August 01, 2017
Grace under Pressure
Connie Tang was named the first woman president and CEO of kitchenware and home décor company Princess House as it approached the 50th Anniversary mark in 2012. During the past five years under her direction, the company has undergone a complete rebranding initiative, which has resulted in steady growth, both in revenue and in number of consultants. Born in Hong Kong to Chinese parents and raised in Brooklyn, New York, Tang’s journey to the top executive spot inspired her to write her new book Fearless Living: 8 Life-Changing Values for Breakthrough Success. DSN had a chance to catch up with Tang recently. Below is a portion of that conversation.
DSN: As the head of a growing company, we all know you don’t have any spare time. What inspired you to tackle writing a book?
CT: It all started from a dinner conversation almost a year ago with Tony Jeary, whom we had engaged to help begin building a truly high-performing team at Princess House. He asked me how I ended up in direct selling, and I began telling him that I was born in Hong Kong and my family immigrated to the U.S. when I was young. A little way into my story, he said, “You should write a book. You could really help a lot of people.” At first I thought, I’m not ready to write a book, but the more we talked and I thought about it, it started making sense.
DSN: Share with our readers a little of your life experience and how it influenced your decision to move forward on this project.
CT: Life for a Chinese-American child in America is very high stress. Expectations of your family and your community are very high, and it’s assumed that you will fulfill them. It’s an obligation. But my parents were not able to help me through school. My mom still isn’t fluent in English. So starting at a very young age, I read a lot. Reading other people’s stories became a way for me to realize and see potential in other worlds through characters in the books. I needed stories like that to give me hope that I could be just as good.
I think I accidentally moved into entrepreneurship because when Fast Company magazine first launched I was one of the initial subscribers and was just reading more stories, but this time about people starting companies. This really inspired me, and it’s funny because I didn’t even realize I was being an entrepreneur.
DSN: Share with us your first entrepreneurial venture.
CT: When I was in high school, I needed $100 for a leather jacket I wanted, so I decided to go to Koreatown to buy wholesale jewelry. I punched them into mat boards and sold them to my friends in school. I didn’t know anything about margin or mark-up, I just thought, somebody will pay $10 for this. But if I hadn’t read stories about entrepreneurs and people who overcame fears, I don’t think I would have had the courage to do that.
I started in direct selling in 1995, and since then I’ve opened over 13 countries with various companies. I’ve lived in many different places, working primarily with women building their own businesses—and there are a lot of lessons learned from working with people in general.
DSN: You’ve been passionate about personal development for a long time. How did it come to mean so much to you?
CT: So many of my personal obstacles, even as a kid, were related to not having role models in my life who practiced personal development. My parents believed that hard work was what it took to achieve success and happiness, and that’s very similar to many immigrant stories of my own sales field. To my parents and many like them, personal development almost seemed like a sign of weakness. “You need personal development? What’s wrong with you?” But personal development is actually what got me through school. For me, personal development is about developing emotional resilience. It’s about the grit—the fortitude to get through something. I have relied on it heavily in my own life.
When I started writing the book, I realized that some of the values I had used to get through these challenging moments or to break through my fears were, in fact, the same eight values of our company. Once we realized this, we looked at stories and events in my life to use as examples of the eight values: determination, accountability, drive for results, passion, collaboration, agility, respect and compassion.
Also, in each chapter there is a profile of a woman I’ve personally met in my life who shares how she’s overcome a certain challenge by putting into practice one of these values.
DSN: One of the things I’ve heard you say when talking about the book is that your focus is on grace without fear. Why is grace important, and what does that mean to you?
CT: The book really talks about fear as a reality and something we have to accept and live with. I don’t think that you can be totally without fear. At any given moment in time we might encounter a situation where we are afraid. Or we must live with a fear, for example, a fear of heights. I might have been able to achieve a breakthrough by doing things that push through in the moment, but it doesn’t mean that I am no longer afraid of heights. Now I know I can overcome that moment when it’s paralyzing.
It’s the moment when you understand “I survived.” There is a grace in that survival, a moment of calm when you say, “I can live with this. I can harness it.” And that’s really the key: How do you take fear and utilize it? Fear is a powerful force. Instead of running, think about how hard you can punch back.
DSN: Whom do you see as the audience for the book?
CT: I wrote the book to reach people who are looking for personal development, empowerment, entrepreneurship and business development. The purpose of the book is to inspire and engage our current business owners and customers about what’s holding them back and how to overcome those obstacles. The book is also a way to reach people who do not know us. We want to help them find a community where they can support one another, have open conversations about challenges and lift one another up while sharing “how.”
What I really hope to do is start a conversation. We are building a website called www.8fearlessvalues.com for more information or to purchase their own copy of the book. I want people to contribute to this conversation about how facing their fear has helped them realize a better personal best, overcome challenges and move forward.
As a member of an immigrant family from Hong Kong trying to discover the American Dream, I’ve been through some very challenging and even scary moments. I hope that sharing those moments and including other stories will be an inspiration to others to overcome obstacles in their own lives.