For anyone sitting on the fence as to whether they should explore the business opportunities in Asia, Natalie and Carl have a great story of how they built up a contact base, made the leap and have been thriving in Singapore.
What’s your story?
in January 2009 I came to Singapore in the dark, cold days of the Global recession to speak at a leadership conference at SMU. Within the space of four days I had set up 22 meetings and was overwhelmed by the interest and enthusiasm for innovation and creativity services. I thought, what am I doing in the UK, packed up my bags, spent a year building up contacts, set up our company in Singapore and moved, with my husband and business partner, in February 2010. We have never looked back.
What excites you most about your industry?
Being on the evolving edge of the new and helping broaden people’s thinking to imagine great things. To see people light up when they realise they have untapped creative potential, and to see organisations change so that their culture’s support innovation as a way of working. To take innovation beyond the Research and Development labs and democratise it amongst the many. The fact that there is never time for boredom, always more to both learn and unlearn and to have our curiosity constantly fuelled with new ideas.
What’s your connection to Asia?
I originally came to Singapore in January 2008 to speak at a creativity conference and had been here on a couple of business trips whilst I was working for an international research company, prior to setting up my company in 2006. I made some great friends and kept in touch and it was through these contacts that the opportunity to move to Singapore evolved a few years later.
Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
It’s got to be Singapore really. Ease of setting up business, business friendly policies and regulations, a Government that invests heavily in helping grow local companies’ innovation capabilities. As well as working with local SMEs through SPRING Singapore’s capability funds, we work a lot with multi nationals who have their Asian headquarters here. This gives us great opportunities to travel across the region and work with the diversity of cultures in Asia which we love.
What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
I had a great mentor in the UK who said to me, “Natalie, you have been working in the field of innovation for many years, you know a lot, go and create your own intellectual property.” So, I did. Out of this The Six ‘I’s of Innovation ® was born and is now used as an innovation management and assessment tool all over the world.
Who inspires you?
There are a number of people that inspire us but what they all have in common are certain types of characteristics. Those who have grit, the ability to preserve against the odds, the passion to follow their heart as well as their mind and a willingness to be open to life and all that it can give.
What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
We are both really interested in science and health and were recently introduced to an amazing company called Jeunesse Global, one of the fastest growing companies in the direct selling industry. Jeunesse are bringing cutting edge Nobel Prize winning research to a mass market. One of their products, Finiti, blew our minds. It can actually reverse the aging process by growing the shortest telomeres in our cells (the parts of our chromosomes which protect our DNA). As a species we are only dipping our toes into these new discoveries. It is an exciting time to be alive.
If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
We don’t live with regrets. Never have. We are hugely optimistic and see the bright side of life in all things. We could say that we wish we hadn’t made some business decisions that we made in the UK when economic times were really hard, but then we might never have come to Asia if we had done things differently. That doesn’t mean that we don’t go through the pain, we do, but we firmly believe, if you have strong relationships with people and a supportive family, you can turn what might be considered disastrous into something quite beautiful.
How do you unwind?
I have, what I call, rhythms in my life that help me keep anchored and balanced. The practice of mindfulness and meditation, journal writing, Qi Gong and yoga. I start my day, or most days anyway, with these rhythms and if I miss them for a few days I start to miss them. They keep my feet firmly on the ground, in the here and now. Carl likes to DJ and play soul, disco and funk music and staying healthy and fit with regular gym workouts. He also designs his own clothes and loves to look stylish. We both are epicurean in nature, and love the finer things of life, enjoying a glass of red wine or two and hanging out with friends as well as being keen fiction readers and travellers.
Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
There are many, but we would have to say Bali. We have been five times, over the last few years, and never tire of the beauty and uniqueness of the Island of the Gods. I went to the Ubud Writers festival a couple of years ago and stayed in a small guest house overlooking rolling rice paddy fields. The sounds of the Gamelan fused with the scent of jasmine and frangipani transport me back to Bali, and in so doing, to a place of deep relaxation. We both love to hang out in Seminyak too, cool shops and great night life, sipping cocktails by the sea.
Everyone in business should read this book:
Unleashing Innovation by Nancy Snyder and Deborah Duarte. There are very few books that document how a large company, with all the legacy systems and corporate culture that that entails, can be innovative. This is a great story of how Whirlpool, the white goods manufacturer transformed not only itself but its industry.
Shameless plug for your business:
The Entheo Network is a leadership innovation company that provides consultancy and training services to help individuals and companies create new products and services whilst building innovation skills, capabilities and the right cultural environment to support and sustain innovation as a way of working. Our clients come from a range of industries, both big and small. We’d be delighted to explore with you how we could help you grow your business.
How can people connect with you?
This interview was part of the Callum Connect’s column found on The Asian Entrepreneur:
Callum Laing has started, built, bought and sold half a dozen businesses in a range of industries across two continents. He is the owner of Fitness-Buffet a company delivering employee wellness solutions in 11 countries and he is also the CEO of Entrevo Asia, a company that runs 40 week Growth Accelerator programs.
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