CEO SUITE occupies the entire 47th floor of the Hong Kong New World Tower, a building regarded as one of the most prestigious buildings in Shanghai. It is their fifth branch of a chain of other CEO SUITE centers located all across the major cities of Southeast Asia. And scheduled here for an interview, I was filled with curiosity to know more about this company that has grown so fast.
For me, meeting up with new people will always bring about an inspiring expectation. But as I grow older, however, it tends to be accompanied by an uneasiness as I come to grasp the enormity of difficulties to understand another person within a limited time.
As is the case with this interview, I could not but be a bit tense as I prepare for an interview with this successful businesswoman (with an impressive academic background) and who has built up such a successful career extending over several countries.
I was able to meet her just as she was stepping out of her meeting. Thanks to her undisguised smile and amicability, my tense mood was long gone even before I realized it.
How it all started
There are two things Mee Kim recognizes as those that she is proud of in her life; one is her 7-year-old son and the other her business, CEO SUITE. For an ignorant interviewer such as myself, she kindly offered a very clear, and simple introduction of the concept of her business in the serviced office industry. An extended form of hotel business centers, the origins of serviced offices apparently date back to the United States and Europe in 1950s.
With concepts very similar to serviced apartments, a serviced office supports businesses with a comprehensive range of other services, including human resource based services such as secretarial, accounting, and recruiting services. All of these are, needless to say, tailored to the specific requirements of each client.
The company history dates back 7 to 8 years. With the start of the economic boom in 1993, many businesses in the IT sector and venture capital businesses had begun to flourish. And for Mee Kim, who had built up her successful career working as the Regional Chief with another serviced office then, this opportunity was one too good to miss.
With a small bank loan as her seed capital, she founded CEO SUITE in 1997 but had to weather through numerous obstacles including the economic crisis that so recently devastated Southeast Asia. But in spite of those hard times, Mee Kim is now aiming to open another center in Beijing in September this year following the establishment of a branch in Shanghai in 2003.
Prejudice against Women
Curious about her family background, I asked inquisitively, “Considering your impressive academic background, you must come from a rich family?” To this, she refuted with a bright smile. “Not exactly”, she said.
Her father was a corporate executive with a conservative mind, and he was therefore not eager to dedicate to his daughter any advance education. Mee Kim had to work her way to earn for herself a scholarship.
Even these days when she visits promising offices to lease in Korea, more often than not she will be received with a doubtful glance, with many to wonder, “Is this woman up to pay the expensive rent?” And despite all the positive progresses women have made, she admits, “unfortunately, women are still faced up with a high wall of prejudice.”
Mee Kim explained that while she could take advantage of being a businesswoman in other countries, she cannot expect the same advantage in Korea. So she is waiting for a time when she will be perfectly prepared. But having successfully settled in China, however, she says it will be more than reasonable now to channel her focus on the Korean market.
“I was so impressed with those self-confident Shanghainese women when I first came to Shanghai. Here in Shanghai, I feel more comfortable doing business. I want to visit Shanghai as often as I can.”
It speaks volume about the hardships she had to go through as a career woman.
Finding happiness in work and life
“Frankly I still have a long way to go as a good businesswoman. The achievement of my company is by no means the direct result of my personal ambition. I have also been motivated by the desire to offer greater job opportunities to my dedicated staff. And as their performance improved, we could offer them employment in the global market. So here we are now .. And it is my hope that this good teamwork will continue on into the future, which is why I decided to go on with the current structure of proprietor ownership even when there had been so many investors with eyes set on CEO SUITE.”
Her story is far from being exaggerated or evasive. I could sense her sincerity and nothing else.
“I really don’t want to see others sacrificing because of me. But it is such a tall order. For example, my son is making a sacrifice when I have to spend so much time away on business trips. It becomes difficult to spend enough time with him. But all in all, I have lived a happy life for the past years. And I do hope I will be able to bring happiness to the people around me.”
Her words were humble enough. But her action speaks much louder. Everywhere she goes, she is dedicated to various charitable works. And though now in her mid-forties, Mee Kim shows only minor signs of aging, and relatively little signs of stress symptoms that are so typical of middle-aged business persons. I guess it can only come from the positive attitude she adopts towards life. Wrapping it all up, I grew with increasing confidence that a lot more people will harvest the fruit of happiness that has grown from a seed sown by this amazing businesswoman.