Boss Lady

Learning from challenges

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I had learnt a lot about resilience by my thirties, much of it from just watching Mum as I grew up. My mum has bucketloads of inner strength and resilience, but at the time I didn’t really know much about it, other than her being brave and courageous.

I know plenty of men in business who leave their families at home to pursue their entrepreneurial dreams or careers in Singapore, just as I was planning to do at that time. They have been able to establish themselves here and kick things off, then move their families across later or just visit home regularly.

I could not do that as a single mother; there was no option to leave the girls in Sydney and base myself in Singapore. I had been feeling sick to my core since before the move. How the hell was I going to do this?

What have I done? I’ve created a monster! I thought.

For weeks leading up to the move, I couldn’t sleep. Instead, I paced the house in the small hours over all the decisions I had to make. I wanted to achieve what I had set out to do, and I had already financially invested so much. Yet I felt incredibly challenged and guilty over the reality of uprooting the girls and taking them away from Tristan (we had divorced by this point) and their family.

Towards the end of 2017, I was pretty much at breaking point with all the immense stress I was under. There is only so much one can physically and mentally take. I had seen Mum go through periods of immense turmoil during her time in business. I didn’t really understand it, until the risks were higher for me and I started to take more risks—and more pressure as a result. Besides the move to Singapore and all the difficulties I faced, I was unnerved by the dirty tactics of so many around me.

It was all too much, and the following year proved to be even worse. My girls kept me going through all of this—they always do. At the root of my resilience, grit and inner strength was also my dogged determination to not let anyone tell me that I can’t do something, that I wouldn’t make it or that something was impossible. The naysayers fuel my drive even more.

Thus, I decided to pivot slightly. Agility and mobility are things that I believe sound businesses and leaders master. Things are always changing, and you can’t be too fixed in business.

That was when I created YoungGems®. I was approached to teach entrepreneurship to young people, and that was whom this programme was initially for. It came at a time when I wanted to add more diversity to the Gemstar business. By this point we were inviting, based on trust, between 50 to 100 people to meet companies we were showcasing under Gemstar in Singapore. It was like being constantly swarmed by sharks though—everyone was trying to sell their own services which were overlapping with Gemstar, even as they were there to drink our wine, eat our food and meet our clients. Everyone was wanting to make a buck under my dime, and I found it all slimy and horrible. To make things worse, I was often mistaken as the Event Manager at our events, with people mistaking any males I had working with me at the time as the ‘Boss’. I stopped enjoying the innovative environment of the start-up world, and getting into education was a new challenge.

We created YoungGems® IP, building on what we do in Gemstar and Manning & Co., by teaching people how to grow their business ideas and solve real world problems. Our YoungGems® programmes delivered amazing results and when a global higher education institute attended one of our pitch events, they were so impressed with what they saw that they asked us if we wanted to do a diploma course with them.

In the meantime, a string of events happened that truly tested my resilience—I had what seemed like a constant battle on my hands. Each time I pushed the boundaries and went out of my own comfort zone, the mountains appeared that much higher to climb. It felt like I always had to have my boxing gloves on, and watch my back too.

When you are the face of a company, the brand ambassador and founder, you have to be an actor in many ways. You often have to perform, switching it on and off. You have to carry yourself in front of so many, without letting anyone see the pain, disappointment and hurt that sometimes is on the inside.

I get deeply disappointed with people in business. I don’t mean to generalise, and I’ve come across a lot of great people too, don’t get me wrong. However, overall, I’ve come across a lot of people who don’t operate the way I do; I expect that they will, but many times I’ve seen that isn’t the case.

There are so many unethical people and organisations, who don’t conduct themselves professionally. I’ve been doing this for 12 years and I’m still appalled by the behaviour that I come up against, and it takes every bit of strength and determination in me to keep on going and get past it.

So many times, people have gone out of their way to see me fail. Maybe it is because I’m a mover and shaker. A visionary who can see things before others, and someone who can execute and make things happen. While you might say business is indeed

a cutthroat world, does it to be? I don’t think so.

Learning from challenges

 

I’m immensely proud of what has been achieved, what I’m celebrating and the fact that my business is growing. If I had to return to Australia tomorrow, I know I can do it after achieving what I set out to do.

This is an edited extract from About This Girl, Gemma’s memoir drawing from her experience in building a thriving international business from scratch through sheer grit and grace under pressure, proving that virtue in business can stand the test of time against all odds. About this Girl offers lessons in resilience and determination in the face of adversity.

About Gemma Manning

Gemma Manning is a serial entrepreneur and strategic marketing professional. She is the Founder and Managing Director of Manning and Co, a corporate marketing consultancy based in Sydney, and Gemstar Technology, a launching pad for Australian tech startups in South-East Asia, via Singapore as a gateway.

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