By Kate Appleton
May 05, 2021
Women and men who’ve joined forces with their successful working mothers share what they’ve learned, what they admire most and how they navigate the professional-personal blurred lines
It’s one thing to have a working mother. It’s quite another to go into business together.
In time for Mother’s Day, we spoke to eight people who have grown up to work alongside high-achieving mothers in all kinds of industries, from the arts to law to hospitality.
Some like Singapore-based Renyung Ho of Banyan Tree started pitching in as young as 11 or 12. Others like Daphne King-Yao of Hong Kong’s Alisan Fine Arts gallery forged their own career paths before choosing to team up. All spoke of their mothers as role models.
“Every day I work with her I am inspired by her unlimited knowledge and passion for Sichuan cuisine,” says Tracy Wong, whose mother is the chef at Michelin-acclaimed Chilli Fagara. “She is not just a mother to me, but also a mentor and a source of inspiration.”
Here are more candid, heartfelt and humorous responses that convey the challenges—and many more rewards—that can come from working closely as child and mother.
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On deciding to work together. From a young age I helped out with First Initiative Foundation, starting with the small things, such as designing invitations and souvenir programmes. I only decided to join FIF when I was able to add value in a new yet complementary manner. I have always been quite passionate about creativity, just like her. But the way she took that passion and turned it into something meaningful for the community at large … that played a big part in my decision. I work on educational outreach programmes focused on empowering the public to foster curiosity and approach the arts in a fun and approachable way.
Their mother-daughter dynamic. Oh, it can get very heated while professional and personal can merge together at times! But we both push each other to achieve more, do better and get the best out of one another. Ultimately, there is a lot of respect and love so any conflicts are forgotten after a good night’s sleep. That dynamic stays true at home and in the office.
What she admires most. My mother is a go-getter. I know that if something has to be done, she will find a way to do it. Impossible is not in her vocabulary. Nothing fazes her, and that’s what gives me strength too!
On embracing her mother’s approach to balance. I did not think of my mum as a ‘working mother’ as a label, or differentiate between her and ‘full-time stay home mums.’ She was my one-and-only mother. One is a full-time mother whether you have a job or not—and I admire my mother’s path in how she balanced the pursuit of her own passions as well as raised her children. My mum always said to me: “you can have everything, just not all at once.” I keep that close on my own journey now.
What she’s learned from working together. So many things … I started ‘shadowing’ my mum on her sourcing travels to artisan groups when I was much younger; from those travels I learnt about her incredible ability to connect with a range of people and problem solve on the spot, drawing collaboratively on multiple opinions for shared creativity. In other areas, when we have been in common panels or meetings together, I see her ability to facilitate and drive consensus, and yet show thought leadership to inspire.
Her aspirations for Banyan Tree’s future. I aspire for the Banyan Tree brand to be an activist around our connection to others and nature; to bring out the good in life. Much of our new wellbeing offerings will focus on creating this mindful connection. Our brand’s founding roots have always been in regenerative travel, and the philosophy of leaving a place better than when we first found it. Today, that is more needed than ever.
(Related: Banyan Tree Founders, Ho Kwon Ping And Claire Chiang, and Daughter, Ho Ren Yung Talk About Their Entrepreneurial Journey As A Family)
On being a kid with a travelling mother. My mother worked all her life and most of her friends were also working so it didn’t feel particularly unusual. What was a bit more unusual is when she started travelling in Asia in the early 1970 and would be away for the whole summer. My mother decided that 11 was the right age for me start travelling in Asia with her; we spent over two months between Afghanistan, Pakistan and India.
I decided that I wanted to join the business at 19 when I was finishing high school in Italy. I applied for SOAS (School of Oriental and African Studies) in London as I wanted an academic background in case I failed as a dealer. But my goal was to become a dealer.
Lessons learned from 35 years of working together. The importance of integrity and, consequently, reputation: once lost you can never gain it back. The emotional, spiritual and intellectual value of art above any commercial value. The respect for collectors, whatever their background: money is not what makes a great collector. Taking our work and the art we deal in seriously but not taking ourselves seriously: there’s so much inflated ego in the art world.
Their mother-son dynamic. It has always been of mutual respect and encouragement. We were always able to discuss any aspects of the business together and this ongoing conversation has helped us, particularly me, tremendously in growing as dealers and as human beings. Obviously, being related meant that we trusted each other without reservation.
Advice for going into business with your mother. You’ll be blessed, especially if you are a son! It might be a stereotype, but mother and son don’t compete, whereas father and son often do.
On becoming a household name. People would often misspell her surname because there was a famous politician in our country with the last name Bello. When she was small, she told her dad that one day she would make Belo so popular that people will no longer misspell it. True enough, it has become so popular that people even use it in daily lingo, “get belofied!“
What she admires most. I love that my mother is a trailblazer. I am usually more conscious about doing things that fit into the mold and the norm and I don’t really go out of my comfort zone. She is almost always out of her comfort zone. She’s always trying out something new—whether it’s a TikTok challenge or a new skin treatment.
Their communication style. I still call her ‘mommy’ even at the workplace. I lived with her (and was roommates with her) until the day I got married, so we jokingly call our boardroom meetings, ‘bedroom meetings.’ I like talking to her when she’s on the makeup chair or the massage table because she can’t move. She is constantly doing things, she’s such a multitasker.
How she’s building on her mother’s legacy. It’s her dream to “make the Philippines the most beautiful country, one person at a time.” Although my mother’s 14 clinics are well established, the price point of the services is on the high side. This is because of the top machines she invests in, the quality of doctors and the facilities. I was able to help her launch a mass-based skin range available online, in supermarkets and drugstores. This allows us to bring Belo products into the homes of more Filipinos locally and internationally.
What she has learned from her mother. Just how hard it is to become a Michelin-acclaimed chef! Since 2005, Chilli Fagara has become a true Sichuan mainstay, and it’s her unyielding passion that keeps our customers returning. Today, I’m proud to share that passion and work with her to push boundaries.
She has also taught me how to be patient and detail oriented. To quote my mother: “always walk the extra mile—it’s never crowded.” My mother often tells me that the philosophy of cooking is the same as our attitude towards life. I must take time and patience to ensure things are perfect. For her, it is also essential to always be open-minded, so I’m always seeking new knowledge and learning how implement it in my work and personal life.
Their favourite things to do together. My mother and I love going to the wet market together to select the freshest seasonal ingredients and source new flavour inspirations. And when we’re not in the restaurant, we play Mahjong at home or create new recipes together over a good bottle of wine.
On how her own cooking compares. There are a few things that I cook better than her, she says! Pasta and desserts are my specialty, and I love preparing my mum’s favourite dishes when she asks for it after a long day.
On observing her mum in action. I discovered that my mum has very good people skills. She taught me that having good lawyering skills and high standards of professionalism are just some aspects of work. Equally important is how one communicates and handles people-centric issues, be it a client, colleague or anyone one meets.
Their mother-daughter dynamic. At work, we always agree to disagree and often have intense discussions with different opinions and viewpoints. Outside the office however, I discovered that I am almost like a mirror image of my mum. We have the same taste, hobbies and interests. We share clothes sometimes—and we also have an inexplicable propensity to utter the same words at the same time. It is uncanny and hilarious!
Advice for going into business with your mother. It’d be good to venture out for a couple of years first before settling into any mother-daughter working relationship so you understand what working elsewhere can be like. A mother-daughter relationship is precious; never abuse that at work or compromise your professionalism.
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What he admires most. She literally does it all. My mom worked hard for her dreams and when she wanted something, she was generally able to achieve it. I genuinely just love chatting with her and love to listen and share our daily stories and wisdom with each other as well.
Describe your vision for Moiselle—and how she feels about it. Moiselle‘s vision of femininity is a confident expression of oneself, the ability to transcend effortlessly through time. Our priority is elongating the Asian female silhouette. We take meticulous care in draping and the placement of embellishments for a perfect balance of structure and softness, and a truly liberating transformation. My mom is being so supportive always.
Advice for going into a family business. Each family has its own way of communicating, and it is not always the best way. Defy convention and make open, regular communication an essential part of your family business. When you sense communication problems, confront them immediately.
On the professional versus personal. When I started off, she told me to file papers and organise and read the catalogues. She even asked me to type her letters when her assistant was busy. It drove me crazy because I had been working in a large international ad agency for over five years and was already at a managerial level when I left. She made me start all over again!
But on a personal level, she was very understanding. When I was pregnant, she told me that it was more important to spend time with my kids as they grow up so quickly. She also respected that I was very independent and let me do my own things once I had worked there for a while. And when I took over the business, it was a natural process. My mom didn’t just drop the reins; we worked closely until she felt I was ready.
Celebrating Alisan’s 40th anniversary. The occasion is marked by a series of important exhibitions – starting with Walasse Ting which just ended. The next is Chu Teh-Chun opening this month as part of Le French May, then in the fall we will have Lui Shou-Kwan followed by Chao Chung-Hsiang and Zao Wou-ki. These five artists formed the pillar of the gallery in the early years and now they are very established. It is gratifying to know that my mother and I have played a role in helping the artists get to where they are today.
A permanent tribute to her mother. When the celebrating is done, I want to open an alternative space that is not a white box like a typical gallery but a living art space. And more importantly I would like to establish an art foundation in my mother’s name to pay tribute to her and recognise the role she played in the development of the Chinese contemporary art scene not only in Hong Kong but around the world.