Women Making History: Carolyn Li Ming Geh

LiOrganics.jpg

by Megan Montgomery

What do you do when the products you want to use aren’t on the market?  If you’re Carolyn Li Ming Geh (Li), you invent them.  

While Li had always had sensitive skin, it wasn’t until she moved from Malaysia to Canada for college that her skin sensitivities got worse.  As a child, Li’s father, an engineer, instilled in her a love for creating things using natural ingredients instead of chemicals, including food items such as soymilk and yogurt.  Li struggled to find skincare products that worked for her so she decided to tap into her childhood experience of sourcing her own raw plant-based ingredients, including guava fruit, turmeric root, cajeput, tamanu, vetiver, rice, and coconut, and developing a few formulas to address her skincare needs.

“While I was getting my Master’s degree in Neuroscience,” Li says, “I was scouted to be a double on a TV show, which eventually led to a contract with a top modeling agency in New York City.  As a model, I  had to be even more diligent about my skincare routine and I continued to refine my formula by combining ancient traditions with modern science.  Some of the make-up artists that I was working with kept telling me that I had great skin and asking me about the products that I used on my skin.”

ourfounder_thumbnails_LiOrganics.jpg


When Li informed them that she made her own products, they strongly encouraged her to launch her own skincare line.  As Li prayed about taking the leap to start her own business, Li decided to launch a skincare service brand that was not just nourishing for the skin, but also good for the soul. She wanted her skincare line to encourage women that beauty is much more than just skincare.  With that purpose , Li Organics (www.liorganics.com) was officially launched in Jan 2019.  

LiOrganics2.jpg

Li had also had a dream many years earlier that had never left her and in that dream she built a school.  She decided that 10 percent  of her company’s profits would go to building classrooms and schools in poverty zones.  Attending school had always been a joy for her and opened up a lot of opportunities for her to go to Canada and the U.S. and then later travel to many other countries, which opened her up to a much broader world beyond her village. 

“I want children to have the opportunity to go to school,  get an education, and dream as big as they possibly can,” says Li. “I encourage everyone reading this to pay attention to the dreams on your heart as they might be there for a reason that’s much bigger that you. We also get to support local communities on the island of Penang in Malaysia, where our products are handcrafted in small batches using time-tested, traditional methods. We take no shortcuts to create the best product possible. These products are the very best nature has to offer, and I hope they nourish and make everyone who uses them even more beautiful than they already are. My promise is that we will never compromise on the quality, source, or safety of our ingredients, and you’ll certainly see that in the results!”

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_7bf3.jpg

Women Making History: Ogo Ekweozor - Holley

Ogo

by Megan Montgomery

Ogo Ekweozor-Holley is the epitome of a serial entrepreneur.  After obtaining her law degree at 20, Ogo has since founded six companies with a seventh on the way.  Her companies have spanned multiple industries, including fashion, real estate, and an agency generating funds for non-profits.  She is the founder of her eponymous fashion line OGO New York, which has an online and physical storefront in Brooklyn; and Style Chest which offers personal styling boxes direct to your door.  

ogo new york 14 wo-1.jpg
ogo new york 9-1.jpg
017-1.JPG

Ogo has a strong passion for giving back as well and founded the True Beauty Foundation which offers events designed to inspire and empower women. She created the True Beauty Conference in 2012 to provide an affordable, educational, and inspiring event for professional women and entrepreneurs. Her achievements are frequently recognized with awards including the YWCA’s Woman of Distinction and Economic Development award, Brooklyn Reporter’s Power Woman in Business, and Third Avenue Association’s Business Pioneer Award.  And, if that doesn’t keep her busy enough, she is also married with three very active children under the age of four.  

FB_IMG_1552186301866.jpg

When I met Ogo, the first question that came to my mind is “how do you do it all?”  And, yes, Ogo is a firm believer that you really can do it all.  She believes that it is possible to have a happy marriage, fulfilling career, solid friendships, and still have quality time with your kids. 

“It’s not about work-life balance, it’s about harmony and finding a way for all of the things that are most important to you to sync together,” says Ogo. “If you are involved in a lot, you need to be really intentional about staying present with what you are engaging in at the time, whether it be with the kids, husband, friends or a work meeting.”  To help her do that, Ogo will frequently turn off her phone or put it in another room so she can really focus on the person or task in front of her.  She also finds that she prioritizes better when she starts her day with quiet time with God. 

“One of the keys to success as an entrepreneur is having a clear vision that’s bigger than you,” says Ogo. “You have to know your why.  Most businesses don’t make a lot of money in the beginning and it can cost a little more time and money to start than you would think, so without having a clear vision and purpose, you can easily get discouraged and give up.” 

Screen Shot 2019-03-09 at 10.31.56 PM.png

As a Christian woman who owns a business, Ogo looks for ways to live out her faith in everything she does. She does this by treating all employees and customers in ways that honors and values them, being ready to be a listening ear, and praying for people when they are going through something. She also leverages her businesses to give back to various charities including ones involved in stopping human trafficking and supporting education in underprivileged areas. Ogo is in the process of expanding her True Beauty Foundation to provide resources to teenage girls through afterschool programs focused on leadership development, business management, and entrepreneurship. 

“Giving back is the right thing to do,” Ogo says. “I believe that having a strong corporate donation culture also helps employees and customers to have a deeper connection to the company which boosts overall retention and employee productivity. Personally, giving back also adds to my big WHY when times get tough and helps me persevere for the sake of all the lives I’m touching.” 

Learn more about Ogo and register for the sixth annual True Beauty Women’s celebrationon Thursday, April 25, 2019. 

Women Making History: Marty McDonald

Marty McDonald, left, with Sopha Rush at her Black Girl Magic Event.

Marty McDonald, left, with Sopha Rush at her Black Girl Magic Event.

Interviewed by Brittany Cole

A builder, a corporate queen with a few hustles on the side, and a super ambitious go-getter – this is how Mary McDonald, founder of Boss Women Media (formerly Boss Women Who Brunch), describes herself. Confident? Yes, but she has the data to back it up.  Presently, Boss Women Media is one of the fastest growing women’s empowerment businesses with a 650 percent growth in 2018 over the previous year.

“I’ve always known that I wanted more,” says Marty. “I didn’t always know what ‘more’ looked like, but I always desired more from the time I was a kid until now. Even as a kid, I was always a builder. I would take my dressers in my room and design them and paint them. I was always a builder and a creator not knowing that would follow me in life.”  

Marty majored in Interior Design and Architecture at University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. She initially planned to major in fashion design, but her dad refused to pay for that degree and gave her other options for her future. Marty followed suit and spent four years as an interior designer before moving over to brand marketing. She decided to go back to school for an MBA and soon found herself on the corporate grind.

“I was never fulfilled in that space, but I was always trying to climb to the next level in my career,” says Marty. “But I didn’t wasn’t living in alignment with my purpose, which is the desire to empower and propel other women forward so that they can tell their story.”

blob

But Marty wasn’t there yet so she continued to work hard at her corporate job as the head of brand innovation and development for a Pizza Brand. She was responsible for their advertising and marketing promotion plans for about 500 restaurants nationally. It was a job that she was recruited for while heading up marketing and advertising for a luxury high end brand, where she was responsible for 16 restaurants averaging about $40 million in revenue a year. The excitement of working in a new environment where she could learn from “really smart people who went to top business schools” drew her to the pizza brand.

“I traded in the glamour to go learn from a Chief Marketing Officer who had worked for larger brands and gone to Wharton Business School,” says Marty. “I knew that I was going to go learn a ton from her. I had to relearn myself and what my worth looked like in this new environment. It was no longer someone telling me that I was the smartest, I just had to know it and show it, and show up every single day. That role taught me to never let anyone define my worth. It also taught me to never stop learning.”

Not all of Marty’s lessons were positive, but each one provided her with the opportunity and ammunition she needed to become the person she is today. She found herself constantly trying to prove her worth by working 60-70 hours each week. In the end she walked away learning how to create pitches, make her voice heard and, most importantly, how to use data as the motivating factor to influence clients. She describes this the most painful job she’d ever had and she tried to find solace and a network outside of work.

blob
blob

 “I kept wondering,” says Marty, “where are my people? So, I called a friend and said ‘hey, we are always talking about wanting more. Don’t you think there are other women who want this, too?’  We decided to host a brunch at Neiman Marcus and I invited ten people that I knew and 15 people who I didn’t know also showed up. This was my first event and that’s when I knew there was a need.”

That was May 2016 and she poured herself into new company whenever she had time away from work. Then, after missing the mark on a project with a new CMO at work, she started questioning her worth, yet again.  That’s when she knew it was time to call it quits. Surprisingly, her husband agreed, and she handed in her resignation in November of 2017 and hasn’t looked back. 

“Once I put the notice in, that was the game changer between do I eat, or do I not eat,” says Marty. “That was what I needed. Maybe a week later, I met with Kela Walker and decided to put in the investment to bring her and Necole Kane of XONecole to Dallas for our 2018 kickoff event. That was December 21, 2017 and since then, everything has changed. More than anything, my mindset has changed.”

Since then, Marty has become a force to be reckoned with and turned Boss Women Media into a nationally recognized media company that hosts conferences, meet-ups, and empowerment events across the country. Here are some nuggets that she dropped during the interview about quitting her job, launching her business, and building a brand that lasts.

Y95A9498.JPG

Brittany: You decided to quit your job. How has that transition been?

Marty: The first two months, I was busy planning the conference, so I was good. When the conference was over. I slept in and watched TV for two months. Then my husband said, what are you doing? I went into a depressive state of not knowing what to do. The advice that I give women now is that you have to have a plan. So, when you pivot in the plan, that’s ok just make sure you have a plan.

I was ready to empower myself to jump but after the jump, I didn’t know what to do. You don’t have to know everything that you want to do just have to have a plan.

“If you have three solid game changers that you want to accomplish, just remember that God is going to step in and do his miraculous work every single time.”  

I knew what I wanted it to be so I had to put all of my effort and energy into it. I knew that I had to go figure it out and let people help.  I know it's a mindset though and even if you’re the most talented but you’re not consistent, nobody cares. Nobody cares because you're not consistent and you don’t show up when you’re supposed to show up. But then also you need to believe that you can do it.

Brittany: What were some of the lessons you learned in the process?

I learned how the companies that I worked for did business. The luxury company prided itself on experience. So that was my biggest learning from working there. At the pizza brand, I learned how to manage a P&L and what the life cycle of business look like. I know how to use the right terminology. The best gift that we can give ourselves is learning how to run effective businesses. If you don’t have the time or energy to do something, find someone who can help you.

Brittany: Who inspires you?

Marty: I just came from Michelle Obama’s Becoming event and just her rawness, her truth, I really admire Michelle. I just love being around badass women. Women who had nothing and created something. I just love being in a space with women like that. But, more importantly, women who are not afraid to take what they have learned and pour it into other people. I am also inspired by women who think differently, too. One of my good friends right now is a woman who is 15 years older than me who believes in me and pours into me. She believes in me more than I believe in myself and shows me how to get things done. Women like that inspire me.

Brittany: What advice do you have for side hustlers or people who are thinking about taking a leap.

Marty: I would say for the girl who is side hustling, be clear on your why. Why are you even doing what you’re doing? Because your why is going to be that ticker in the back of your head that tells you to get going. It can be because I want to create generational wealth. It's never about you either. It’s always about a bigger cause. At the end of the day, if you have credentials and you have education, you can always go back.

Why not bet on yourself? We play safe as black women all the time. Society tells us, do you know how lucky you are to be sitting here in this space at this time at this table at this company? But, do you know how much the world is missing out on your talents, on your gifts? All that you have to offer that you leave at the door when you walk in here?

“Sometimes we just have to be ballsy. If you're serious, if there was ever a moment in history, this is your moment. Generations to come will talk about this movement that happening right now with women. It will be in historic text books in 30- 40- 50 years from now.”

Brittany: So, what’s next? Where do you see yourself five years from now?

Marty:  I want to tell my story a little bit more. I know that I have focused on bringing women to the table to tell their story. So that’s on the horizon, but also just changing the way that women connect. Changing the way women connect in the digital space. So that’s on the horizon. And we want to practice what we preach so in the fall we are going back on tour and doing a pitch competition where we allow women to sell their ideas so that they can get the funding that they need to thrive. And then eventually the goal would be to have a space that can serve as an incubator for females/ black women co-working space and have that in multi cities.

 Right now, I am a wife, and a dog mom but I am professing and claiming to the universe that I want to be a mom in 2019 (I think).

To keep up with Marty, join her in NYC for her “Black Girl Magic” tour.

BossMagic.PNG

Brittany is a marketer by day and stylist by night. Learn more about her by visiting www.stylebybritt.com

Women Making History: April Tam

IMG_7984.JPG

by Megan Montgomery

Have you ever met someone who challenged you in the best of ways?  Someone who made you want to give more, love people deeper, and live for something beyond yourself? 

April Tam Smith is that type of person, a person whose radical giving, passion for empowering people, and infectious joy made me walk away from our encounter deeply reflecting on how to give more.

April credits her parents with instilling a strong sense of gratitude in her, as well as the responsibility to pay it forward.  When her mom was 11 years old, her mom was working in a clothing factory in Hong Kong to provide for her family.  When April was 11 years old, her family immigrated to the US where April eventually had the opportunity to attend MIT, then get her MBA at Columbia and start a career in investment banking.

IMG_9695.jpg

April then started volunteering at a number of charities in NYC helping survivors of human trafficking, the formerly incarcerated and the homeless, as well as serving with charities abroad in Haiti and South Africa and kept hearing the same thing from everyone, “I just want a job.”  She also had a friend now turned business partner who saw her passion for giving and a number of causes and suggested that they start a small business to fund all these causes that she was so passionate about. 

With no prior restaurant experience, April took him up on the idea and decided to start a restaurant that would create meaningful work for people who need a job while donating 100 percent of the restaurant’s profits to charity.  She also decided to make the restaurant vegan to provide food that was good for both the environment and the body and P.S. Kitchen opened its doors in August 2017.   Located in the heart of Times Square, after less than two years of existence, P.S. Kitchen was recently named one of the top vegan restaurants in New York City while providing jobs for more than 40 people in need of a second chance. 

IMG_7004.JPG
IMG_7003.JPG
IMG_7988.JPG

 “We can’t control the circumstances or family we are born to, but we are all called to share the time, talent, and resources we have to help others,” says April. “If we all sat down to a family-style dinner and I got a huge plate of food and you got two tomatoes, of course I would say you should have some of mine. It’s up to each of us to give generously and when you give generously God surprises you because it’s really all His anyway, so you can be bold in really stretching yourself in giving.” 

It’s up to each of us to give generously and when you give generously God surprises you because it’s really all His anyway.
— April Tam

April still works full time in investment banking and both her and her partner don’t take any salary from the restaurant.  She is also still active in volunteering for a number of other non-profits.  When I asked her how she does it all, she explained that it’s really the joy and passion of it that keeps her going.  “If it was out of a sense of obligation, it would get old really fast,” April says. “When you really get to know the people you are serving, they move from being statistics to real people.  That motivates me to work even harder at my day job so that I can earn more so that I can give away more.” 

April is very diligent with scheduling her time to fit in everything and shared that it is so easy to waste your time, money and resources if you’re not careful.  As busy as she is, she’s never too busy to pray. “You get so much more productivity when you take the time to pray and invite God into the situation,” says April. “When you try and do things on your own without seeking His guidance, then you can easily waste your time like a hamster in a wheel.  God can be so creative with both time and money.”   

April has big dreams about continuing to empower others both in the U.S. and abroad and encourages everyone to challenge themselves through radical giving.  “Start investing in others even if you are starting off small and  then continue to deepen your giving and experience the joy of what giving in a radical way that’s scary and others-centered can do,” April says.  

P.S. Kitchen’s Approach

P.S. Kitchen’s Approach

Watch Asian American Life’s video profile of P.S. Kitchen here.