie Hancock and her partner Guy Wachs. I know Stephanie from the time she was working for the global ad agency JWT. Guy used to be the F&B manager at Swissôtel in Bangkok before Stephanie and he moved to Singapore. In 2009 she and Guy started Wild Honey, an all-day breakfast concept restaurant which was the first of its kind in Singapore.
“I hope you haven’t eaten yet,” says Stephanie when I arrive. “There are some great dishes you should try. My personal favourite is the ‘Aussie’, Australian grain-fed sirloin with dad’s baked beans and a home-made tomato chutney. It reminds me of the breakfasts my mum used to make us before school.”
As we settle at a table on the outdoor terrace and I browse through the menu, I ask Stephanie and Guy how they came up with the idea of an all-day breakfast restaurant.
“We’ve travelled so much in our lives,” says Stephanie. “I was born in Australia, and have lived in Canada, the US and Thailand; Guy was born in Israel, lived in Switzerland, Germany and the US; our son was born in New York… So there we were, three nationalities, where to settle? That’s when we found our home here in Singapore.
“And our menu is a sort of photo album with signature dishes from across the world, featuring many of the places we’ve visited or lived in. Some of our all time favourites are ‘I Love New York’, ‘Parisienne’ and of course ‘The Spicy Tunisian’.”
“Is Wild Honey mostly a place for expats?” I ask. “Do they come here to find their home breakfast here?”
“No, definitely not,” says Guy. “Of course everyone is welcome but we want to share our travel and gastronomy experiences with the people of Singapore. I love to see a three-generation Chinese family eating ‘Eggs Benedict’ or a group of young Malaysians enjoying a good ‘Californian’.
“Our focus here is to be as creative with breakfast as possible and to offer dishes that are interesting and different from what is on offer elsewhere, dishes that are beautiful to look at and delicious to eat. We are very particular about where our produce comes from and work with many local suppliers to develop special products you can only find at Wild Honey, like our special COMMON MAN Roasters coffee.
“Stephanie and I are dedicated to the history of the dishes and to the craft of cooking – making our own jams, cordials, pastries and cakes with recipes borrowed from our mothers and grandmothers. All our dishes have a story and that’s what we love.”
“I think the best thing is for you to taste it all yourself!” says Stephanie, “We’ve prepared you the ‘Portobello Road’ and ‘Boulevard St. Michel’, so see what you think!”
Wild Honey is more than a restaurant; it is also a meeting place. Two of the other people I met here are famous local DJ Rozzie Roz and the multiple award-winning movie producer Anthony Chen.
I’m about to meet Yue Sai Kan, the Emmy award-winning television producer and fashion icon who was designated ‘Most Famous Woman in China’ by People magazine.
It’s hard to know where to start describing Yue Sai’s achievements, as her career has been so diverse. She has built her brands between east and west (China and the U.S.), and excelled at everything from the production of TV documentaries and weekly talk shows to the launch of cosmetics and lifestyle brands and the authoring of seven books. Oh, and she’s also the only Chinese UNICEF ambassador and does a lot of humanitarian to improve the status of women in China.
“Your resume is so incredible and I have so many questions that I don’t know what to ask first!” I tell her when I meet her for lunch at her home in Shanghai. We’re sitting in her spacious dining room, which has great views of the city and is tastefully decorated in a mixture of eastern and western styles.
Yue Sai laughs. “Well maybe I can start telling you about one of the things I am most proud of: my first TV show in China, One World, which aired in the 1980s. I believe it really changed China’s view of the world and, indirectly, also the way the Chinese viewed themselves.
“In what way?” I ask.
“Well it was when China was still very closed and for many people it was the first glimpse of other cultures. Imagine that we had 300 million viewers a week! The fact that the show was in English was also unique: it exposed people to a foreign language in a very direct, but also fun way.”
“I read that you also did a lot to change Chinese women’s image of themselves,” I say.
“Yes,” says Yue Sai. “This is also something I am very proud of. It was the early 1990s and China was coming out of the Dark Ages so to speak. With the launch of my cosmetics brand Yue Sai, I showed women that they can take charge of their lives. I was a role model and an inspiration for women.”
“How did you do that through a cosmetics brand though?”
“The Yue Sai brand was about more than lipstick and mascara: it was effectively the first beauty brand in China and it encouraged Chinese women to be proud of their image. We gave women the idea they could not only change the way they looked but also change other aspects of their lives: career, education… The core message was hugely empowering.”
“How have you seen the Chinese market evolve since you started off?”
“When I started, China was a closed market: there were no customers, so we had to create them. We had to explain everything from scratch and then we were faced with complicated laws and logistics. There were huge obstacles, but we overcame them.
“Another aspect is that when I started there were no women entrepreneurs. That is different now: today there are many women entrepreneurs and they are active in all sectors. Effectively, while China faces challenges in the business environment, like corruption, I think it is fair to say that we have really closed the gender gap: women and men are totally equal in China. In that sense, China is fantastic.”
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I’m in Shanghai, a city of 24 million inhabitants and one of the busiest metropolitan areas in China.
I’m here to meet with Carol Potter, CEO for Greater China for the ad agency BBDO. Of British origin, she has been living and working in Asia for many years. Carol mainly has global clients and plays an important role in translating Western brand messages to the Chinese market. She receives me at her office that overlooks the city, and after a short introduction she starts telling me about her work.
“The Chinese consumer is obviously not like the Western consumer,” she says. “And while the Chinese are changing rapidly, they are not becoming like Western consumers. We have to understand the difference in culture, norms and values. And while we of course share some fundamental needs and desires like the need to be loved and to belong, we will always have to view these needs through the lens of cultural differences.”
“So how are Chinese consumers changing?” I ask. “What’s happening? I know they are modernizing rather than Westernizing, but what does that mean exactly?”
“Well, that is a hard question to answer, particularly in the midst of rapid change. That’s why we conduct our own research with the help of an independent company called Jigsaw. We ask the questions that our clients don’t usually ask in their research.
“We don’t look specifically at brands and categories,” says Carol. “We ask about life and how it feels to be a young Chinese consumer nowadays.”
“And what do you find?”
“Young Chinese feel they are under great pressure to be financially successful. Our research has shown that while roughly a half of them are satisfied with their financial situation and believe it will get better in the next 12 months, 41% agree that they have to work harder and longer hours to succeed. And a full 75% of them feel a ‘big pressure in their everyday lives’. On top of which the vast majority need to make their parents proud, and for their parents ‘having material things’ defines success.”
“So it sounds like there is a lot more stress in life than, say, 25 years ago,” I say.
Carol nods. “Definitely: 65% of the people we spoke to believe that their life is more stressful than it was for the older generation. And it is not only about material success. Men must find wives in a society where there is an imbalance in the numbers of women and men, and where over one quarter of women earn more money than their partner. In cities like Shanghai, without a good job, an apartment and a car they can forget proposing to anyone.”
“It sounds like being young in Chine is pretty tough these days.”
“It is,” Carol nods. “But you know this generation is not just driven by selfish desires. There is also a genuine desire to improve society. So for example, 85% believe that social progress can provide a better environment for self-development and a significant 61% have volunteered for a charity.”
“That’s interesting,” I say. “So do you think people believe that these rapid changes are eroding social values?”
“There has been much debate in the Chinese media and especially social media as to whether China is pushing too far too fast and in its haste losing its moral values and compass. Certainly 68% agree that China is in ‘too much of a hurry to succeed’. And sadly only 23% agree that people of their own age have strong moral values.
“While they are proud of China’s rising national strength and its history and culture, over a third are not proud of its morality and lack of integrity. However they do recognize that China has very strong traditional values and there seems to be a genuine desire to return to some of them. The discussion and the intentions are very encouraging.”
“So where does branding come into this rapidly changing consumer landscape?” I ask.
“In the midst of all of this change and stress, brands can play an important role. People want to realise their progress and really feel their own success. Being able to buy, own or experience certain brands can help them in this. They can also provide valuable self-indulgence or reward in an otherwise relentlessly stressful world. Perhaps most importantly brands and the companies behind them can help to stand for values and purposes that can help improve the tenor of society.
“You’ve been working and living in Asia and China for quite some time,” I say. “How have you seen the changes impact your agency?“
“Well,” Carol says, “I guess what stands out for me is how our agency has adapted in response to the changing Chinese consumer. It goes without saying that social media, online video and experiential have all taken on a greater significance. In general I think our work is more creative than it used to be. Chinese consumers were previously sometimes looked down upon a bit, as if they would buy anything that was on offer. That was unfair. The challenge was that they suddenly had a massive choice and they weren’t used to that. So we needed to find how to communicate in a way that would compensate for the lack of visceral understanding that consumers in other markets have built up over years.”
“How did you do that? And do you see storytelling fitting into this framework?” I ask.
“We are always trying to find a way to short-cut the building up of an emotional brand identity, and a good story is one very effective way of doing that,” Carol says. “Stories can create emotions and memory structures as well as impart information in a way that is easily absorbed. This can all help consumers to navigate the world of brands and make their choices easier. That is a very useful job we can do for them: to help make consumers’ life easier and more meaningful by guiding them through the jungle of choices.”
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I’m on my way to meet Sung-Joo Kim, one of Asia’s top businesswomen. Sung-Joo is the ultimate self-made woman: after her father – a wealthy Korean business tycoon – disowned her because she refused to enter into an arranged marriage, she started her own business from scratch.
Today she sits at the head of her own business emporium, the Sungjoo Group, which acquired the Swiss-German luxury leather goods and apparel company MCM in 2005. She has faced – and overcome – huge challenges, which is why I think she’s an incredible role model for women in Asia and around the world.
She’s asked me to meet her at the MCM flagshipstore which houses a cool cafe and as we settle down with our caffe lattes, I ask her whether she believes there is a difference between women’s versus men’s leadership styles.
“Oh definitely,” says Sung-Joo. “Men are vertical and women are horizontal, it’s simple. And I think the latter is much better suited to the 21st-century knowledge-based economy. I don’t believe that women are better than men, rather that we all need to learn to harmonize our skills and competencies and complement each other better. Women have a stronger nurturing instinct, and this means we care about community and society in a very different way than men.”
“Does this ‘motherly’ approach also show up in your personal style of leadership?”
“Yes it does on a certain level: I see the company’s 10,000 employees as my family and I do everything I can to look out for them and care for them. At the same time, I am very detail-oriented and can sometimes be too exacting. I have very high standards – I need to because we position products at the very top of the luxury retail industry.”
“So you sometimes have to apply tough love, is that right?”
“I guess you could put it that way,” Sung-Joo laughs. “But you know the retail industry is a real battlefield and the best training for new leaders is to go straight out onto that battlefield. I push them into the deep end and they learn to swim pretty quickly. I see it as a way of empowering the next generation of leaders.”
“What other messages do you try to convey to young women leaders in your company?”
“To be wise and to believe in yourself. Be proactive. Take on challenges and have a critical perspective. You should not be forced into a situation but try to take charge of a situation by yourself. Today’s knowledge-based economy desperately needs smart women leadership and so my motto is: ‘Girls, be ambitious!’
“I encourage women to find their inner strength and abilities. I tell them: ‘If you are 10 times worse off than other people, make yourself 10 times smarter and be 10 times quicker in overcoming hardship. Remember, there are many things you can do better than men because you are a woman.”
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I’m in Chicago at the Adler Planetarium where I’m meeting Ann Druyan, the writer, producer and director of Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey, the new Fox miniseries hit that is set to make television history. This was one of the 10 US venues where Cosmos premiered in March 2014, in what has been described as the largest premiere for a television series in history.
The new 13-part miniseries is a follow-up to the 1980 television series Cosmos: A Personal Voyage, which Ann co-wrote with her late husband Carl Sagan and which is still considered a milestone for scientific documentaries. The new series loosely follows the same 13-episode format and storytelling approach that the original Cosmos used, but features information updated since the 1980 series along with extensive computer-generated graphics and animation footage to augment the narration.
I ask Ann what motivated her to bring back Cosmos 34 years after the original documentary was aired and why she did it now.
“Well, first of all it’s a completely different series, Steve Soter and I wrote 13 new hours of incredible material,” she says. “And while it builds on some elements of the original and certainly drops its hat to Carl in many ways, it is a completely new series.
“And why we felt this was the time for it? Because we’re coming out of a period of intense antagonism to science and we all thought that it was time to make the case for science and make it in such a way that people would be at the edge of their seat the whole time.”
“Do you think there is a growing demand for science-themed content?”
“Absolutely,” says Ann. “Science is taught so poorly, it’s such a gruelling and horrendous experience in school that our curiosity – which is completely natural – is beat out of us. We feel that Cosmos is an opening, an aperture to the excitement that science can offer.”
“So how do you create that sense of excitement around something that is essentially incredibly abstract and dry science?”
“By telling stories,” say Ann with a smile. “I believe that we are a story-driven species. I’m not a scientist, I was not a good science student, I felt effectively alienated from science throughout my young life, and it was only when I became an adult that I began to really appreciate from a completely different angle the power of science.
“That’s why I felt that Cosmos had to be completely story-driven because I think science has a better story to tell than anyone else has been able to tell and that’s because it’s based on the rigorous winnowing that science and scientists are always doing in order to find out what’s really happening.
“People question whether nature is compelling enough, whether real life is compelling enough, but I think nature writes the best stories of all, and that’s why I think emotional reaction to Cosmos is so powerful.”
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