Driven by domestic ambitions

By Miao Qing (China Daily)
Updated: 2006-10-18 11:40

Miao Qing
Emma Ku, a career woman and a mother of four children, moved her family from Taiwan to Shanghai in the year 2004. Although born on the island and living there for more than 30 years, she seems almost destined to have come to the mainland, due to a special tie.

Ku's father, a native of Suzhou of neighbouring Jiangsu Province, left his hometown for Taiwan when he was 17 years old. Ku was thus given the Chinese name "Yihua," which means "remembrance of China."

However, just like many Taiwanese, what originally motivated Ku's family move two years ago was business. A woman in her forties, Ku is candid, enthusiastic and easily recognized as a smart businesswoman by her fast and confident speaking style.

"I have always considered myself an ambitious person, sticking to business, tough and diligent," she said.

Working for a home furnishings company based in Taiwan, Ku said her basic mission on the mainland was to expand the company's share of the market. Her present position is managing director, but she expects to become a full-time mother after her mission is fulfilled.

Having given birth to four children is something any mother would take pride in. So as soon as she decided to work in Shanghai, Ku was very determined to move the whole family with her. "I wanted my family to be together, even when it faced the largest obstacles."

Ku and her family are now enjoying their new life in Shanghai, a dynamic city which she thinks is undergoing an economic boom similar to the one Taiwan experienced in the past. She is also experiencing challenges and exploring the meaning of life, in a way comparable to the other roughly 15,000 Taiwanese living long term in the city.

Learn and earn

Like a lot of business people who succeed in their careers, Ku's achievements have been rooted in diligence and an ordinary family background. During the interview with the Shanghai Star, she was calm when talking about her early life experiences, taking the time to analyze the importance of childhood in an individual's life. Her conclusion was that childhood would inevitably affect a person's personality, habits of thinking and style of decision making.

She said her own life had been deeply influenced by her childhood, which sounded as if it had been rather painful.

"When I was a high school student, I began to do a few part-time jobs to support my family, who were sometimes in debt. I never stopped working and earning money, even when I was enrolled into university," she said.

An accident made Ku even more determined to make enough money to free her parents and three siblings from poverty. "Once several creditors came to my home and asked my parents to sign a mortgage contract. My mother was so shocked she immediately collapsed in bed," she recalled.

Still a student at that time, Ku signed the contract on her parents' behalf and became even more motivated to work hard and make money. Since graduating from university and taking her first job in a supermarket 17 years ago, Ku said she has been making money every day. In the most difficult period, she had to work more than 12 hours a day, until midnight.

She initially worked in the purchase department and spent most of her time "bargaining over very marginal differences in price" with suppliers. She said her goal at that time was to make most of the goods sold in her supermarket cheaper than those available elsewhere.

After being promoted to a higher position, Ku gave up working in the retailing industry and turned to another one -- the home furnishing business. It was not an easy change for her, due to the mental preparation required.

"My managing authority was actually diminished, which was very frustrating at first," she said. Soon afterwards one of her friends died, which had a great impact on her and changed her attitude to life. The friend died of ovarian cancer before she had given birth to a child.

"Suddenly, I realized I was very fortunate because I am already a mother and married to a beloved husband," she said. At the same time, she started to think about how to make her life even better and happier.

Thus at the age of 32, Ku set three goals for her life: Firstly, to become a student again because she thought in college she had spent too much time working for money and neglecting her studies. Secondly, to join a choir and sing, because she believed she had a good voice. Finally, to become a full-time mother in order to fully accompany her youngest child through childhood.

"Since then, I have attempted to maintain a more placid mood and learn to enjoy life more, rather than concentrating exclusively on making a living," she said. "To be honest, I had been too focused on career and business before."

Ku has already achieved her first objective in Shanghai by being admitted to the China International Europe Business College last December to study for an EMBA degree.

Family comes first

In Ku's Shanghai office, there are three paper sculptures of her children, as big as the children themselves. Ku calls her children "four little friends" and every word she speaks about them is evidence of her inexhaustible love.

A successful career woman possessing all the qualities of a "powerful woman," Ku always puts her family first and unreservedly expressed a wish to return to it full-time eventually.

"The role you play in business is definitely different from a family role, such as a mother," she said. "A job is like a stage. There are always substitutes to play your business role. But for a family, your role is forever unique."

Ku gave birth to her first child -- a daughter -- at the age of 27 and since then, she has been doing business at the same time, while giving birth to three more children. She joked that the different tempers of her four children resemble her own in the different pregnancy periods. "When I was pregnant with my first child, I was dealing with retailing and could get angry easily. It turns out she is a bit tougher than the other kids."

Though unable to spend most of her time with her children right now, Ku said she maintains quite a good relationship with them and they communicate easily. "It does not matter whether you are with them all the time, the important thing is that you are completely devoted when you are with them," she said.

Ku believed working for a home furnishing company helped meet her needs for home design and decoration. She is fond of making changes to the decoration at home in her spare time.

Most Chinese people prefer to decorate their home with hard fittings, usually once and for all -- typically when they move into a new apartment, she said.

Ku has tried to encourage her customers to adopt more frequent and "soft" ornaments in their home. The name of her company, "HOLA," stands for "Home of living arts."

"Many Chinese have used luxury furnishings and ornaments in decorating their home, wanting to create a place suitable for others to visit. Some are reluctant to continually change these decorations and this possibly takes some of the interest out of living," she said.

Ku said she is not only expanding the size of the company in China. She is also promoting new lifestyles and attitudes among her customers on the mainland. She expects such effort to have paid off in five years time, at which point she can contentedly devote herself to her family, without interruption.