Born in the Philippines and raised in Los Angeles, Cathy Chon moved to Hong Kong and founded CatchOn in 2001. Regarded as one of Asia’s leading brand communications and PR agencies, CatchOn – A Finn Partners Company has offices in Hong Kong, Shanghai and Beijing and works with some of the world’s most respected brands in travel, hospitality, F&B, design, wellness and luxury. A marketing expert with over 30 years’ experience in brand development and communications, Chon is a sought-after speaker for her keen insights on the Asian consumer market and was named one of the “100 Most Influential Filipina Women in the World” by the Global FWN 100.
I’m definitely a morning person. I feel a burst of energy first thing in the morning and am raring to go before the sun even rises, which drives my husband crazy. I’ve always been this way – I think it’s a very California thing. We’re early risers. After 9pm, I’m basically useless. This is usually when I catch up on my reading. I just finished Taste: My Life Through Food by Stanley Tucci. I’m about to start on Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro. I read one book at a time. I already have a hard concentrating on one to begin with!
With every passing decade, sleep becomes more precious and elusive than youth. I’m up at 5 am, bargaining with God to let me sleep one more hour, to no avail. So since I can’t go back to sleep, I just use this time to think and reflect on the day ahead.
I strive to be in bed by 10pm at the latest and get on the speed train to REM before midnight! I’ve become quite rigid about sleep because everything depends on it.
At a fundamental level, my parents have inspired me most because they’ve always lived by example. Unlike what you’d expect from most Asian parents, they focused less on academics and more on character-building and shaping us into responsible humans other people would want to be around.
My most influential mentors would have to be John Sebastian and Geri Cusenza, who founded Sebastian International, a haircare and cosmetics brand that’s now part of Procter & Gamble. They were your quintessential entrepreneurs, completely self-taught with humble beginnings. Yet, they broke so many boundaries and used their platform to fund and champion social causes like AIDS research and environmental awareness, all the while staying true to their roots.
The greatest satisfaction comes from seeing the people I worked with or mentored go on to have amazing careers. I’ve been blessed to have had people who were generous with me and this is my way of paying it forward.
Best piece of career advice? Be bold. When you look back on life, you’ll regret the things you didn’t do more than the things you did.
My career evolution? I’ve been in brand communications for over 30 years now. The first half was spent on the “client” side, and the second half on the “agency” side. I think being a client has helped me shape how I wanted our agency to be.
My top tools for keeping organised are my iPhone and diary. I’m also a doodler, so I have a stack of white paper readily on hand. Drawing out my ideas and thoughts helps to clarify them.
I make time for deep work during our elective WFH day, which I use to catch up on reading, writing and thinking. Weekends are also enormously important for this process. I’ve also taken up watercolour painting, which I’ve found to be deeply meditative. When my brain is firing on all cylinders and I need to calm down, I pick up the paintbrush and that’s usually the signal to my family to give me space.
I go for a walk whenever I feel very stressed at work. Our office is on the waterfront so I can just pop out for a quick stroll when required. Walking works wonders. It not only physically distances me from the situation, it also clears my head and allows me to cool down a bit.
You can’t really inspire people unless they first feel nurtured and are given the resources to thrive. We have to get those basics right first. I just try to live my truth and be as open and honest as I can be. I get the greatest joy when people around me succeed and I see helping them get there as my most important role.
Creating shared goals and deadlines is critical to managing staff effectively. We have weekly management meetings and monthly Work-in-Progress meetings between our Hong Kong, Shanghai and Beijing offices. And because I hate interminable meetings, we usually meet standing up so we can finish quickly.
The glass ceiling is not a myth and still exists within many industries and cultures. Many have been shattering it but there’s still a lot of work to be done. Much has been reported already on Silicon Valley and a few other industries, but this phenomenon cuts across all fields. I recently heard that only 23% of board positions are held by women globally. While that may seem like a small figure, it’s still an improvement from 19% five years ago. So strides are being made, perhaps not fast enough. But with the overall push and emphasis on diversity and inclusion nowadays, we can expect to see this statistic increase.
Pay parity. That’s the one thing managers and leaders can institute today to create a more equitable workplace for women.
I think the standard notion of “work-life balance” no longer applies to the realities of today when many of us are working from home. The line has been blurring for quite some time and Covid just completely obliterated it.
– Cathy Chon
I think the standard notion of “work-life balance” no longer applies to the realities of today when many of us are working from home. The line has been blurring for quite some time and Covid just completely obliterated it. We need another paradigm to describe this quest for balance that doesn’t demarcate between “work” and “life”. It’s something employers are grappling with, especially with workplaces taking over our homes and wellness becoming so important.
I’ve always had “negotiables” and “non-negotiables”, even when I was building my company and considering what I was willing to give up to grow the business. When my kids were small, being home to have dinner with them was a non-negotiable, which meant I often turned down after-work social engagements, an atypical move in my industry. But I managed to make it work. And through time, I built my reputation on the merits of my work, not my social profile and connections.
I find balance through establishing daily boundaries. I try not to have the phone on the table during family meals. I don’t check emails after 9pm. And I try not to take calls at night unless I really have to, which admittedly, has often been the case lately. My weekends are sacred. No overt work if possible…although I do a lot of thinking and planning then.
It’s very easy to disconnect from your work – put your phone away. It’s really about training ourselves. Certain times, like mealtime, should be sacred.
Exercise is so important. If I don’t exercise at least 3-4 times a week, I get cranky. I box twice weekly, do Pilates once a week and walk nearly every day.
Travelling For Work
I used to be able to sleep on planes. Now I can’t unless I take something, which I don’t like to do. So you can say I don’t travel well now.
I have no secret to beating jet lag, as it’s the beast I’ve yet to conquer. I have amassed quite the jet-lag arsenal though, including CBD, aromatherapy oils, timezone apps and supplements. There’s a lot of information out there, and hotels like Six Senses and Mandarin Oriental have been great at providing all kinds of sleep programs to help you get through it. One thing I do try to do is to be physically active before I board a plane and as soon as I land. I usually walk around the airport before I board. And I try to squeeze in a quick half-hour walk as soon as I check into my hotel.
My two favourite cities to travel to for work are Paris and London. I love anywhere where walking is easy, public transportation is efficient and cab drivers are pleasant. I always feel invigorated and inspired when I’m in these cities and it’s so easy to just pop into a museum, gallery or bookstore. In Paris, I usually stay at Le Meurice and head next door to Galignani, the oldest English bookstore on the continent. Then I’ll walk over to Palais Royal, which has some of the coolest boutiques and cafes in Paris. When I’m in London, Hyde Park is a must-visit if the weather is great. If I have time to shop – typically only for a few hours right before I leave for the airport – I’ll check out Alex Eagle Studio or Liberty London. I also always find time to squeeze in the latest exhibitions.
My hometown of Los Angeles is not fun for work. Everything is so spread out so you really have to plan your meetings well. And I hate traffic and driving those freeways. In fact I hate driving, period. What takes me three days to do in New York, will take me five to seven days in LA.
You can tell a lot more about a person’s character by the way they treat people under them than the ones over them.
No one makes it alone. Always be grateful and acknowledge those who helped you.
It’s okay to say “no”.
I’m not one to subscribe to this notion of “having made it”. The people I’ve met who you’d consider “have made it” tend to be very goal-driven and don’t rest on their laurels. They’re always thinking of the next mountain to conquer. But if I were to break it down to something more tangible, having made it means having agency, authority and autonomy over your life and decisions. Having a lot more choices in front of you.
If I could do things differently, I would’ve taken my language studies more seriously. Although I’ve studied five languages (Spanish, French, Italian, Arabic and Farsi), I’m rubbish at all of them because I’ve never put them to use consistently. Language is a portal to a culture, it can give you incredible leverage and power. This is what I’ve drilled into my kids now.
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