Originally from Germany, Karena has had a strong connection to Asia. From completing her studies to starting her corporate career and her family, she has now settled in HK and pioneered her first start-up. Where to next for this young woman?
What’s your story?
The short version: I am an optimist who loves making a positive impact on the world. Hence after arriving in Hong Kong, I was easily contaminated by the energy and passion of entrepreneurs and decided to dive into the startup ecosystem to help it grow.
The long story before that; I was born and raised in Germany and USA, with German and French diplomas in business and administration. I worked 15 years for Procter and Gamble in various roles in finance, sales and management across Europe, North East Asia and greater China. My responsibilities included product launches, portfolio management, business planning, organisation re-design and Gillette integration.
What excites you most about your industry?
The people I meet. As Colin Wright puts it perfectly: “Few things are as sexy as a person who’s passionate about something.” I love the energy and passion of entrepreneurs and their teams. They are motivated by a common mission or crusade to make a positive impact on their communities or even society at large. I am impressed by their resilience and can do attitude, and the way they think in terms of solutions rather than barriers. And, I am excited about the technologies, disruption and progress I am discovering.
What’s your connection to Asia?
It’s a love story. Asia has helped me grow professionally, personally and as a family. My first trip to Asia was in 1998 to Singapore and Indonesia for my mid-term internship. After that, I discovered Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam whilst holidaying. Excited by the cultural diversity and friendliness of people in Asia, I was happy to transfer with Proctor and Gamble to Japan in 2005, where I had two lovely daughters with my partner. At the end of 2011, I was transferred to Hong Kong and my third lovely daughter was born. This is where I eventually decided to quit corporate life.
Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
Definitely Hong Kong! The ease of starting a business, the convenience and safety, rule of law, highly connected population and internet penetration, the strategic position of Hong Kong for a startup since it is in a 5 hour radius of half of the world’s population, next to Shenzhen and the Pearl River Delta – the manufacturing powerhouse of China and the world. But again the most impressive part are the people. Hard-working, open-minded, friendly and eager to connect. Networking is in everyone’s DNA here!
What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
“Feedback is a gift!” Once you change your attitude to receiving input, including critical or negative feedback, you see the opportunity for change more clearly. With this comes realising the benefits of “first trying to understand before being understood.” If you combine this attitude with the conviction of “where there is a will, there is a way,” you realise the virtues of learning early and fast (including failing) versus pretending to be right for too long.
Who inspires you?
It depends for what. For raising happy children and having wonderful family time, definitely my mum and dad!
For business… A combination of my first managers who taught me; a) feedback is a gift, b) instilling trust to gain back trust, c) staying true to myself and d) who doesn’t dare, doesn’t win attitude (which I probably take today as “act as if you have nothing to lose).” Thank you Tim Seager, Beatrice Dupuy and Richard Re for these lessons! And last but not least, my co-founder Karen, relentless, resilient and resourceful!
What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
That you can start a new career at 40!
Since I began my startup journey 2 years ago (first as a “side project” to my day job), my learning curve was again back on an exponential growth rate! Sometimes, I feel like I have just graduated from university and have started my first job – perhaps due to a few sleepless nights?!
If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
Nothing! Did I mention that I am an optimist? I truly benefited from my experience in a great company with a huge focus on training and development. Today, my advice to youngsters is a bit more mixed, since a lot of companies had to scale back on employee development due to cost pressure. And disruption and innovation are not necessarily well taught in very large corporations these days.
How do you unwind?
How do I “what?” I basically don’t, I am a busy bee. Partially with no choice, having three sweet little girls at home. I love to be close to them and involved in their school and activities. I am acting as VP of Events of the Parent Faculty Organisation (PFO) at the Hong Kong International School (HKIS) and on the Parent Advisory Group (PAG), enjoying being surrounded by an inspiring and passionate faculty and parents. I also fell in love with my WoW team (Women on the Way-Up) from the AWA. They are motivated and inspiring ladies, passionate about driving diversity and inclusion in the workplace.
Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
Hokkaido in Winter for skiing!
The best way for me to clear my mind and thoughts is to have a combination of a physical work-out, speed in descending the hills and beautiful landscapes and wide perspectives! Topped with excellent food and a relaxing hot bath (onsen), I’ll sleep like a baby afterwards …. And then starting this all over again the next day – back on the slopes!
Everyone in business should read this book:
For personal motivation and effectiveness I truly recommend “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.” I also liked the perspective of “Strengths Finder 2.0,” encouraging people to leverage their strengths rather than spending too much time step-changing weaknesses. As a person passionate about startups, I have obviously read Peter Thiel’s “Zero to One” and I like the simplicity in which he clusters sustainable competitive advantage that allows for monopoly type market positions to be divided into four areas: Technology, Network, Scale and Branding.
Shameless plug for your business:
Our passion and mission at W Hub is to help startups grow and bring their business to the next level. We believe in the power of meaningful connections, so that’s what we foster and drive. We connect startups to talent to build their TEAM (Together Everyone Achieves More), startups to other startups to share wisdom, build synergies and collaborate and last, but not least, we connect startups to smart money. And we do that by showcasing not only the product or services of a startup, but more importantly the passion and team behind it.
How can people connect with you?
Very easily! Approach me during events, catch me in a Starbucks, connect via LinkedIn and Facebook or just shoot me an e-mail. I might not reply in 24 hours, but I will reply!
This interview was part of the Callum Connect’s column found on The Asian Entrepreneur:
Callum Laing invests and buys small businesses in a range of industries around Asia. He has previously started, built and sold half a dozen businesses and is the founder & owner of Fitness-Buffet a company delivering employee wellness solutions in 12 countries. He is a Director of, amongst others, Key Person of Influence. A 40 week training program for business owners and executives.
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