Wendy Yu is the founder and chief executive of Yu Holdings, a cutting edge, globally positioned company that makes strategic investments in areas associated with innovation, creativity and philanthropy through its subsidiaries Yu Capital, Yu Fashion and Yu Culture. Yu’s investments include fashion brands Mary Katrsntzou (who has an upcoming collaboration with the 2019 Victoria’s Secret fashion show), Cefinn (founded by Samantha Cameron), technology giants DiDi (the Uber of China) and Tjia (the AirBnb Of China). Yu grew up learning first hand lessons about drive and vision from her father, the founder of Mengtian Group, the largest wooden door manufacturer in China. At the age of 15, Yu moved to London to study Fashion Management at the London College of Fashion where she began to build her own vision of a career that was more than a profession, but was a way to make a social, artistic, business and cultural impact—a vision she has both realized and continued to expand on. Part of that involves partnering with the Business of Fashion (BoF) to launch the first Business of Fashion China Prize: a global fashion award dedicated to emerging Chinese design talent that carries a cash prize of $100,000, a slot on the official fashion calendars of Shanghai Fashion Week and London Fashion Week and mentorship from industry leaders.
Carrie Hammer: What was behind your desire to create Yu Holdings?
Wendy Yu: Ever since I was a kid, I was pretty sure I’m going to be an entrepreneur, but not the type of entrepreneur like my dad who’s quite traditional. As a kid, he would encourage me to keep asking myself where I wanted to go and how I would get there. At a young age, I had the mindset of not just finding the right position for myself, but also finding the right pathways to get me there. I see myself as being a creative entrepreneur, but on the global stage. I see myself being this bridge to connect investments with creativity. I wanted to do something that was quite new, quite refreshing, something that a millennial entrepreneur, investor and philanthropist would do and something that probably nobody had done before.
Hammer: What was something that you learned about yourself as you developed the investment firm?
Yu: I learned so much about myself. I started to become more and more aware of my strengths and weakness. To be a leader you have to really know who you are and you have to find a team that compliments your strengths and weakness. I have learned how important it is to have the right people and a good team around you. Ultimately it shouldn’t be just for your vision. You have to find that perfect balance between what you love and what you are good at and also asking, “does the market really need this?”
Hammer: As a highly accomplished, successful young business woman, you must find yourself in situations where people underestimate you. How do you use that to your advantage?
Yu: I think it is an advantage that people underestimate you. With every ugly obstacle there is an opportunity. When people underestimate you, it doesn’t matter because then you know why you want to achieve that particular goal and what you want to do in the long run. I’m a rebel at heart. I feel like when there are more obstacles, it makes me more excited.
Hammer: Why is it important for you to be a role model and what’s a role model to you?
Yu: My dad is definitely my role model because he is so determined, so positive, so driven and also so kind. Anna Wintour. Anna is somebody who works so hard and who is so determined and intuitive. She wants to support many designers and I think people don’t know how great she is. I’m inspired by women who know what they want, who are hard working, determined, know what they want and who are not afraid of being who they are. Women who are not afraid of falling, of breaking the rules and breaking the status quo.
Hammer: Personal connections figure strongly into your journey as a business woman. What do you want other professional women to know about the value of curating friendships?
Yu: For me, the relationship has to be authentic. My dad taught me that before asking something from someone else, ask yourself, “What can I give to them?” There are takers and givers in life; I would rather be a giver.
Hammer: What are the first things you do to break down a challenge or begin to solve a problem?
Yu: I first analyze the situation to get the overall view of the reality of the situation. And then I think about what I know—solutions. I also think about who are the people who can help me resolve this and what resources are available. A challenge is also a way for you to grow and learn. I also believe that having good mentors around you is very important. They have most likely experienced similar challenges. As an entrepreneur you have to welcome the challenge and try to remain positive and determined about what you’re able to achieve.
Hammer: What are your views on Shanghai Fashion Week and its place on the global stage? How do you think it will continue to grow?
Yu: Shanghai Fashion Week has definitely become more and more influential. More and more global designers are doing shows here; we’re doing a show here next year as well. It’s becoming more international. I’m also seeing more international journalists cover Shanghai Fashion Week. Having said that, in China we don’t have the sounding board like the BFC (British Fashion Council) or CFDA (Council of Fashion Designers of America) yet. In China we need to have this official body to be able to give this consistent mentoring and support system to the younger designers.
Hammer: What does being a philanthropist mean to you? How has philanthropy informed your business philosophies?
Yu: I’m very passionate about education, especially children’s and women’s education. When I spend time with kids or when I am able to make a difference in someone else’s life, it makes me really happy. I think at the end of the day, when we’re no longer on this planet, what’s really left behind is the intellectual and social legacies and the lives we’ve touched and changed. I think about that a lot—what I want to achieve and leave behind when I’m gone. Life is so short. The things that bring substantial happiness are acts and experiences that have meaning and substance. When you have a bigger perspective, you can more easily take action. The life I would be most proud of is the one that makes positive impacts and differences in a lot of people’s lives. I feel really happy and blessed to have this opportunity to do what I do right now.
Hammer: How do you see the influence and presence of women in leadership positions in Asia changing? How are you seeing women in business in China changing?
Yu: Things have definitely changed in the last two decades. There are more women in the workforce and also in the senior management level. Women’s empowerment has been celebrated more and more, and I think society’s view of how women should be has changed. I also think you have to live by your own example. When children see their mother being independent, it is a model for them of what they can be.