With the down state of the economy in the West, many are heeding the siren’s call and packing up for more financially friendly territory, and for many, that means China. The rate of China’s economic and cultural expansion provides seemingly boundless opportunities. If one has the vision, tenacity and last but not least, some talent, one can do just about anything there. Many come and reinvent themselves by launching a new career, eventually landing in the multitudes of high society magazines within weeks of sampling China’s nightlife scene. People play hard and work harder.
I road the wave for two years while in Hong Kong where I lead the marketing for a luxury lifestyle brand and eventually launched my own marketing communications firm.
I have met many brilliant entrepreneurs in China but the following three Asian American women especially inspire me because of their steadfast vision for their business that add depth and texture to the cultural fabric of Shanghai.
Design Doyenne, Rossana Hu:
For being one of the masterminds behind The Bund’s design and architectural revolution that brought sexy back to Shanghai, Rossana Hu exudes a surprising amount of balance. In fact, she seems to have mastered what could be identified as the Tao of ambition. With humility, equanimity and vision, she accepts and conducts the chaos inherent in running a 100-person strong design firm poised to lead China’s homegrown design movement while raising three young children.
It must help that her business partner and husband, Lyndon Neri, also Chinese American, has always been by her side, cracking jokes for banter that makes them such a charming couple. It is probably more telling that Rossana has always been driven by her pursuit of personal life enrichment. This meant moving to China despite the couple’s cushy life in Princeton and their high-powered post with Michael Graves, one of the world’s top architectural firms.
“Our choice to move to China was for very personal reasons. It really came out of wanting to simply move out of America in search of a more international experience rooted in our Asian background.” Rossana explained.
Rossana’s upbringing as a Taiwan-born, California-raised Chinese American inspired a need to deepen cultural ties to her Chinese heritage.
While on assignment in Shanghai in 2003, Lyndon and Rossana began to develop a vision for a China-based design firm that intersected with their personal bi-cultural perspective. The seeds of a design firm began to take root when investors committed to their proposal for a retail showroom that would introduce designer furniture and accessories to China.
In 2004, the couple separated from Michael Graves and made the full transition to Shanghai. Their youngest was still under one year old. That same year, they incorporated Neri&Hu Design and Research Office, a multi-disciplinary architectural design practice. In 2006, they opened Design Republic at 5 on the Bund in Shanghai and recently launched their own Neri&Hu brand of industrial design products. Since their inception, Neri&Hu’s companies have garnered multiple prestigious design industry awards.
Rossana finds relief in the accessibility of live-in nannies in China. With the help, she is able to manage the business while monitoring her children’s education. But her top priority is to attend their violin lessons and attend church on Sundays as a family. This year, she has made it home for most dinners and tries to take the kids on business trips that must be attended by both partners – and both parents.
“When people ask me how I strike a balance between work and family, my answer is there is no balance,” Rossana, now 40, admits. “For us, it took moving to China for my kids to have a deeper sense of self, culture and identity.”
Rossana knew she made the right choice when a couple years after they moved, she overheard her two older kids speaking Chinese to each other. “That would never happen in America. Now, the first question they ask new friends is how many languages they speak and where they are from.”
An hour whizzed by as Rossana and I chatted for this profile until her driver rang. I walked down with her and met her eleven-year old son waiting for her mother to take him to the doctor, then to music lessons. As I said hello to Jeremy who nodded his head in response, I couldn’t help but think how lucky he is to have this head start on living the global life that will become more common place in his generation.
Learn more about Rossana’s firm at www.thedesignrepublic.com
Joyce Hu is a marketing communications professional at Raw Silk Creative