Entrepreneurship is in Claudia Chan's DNA. Raised by immigrant parents who owned successful Chinese restaurants in New York City, Claudia became the co-owner of a women's entertainment business by the age of 25. Still, Claudia wanted to find a deeper meaning in her work in life, so she left the business in search of personal growth. Her new journey led her to shift her focus to women's empowerment, and she founded S.H.E. Globl, a platform that would connect, educate, and motivate people to become change agents for gender equality.
Claudia's journey is inspiring, as is the advice she gives to other women. At the end of the day, she says, don't think of yourself as just an employee; think of yourself as a "rising corporate change agent."
Fairygodboss of the Week: Claudia Chan
Founder, S.H.E. Globl Media
New York, New York
Tell us a little about your career. How did you get to where you are now?
I was raised by immigrant parents who owned successful Chinese restaurants in New York City, so entrepreneurship was always in my DNA. By age 25 I became the co-owner of Shecky’s, a women’s entertainment business that combined girlfriends, shopping, and cocktails with Girls Night Out events across the country. Over the next ten years I achieved material success (running a multi-million dollar business by the age of 29), but I lacked deeper meaning in my life and a higher purpose. That plus an increasingly toxic relationship with my business partner left me feeling quite depleted and unhappy. So, at 35, I left the business and set out on a new journey—this time one of spiritual and personal growth and leadership development.
I attended Sunday church sermons and social impact conferences. I replaced my therapist with a life coach, read tons of self-help books, and practiced yoga and prayer meditation. Then, by chance, I read the book Half the Sky by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, about the oppression of women and girls around the world. I was blown away. It hit me that I needed to shift my career from women’s entertainment to women’s empowerment and create a platform that would connect, educate, and motivate people to become change agents for gender equality. In 2012, I launched what is now the award-winning global leadership conference, S.H.E. Summit, which provides accessible and actionable ideas to advance women’s leadership. Standing for “she and he empower,” we have convened over 400 speakers on our global stage to date, curated over 120 thought provoking content sessions, and reached tens of thousands of viewers in over 100 countries. Speakers have included Sophia Bush, Nigel Barker, Deepak Chopra, Kelly Clarkson, Carla Harris, Sallie Krawcheck and Soledad O’Brien. It is the flagship conference of our organization, S.H.E. Globl Media, which helps Fortune 1000 companies modernize and accelerate their diversity initiatives with the goal of achieving gender parity by 2030.
What is an accomplishment that you are proud of?
I’m really proud of 2017 and how I was able to lead my life and work during a year of very profound events: I experienced my first real loss, the death of my father; six months later, I gave birth to my second child and first daughter; I published my first book This Is How We Rise: Reach Your Highest Potential, Empower Women, Lead Change in the World, and led my S.H.E. Summit team to its highest-grossing year. Those 12 months tested my character and my stamina to the extreme...but through the conviction I have in my faith and my higher life purpose, I was able to rise through it and reach the next level of fulfilling my life’s potential and purpose.
What is a challenge that you've faced and overcome?
Becoming a mother of two within two and a half years—during a time when my work has never had so much meaning to me—has been extremely challenging. I love my children so much—they are a constant source of meaning, joy and light in my life—but in a way, S.H.E. Globl was my first baby, so it’s like I have three children now. The business also comes with team members whom I lead and mentor. Not to mention the impact that all of this has on my marriage! I believe that your relationship with your spouse is actually the most important thing because it determines the success of each of your individual careers, plus the happiness of your children and family. When you have kids during an intense career time, and you’re also at the age when your parents get sick, finding the time to sync with your partner can become very difficult. There’s a chapter in my book called "Treat Your Whole as the Organization You're Leading" that explains how I have learned to do it.
Who is YOUR Fairygodboss? and Why?
Mimi Duvall is a life coach who was a pivotal influence in my life because she helped me make the transition out of Shecky’s to SHE Globl. In the early stages of entrepreneurship, it’s like selling the invisible: You have to walk by faith in your vision and not by sight. You have to have relentless faith and conviction in your ideas. Because I had run Shecky’s for 10 years and essentially grew up there, it was deeply intertwined with my identity. I feared if I lost that business I would lose my identity. Mimi was my greatest cheerleader and taught me many coaching tools I still use today.
What do you do when you're not working?
When I’m not working, I’m embracing the messiness of life with my husband, John, our two kiddos Jackson and Arya, and our dog, Connor. Lots of diaper changes and wine involved.
If you could have dinner with one famous person—dead or alive—who would it be?
Oprah (this was my answer pre-Golden Globes, by the way!)
What is your karaoke song?
What is your favorite movie?
It's hard to nail down one, but Finding Dori has probably been aired the most in my household.
What is your shopping vice? What would you buy if you won the lottery?
A fully staffed private plane to take my family and me anywhere in the world on short notice...and make traveling with babies and toddlers enjoyable. A built-in playpen and gear would be pretty cool.
What is the #1 career tip you'd like to share with other women who want to have successful careers like you?
Instead of thinking about yourself as just an employee at your company, consider yourself to be a rising corporate change agent. This requires less focus on self promotion and personal accolades, and instead being driven by what I call a “me for we” mindset. Stop and really think about the purpose of the organization you work for. Consider how it can make the most positive impact in a way that is ultimately good for its bottom line. Consider the impact on three levels: inside (its employees and their families), the industry as a whole, and outside (the customers or stakeholders). Then think about how your efforts can serve this greater impact better and faster so that everyone benefits. If your boss or company’s leadership doesn’t yet share the vision, get creative and help bring them there by influencing the people that influence the leaders, or by exposing them to external voices or experiences that can help.
Before you know it, you will have advanced much faster as a leader because you created success for so many others. You don’t need to be in charge to lead. One of my favorite chapters in my book is called "Lead from Where You Are," which makes leadership accessible to all.
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