She started off as an Advertising & Public Relations Executive and has scaled greater heights since then. Being the founder and CEO of the award-winning Mercury Group of companies comprising Mercury Events, Mercury PR, Mercury Creative and Mercury Marketing & Communications, are just a few of Tjin Lee’s numerous accolades. She is also the founder and Festival Director of the Audi Fashion Festival and a thriving entrepreneur possessing directorship of nine local businesses which include Wolfgang Violin Studio, Curated Editions and Baby Style Icon. Back in 2010, Tjin received the inaugural Singapore Tatler Young Achiever Leadership Award. The Mercury Group of companies has won several prestigious awards, some of which are the Singapore Tourism Board Experience award for Best Leisure Event for the Audi Fashion Festival and Best Exhibition for Blueprint.
Tjin’s most recent enterprise is CRIB (Creating Responsible & Innovative Businesses), Singapore’s first business and lifestyle incubator targeted at women. CRIB was initiated in September 2014 by Tjin Lee and three other women; Dr. Elaine Kim, Marilyn Lum and Mei Chee. The aim of this social enterprise is to empower and encourage women from all walks of life to create successful, innovative and responsible businesses through networking, matchmaking and business incubation, while simultaneously maximising the elusive goal of striking a satisfactory work-life balance. Tjin developed CRIB’s proprietary ABC Entrepreneur Profile matching tool:
(A) Angel Investors
(B) Business Managers
This assessment tool is based upon the belief that every successful founding team comprises of the trio of entrepreneur types stated above. It is meant to identify an individual’s entrepreneurial strengths before pairing them up with potential business partners and strategies. CRIB also happens to boast a stellar panel of advisors, including Ms. Grace Fu (Minister, Prime Minister’s Office), Dr. Lily Neo (Member of Parliament) and Ms. Claire Chiang (Banyan Tree Holdings Limited). Its well-established and experienced panel of advisors and mentors offer its members an encouraging and interactive environment to exchange ideas and insights across different sectors.
Tjin’s adorable son, Tyler (better known as Bubu on her Instagram profile), is turning two this February and she is currently expecting her second child later in the year. The relatively new mother shared that she had always wished to have a daughter. Two years ago, she had the valuable opportunity of meeting Venezuelan-American fashion designer, Carolina Herrera, who had a daughter who shared her mother’s name. Tjin admired the lovely bond which the mother-daughter pair had and added that the relationship between a mother and a daughter is a very beautiful one. But of course, a mother’s bond with each of her children, regardless of gender, is a special one. Rest assured, she adores her son Tyler but jokingly added that she cannot possibly imagine passing down her jewellery and handbags to him.
Tjin herself happens to be the second of four daughters. When questioned on what it was like growing up in a household with three sisters, she reflected that one does not actually analyse the situation till she has reached the age of 21. Each of her sisters and herself evolved differently and emerged with very distinct identities. She describes her eldest sister as the “good girl” who is very “organised”; she got married at the age of 28 and went on to have two children. Her younger sister was the “melancholic” one of the brood, thus Tjin took it upon herself to compensate for her sister’s lack of enthusiasm by being the more cheerful one. Tjin’s youngest sister is famed violinist, Lee Huei Min, who was proficient with the instrument by the age of two and a half. (“You can’t compete with that!”) Hence, Tjin was left with the role of the dreamer cum rebel. She was always asking questions (why or why not?) in contrast to her sisters. The young, free-spirited Tjin majored in English Literature at the University of Western Ontario in Canada and admitted that the only things she thought she was relatively good at were the English language and writing. Those strengths led her to think that she might possibly become a teacher or a writer but she swerved off the path of convention and later embarked on entrepreneurship.
On her early business venture, she remarked that sometimes many of us women think that passion, courage and investment are all that we need to make a business a success, but she was proven wrong. Being extremely passionate and driven only took her halfway down the road and she eventually came to realise that there were certain elements she was lacking. Back then, her enterprise survived only because she was so skilled as a Creative (C), and she initially was not aware of the absence of a Business Manager (B). That is why one of CRIB’s aims is to serve as a method of education for women who wish to embark on entrepreneurship and to make them aware of what is crucial in order to prevent a business from failing. She noted that many women also tend to adopt the herd mentality, seeking safety in numbers; quantity does not necessarily guarantee success.
So how exactly is CRIB different from other business and lifestyle incubators set up in Singapore? Tjin stated that CRIB’s target audience are stay-at-home mothers who are clueless regarding how to go about commencing a business venture and mothers working full-time who yearn for flexibility in their work schedules. This enterprise wants to provide women with more choices, as opposed to the past, where women were obliged to choose between working full-time and being a stay-at-home mother. Also, CRIB is a female dominated incubator. Thus, the types of businesses which can be started vary when compared to those of male centred incubators. Tjin hosts sentiments that Singaporeans are still not as supportive as they should be of women being entrepreneurs; only three out of every ten local businesses are owned by women. In general, on the local entrepreneurial scene, seven out of ten new businesses collapse within three to five years and she feels that this can most probably be attributed to the lack of importance awarded to partnerships – and this is exactly why the CRIB model is effective.
Tjin recalls the lesson learnt with Baby Style Icon, when one of her business partners took four months off following the birth of her child and the domain of customer service took a backseat, resulting in the other partners stepping in to aid in keeping the business going. “When you have partners who shoulder the weight of a business with you, it’s a lot more flexible and forgiving on you,” explains Tjin. “Businesses cannot stop running because their customers will always have needs.” She recounts how after nine long years of having been a businesswoman, one of her business partners, Jeremy, had taken a look at her revenue statistics and concluded that she should be earning a lot more than she was then. He then offered to take over half of her business, meaning he would take charge of manpower costs, overheads, rentals and so on, in exchange for shared ownership of the business. Although she was hesitant initially, she later came to realise how crucial the shared partnership was; without his help, she would have not been able to grow her businesses to this extent. She good-humouredly jokes. “I was so near being burnt out anyway!” Tjin therefore reckons that it is better to be a smaller part of something big than to be a bigger part of something so small. Simply put, CRIB is all about women understanding women, mothers understanding mothers, and helping each other to fill in their roles well.
The well-accomplished and driven lady who has been a mother for nearly two years now shared her experience while being pregnant with Tyler. She holds expectant mothers who have full-time jobs in the highest esteem because she herself often felt like passing out by the time it was 4pm everyday. Tjin had a rather difficult first trimester, in accordance with popular belief, and she attributes it to her having put off having children till late. She had several people advising her that the first trimester would be the most trying one. However, she does count her blessings that her immediate family members pulled together and offered her all the support possible; hence, she was able to manage her businesses simultaneously. She was quizzed on which of her two “babies”, CRIB or Tyler, is easier to handle and her answer was prompt: “The more challenging baby is the real one of course.” Tjin admitted that raising a child is an exhausting task and more so draining if a mother has no help. “I have serious respect for stay-home mums and full-time working mothers, I really don’t know how they do it!”
It takes a village to raise a child. Tjin couldn’t agree more. Owing to her lifestyle as a bustling entrepreneur, Tyler is indeed raised by the “village”; her parents, her in-laws and her helper. She remarked that she knows that her son is always in good hands with them and that an abundance of love and care is shown towards little Bubu. It is a common notion that everything about a baby is highly fascinating and Tjin does not disagree. Being a mother makes every single day an interesting one for her as Tyler surprises her with something new. “His normal voice is actually rather low, but he chooses to say bye to me in a falsetto voice for some reason!” Tyler has also taken well to responding to his nickname Bubu, which was given to him by his maternal grandmother. When asked for his name, he has started to say “Bubu”, instead of Tyler. Let’s hope he gets accustomed to Tyler again once he begins school! He could possibly be entering preschool sometime later in March. Tjin added that she does not want him to feel like he’s being thrown into school later because of the arrival of the new baby and thus wants him to get used to preschool prior to that.
Are there any life lessons she wishes to impart from her experience of being a mother thus far? Tjin frankly stated most women host a tendency to always blame themselves and often apologise for not being able to make everything work. She strongly feels that there must come a point when every woman should consider herself being good enough. “We are all never going to be the perfect mother or the perfect business partner,” she asserted. Motherhood, according to her, is not about perfection; perfection is a goal created in all of our minds and we cannot and should not judge each other about what is good enough for each of us. Afterall, it is only logical and fair that every woman has different definitions of what is “good enough” for her. The best advice she reckoned she could provide was that women have to judge for themselves and decide on their priorities on their own. They should refrain from comparing themselves to other women; females do possess a tendency to be hard on one another. Balance is a state of mind as well – if you feel good, that is good enough.
Tjin thoroughly relishes the fact that being an entrepreneur allows her the flexibility to plan her schedule around her son. “I could choose to work an entire day and head to Universal Studios with Tyler the next day.” Being your own boss affords you the luxury and empowerment to control your own time and agenda. With regards to an increasing number of firms attempting to provide working mothers with more flexible work arrangements, Tjin shared her opinion that they still do not quite suffice and there is still a long way to go. With her second child on the way, Tjin aims to be a mother who encourages her children to be independent and would love to provide them with new experiences by being a “fun mama”. According to her, confidence is a trait which all women should possess and patience is one that all mothers should adopt. On a parting note, Tjin Lee, highly successful entrepreneur and mother, confided that the most essential thing for a mother to do would be to raise a happy child. Simple and impactful. We couldn’t have said it better.
Apart from the featured image, all other pictures are courtesy of Ms. Tjin Lee’s Instagram profile.