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Tuesday, Oct 3, 2023

Bicoastal Boss

Decades before Connie Tang was inspiring entrepreneurs, she was bringing out the best in her 8-year-old classmates. “We put on plays, and Connie was always the star,” recalled Phyllis Wrynn, Tang’s third- and fourth-grade teacher. “When the other kids saw her performing onstage, they would come out of their shyness.” Tang, who lives in Thousand Oaks, is chief executive of Princess House Inc., a direct sales company headquartered in Taunton, Mass. Since she took the helm of the company in 2012, her bicoastal lifestyle not only has brought the entire organization into the digital age, but also has galvanized the company’s leaders to work harder than ever. “(Tang) has very high expectations of herself, which inspires everyone else,” explained Stefani Shea, director of marketing at Princess House. “She’s here quite frequently, but even when she’s not in the office it’s not all that different, because she’s very comfortable using technology.” Even more valuable to Princess House has been Tang’s high level of cultural competency, Shea added, the development of which Tang credits to her childhood as a Chinese immigrant growing up in an ethnically-diverse neighborhood in Manhattan’s lower east side. She detailed her transformation from la chinita – “the little Chinese girl” – to a C-suite executive in her new book, “Fearless Living: 8 Life-Changing Values for Breakthrough Success,” available on Amazon Inc. and Books-A-Million stores on Aug. 8 in both Spanish and English. “I was always driven,” Tang said of her youth. “I had a goal and I did everything I could to achieve it.” Multicultural and motivated Tang’s ability to uplift those around her has changed the destiny of Princess House, which under her direction has increased its sales consultant network from 15,000 to 25,000. Since joining the 54-year-old company as its first female leader, she has leveraged her understanding of Princess’ Hispanic consumers to help the firm achieve double-digit sales gains in two of the last five years. “We’ve had growth every year since Connie started,” Shea said. “She’s really moved us forward by helping people think differently.” Following her appointment as chief executive, Tang opted to remain in Thousand Oaks so her 13-year-old daughter could attend school there; as a result, Tang spends roughly a third of her time in California, a third at Princess House’s headquarters and another third attending meetings with sellers around the country. “The company has been extremely open to a different work style,” Tang said. “(The management) probably never had to work as virtually as we do now, which has been great for us.” Once her team grew comfortable communicating with their boss via FaceTime and Zoom, they began implementing the same technology in the company’s relationship with its sales force. In addition to conducting webinars, Princess holds complex video conferences that are broadcast in multiple languages, Shea said. “We’ve excelled at using technology to virtualize the office,” she explained. “We’ve become a company that is so much more capable of connecting with its leaders.” Tang is no stranger to life on the road. She first became adept at the art of remote management while directing the international expansion of BeautiControl, a direct sales cosmetics company now owned by Tupperware Brands Corp. Her 13-year tenure saw BeautiControl expand into 13 new countries, a move she was appointed to spearhead after management learned she was trilingual. “They didn’t hire me for my language skills, but I ended up opening the Hispanic market because I was the only person in the building who spoke Spanish,” Tang recalled. Her mother’s insistence that she speak Cantonese in her childhood home came in handy when she opened BeautiControl’s fully owned subsidiaries in Taiwan and Hong Kong. 1. Determination: Pushing past the fear of practicing daily discipline keeps you from settling for “just enough.” 2. Accountability: Overcome your fear of visibility and self-awareness by understanding and taking ownership of your responsibilities. 3. Drive for Results: Harness the fear of failure and rechannel it to fuel passion and determination. 4. Passion: Nurture your passion to overcome fear of the unknown and keep from becoming discouraged. 5. Collaboration: By letting fear prevent you from collaborating, you could be missing out on reaching new heights of unity, strength and creativity. 6. Agility: It can help you seek solutions and possibilities, even if you think you’ve hit a wall. 7. Respect: Overcoming the fear of being hurt can allow you to expand your community, support network and world view. 8. Compassion: Without understanding, fear can keep you from acting. – From “Fearless Living: 8 Life-Changing Values for Breakthrough Success” by Connie Tang But before she was traveling around the globe, Tang was working up to six jobs at a time to pay her way through City University of New York – Brooklyn, where she graduated in three years without a cent of debt or help from her parents. In addition to assisting Wrynn at her new antique shop and serving as a translator at an orthopedic surgeon’s office, she was also a part-time beauty consultant for Clinique. “Clinique allowed me real person-to-person engagement, which I loved,” Tang said. “It doesn’t get much more personal than working closely with women to help them build confidence through things like makeup and skincare.” Her time behind the makeup counter paid off after graduation, when she was named an account manager for L’Oreal S.A. subsidiary Lancome. At just 21, she was responsible for the business results of 13 retail partners in New York and New Jersey. Her job also required that she manage beauty consultants who were twice her age, some of whom had spent as many as 40 years in the business. “I don’t know if I thought much about it – I was confident, willing and hard-working,” Tang said. “I had hopes that I would win them over because I would try to do my job well.” Serving others Tang’s goal – to make a difference – has been apparent since childhood. In a letter to Wrynn, written in middle school, Tang explained why she was returning a check Wrynn had sent her in exchange for the young girl’s help in the classroom. “There are two things I want to do in life, and one of them is to help people!” Tang wrote. “You’ve helped me through two years of my life and I should be rewarding you!” That attitude, coupled with Tang’s track record for amplifying companies’ results, has made her a sought-out leader in the direct sales industry. From her job at BeautiControl, she was recruited by Jafra Cosmetics International Inc. in Westlake Village to turn around its brand. “They wanted someone with cultural diversity to come into the business and bring it out of a very long period of decline,” Tang recalled. “The attraction for me was to take a credible, longstanding brand and reinvigorate it.” Her transformative powers were requested once again three years later, this time by the owners of Princess House. The company was seeking a leader who not only had experience in direct selling, but who also possessed the cultural competencies necessary to reach its growing Hispanic customer base. “We were looking for someone who could address the needs of the whole person and understand the culture behind the market,” Shea said. “Connie is a sales and marketing person at heart, so she really is all about speaking to the customer.” Besides being fluent in Spanish, which she picked up at age 2 from the Dominican neighbor who watched her while her parents worked, Tang also is deeply connected with the needs of Hispanic families. She spearheaded Princess’ shift into high-quality cookware, for instance, based on the recognition that many in the community lacked access to education about healthy eating. The company also has redefined its mission to include promoting wellness among its goals, she said. “Health became a big focus for us because we realized in the Hispanic community…they perhaps weren’t making the best eating or lifestyle decisions,” Tang explained. “Cookware becomes the tool to enable you to make healthier choices.” Keeping up Tang’s ability to oversee dramatic company overhauls while living on two coasts comes down to having a skilled team and exceptional time-management skills, she explained. Whether she is in Thousand Oaks or overseas, she stays connected with her team in Massachusetts by working on East Coast time. “When I’m here in California, I wake up around 3 or 4 in the morning, because our official office hours start at 7:45 EST,” she explained. “I do all of my one-on-one direct report updates and collaborative updates virtually, peppered in with any external meetings I may have (here).” Other members of Princess House’s management team live on the West Coast as well, which helps, she said. Still, the time difference makes easy to fall behind when it comes to scheduling appointments on the other side of the country. “You have to really focus on both your long-term and day-to-day goals, because otherwise the day passes so quickly,” Tang explained. “You can lose opportunities…time runs away from you in three-hour blocks.” Keeping a productive schedule is as much about knowing what projects can wait as it is which ones need to be tackled immediately, she added. Time-bound goals are key, as is using separate lists to organize priorities. “Don’t put everything on one day, because then you think you have to do everything in one day,” Tang said. “If you leave it all on one list and it’s not in order of priority, you’ll get confused and lose track.” It’s a practice that even she is still mastering, Tang noted. And while balancing time zones does make for a long day, the rewards are plentiful. “I actually feel like I have more time (with my daughter)…I can talk to her at 11 or midnight East Coast time and it’s still only 8 or 9 ‘o clock here,” she said. When at home in Thousand Oaks, Tang is finished with work in time to pick her up from school and take her to kung fu or dance practice. During East Coast visits, she helps her with homework over video calls, Tang said. “She’s now taking Spanish, so she has me help her through FaceTime, which is pretty cool,” she added. Book idea The idea to share her experience and insights in a book was not her own, Tang admitted. The notion came about during dinner with business consultant and executive coach Tony Jeary, who Tang had hired to speak at an event. “He said, ‘You know Connie, I know who you are – you’ve obviously hired me – but I don’t really know how you ended up at Princess House,’” Tang recalled. “So I told him the whole story … then he looked at me and said, ‘You should write a book!’” Though she was hesitant at first, Jeary’s logic about the power of books – that they could go places where she could not, and would last longer than she would – convinced Tang to give it a shot. The book could be a platform to share the stories of the many inspiring entrepreneurs Tang had met during her career, she reasoned, and might also offer another way to engage with the thousands of people who had started businesses through Princess House. “Weaved into every chapter is a specific profile of an independent business-woman who exhibits some of these values, which also happen to be the core values of our company,” Tang explained. “They sound like personality traits, but if you learn to recognize values like agility, collaboration or compassion you can really develop them as a skillset.” First-look copies were distributed earlier this month among attendees at Princess’ annual conference. Readers’ reactions so far have been humbling and rewarding, Tang said. “One of my top leaders came up to me and said, ‘I have to apologize – until I read your book, I just assumed you were from a rich family that had paid for everything,’” Tang recalled. “‘It made me think that if you can do it, I can do it,’ (she said.)” “Fearless Living” has transformed Tang, too. Prior to writing the book, she was careful to hide her vulnerabilities, especially in the workplace. “This book was not easy for me,” she said. “It required me to share some very emotional things that happened, things that at the time were critical turning points for me.” Tang hopes that the book’s underlying message of overcoming fear will help thousands of entrepreneurs channel anxiety into action. The forces that prompt us to flee can also energize us to fight, she said. “That physical power that causes you to retreat will take you bungee jumping if you’re afraid of heights,” Tang explained. “It’s the same amount of energy that’s required, so why not use it for something that’s going to move you forward?”

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