Sharon Wong is the Founder and CEO of Motherswork, a leading premium retailer of mother, baby and kids’ products in Singapore and China. Wong, who aims to hit $100 million in revenue within the next three to five years, currently has two Motherswork stores in Singapore and 12 in China, where it is also one of the country’s leading companies for children’s products.
I am a “domestic night owl”. As a student, I would work late into the night to complete assignments and study for exams. As a mum, I can only find time to work after the kids are asleep. So, this domestic owl stays up late but does not stay out late. I’m usually home way before midnight.
I used to get up at 6am to have breakfast with the kids before school. Now that we’re empty-nesters, I wake around 7 to watch my husband, Ken, perform his daily coffee-making ritual of measuring and grinding the coffee beans (we buy ours from Jimmy Monkey), foaming the milk and then having that first cup of coffee together before we go about our day.
I’m most productive after 9pm because my days are so action-packed. I spend all day brainstorming creative ideas, interacting with people and setting directions for the team, so it’s only after dinner around 9pm when I do deep work without interruption. I go to bed anytime between 1am and 2am.
My work evolution? I was working in an American MNC as a tax and treasury director but my desire to be a wonderful mother, to get the best baby products to keep my babies safe and happy and to balance career and quality-time led me to create Motherswork, a premium retailer of products for mothers and children. It’s a project that I started as a “hobby” that ultimately became a regional brand with stores in Singapore and China.
I’m used to working on the go; whenever, wherever. So when an idea strikes, weekend or public holiday, I’ll send emails and text messages. I don’t believe in doing things 9-5. But I do respect each team member’s work habits so I don’t expect replies during weekends.
My go-to organisational tool? Is it too cliched to say it’s the calendar and notes app on my iPhone? I’ve been an Apple fan since the first generation of iMac and iPhone. It’s Apple all the way for me!
Best piece of career advice? “Don’t let anyone who doesn’t matter affect you.” We’ve been married for almost 30 years and beyond all the sweet nothings, this is the one piece of advice from my husband that I’ve always remembered. We are not here to please everyone.
People tend to limit success to one thing or to one mentor but they missed out the power of “and”. I’ve had many mentors over the years and they have all contributed to my growth at different stages of my life and career, moulding me into the woman I am today.
To manage staff effectively, you have to learn how to “dance” with them. Are they slow dancers or hip-hop dancers? It’s very rare that we hire the person with the skillset to match the job scope immediately. Plus the job always evolves. A slow dancer is someone for whom you have to tailor the job scope to their pace until they get to the desired skill level. A “hip-hop dancer” is a person who quickly learns and adapts to the pace required to do the job effectively.
Many of my staff have been with me since the beginning and helped me grow Motherswork together. So, by fostering open communication and understanding their “dance style”, I’ve managed to retain and motivate many to find purpose in their jobs. Often it also means having to personalise the job scope to a person’s skill set until they feel confident and empowered.
I’ve learned that every person has something to contribute, regardless of their age and experience.
The glass ceiling exists but everyone’s experience will be different as every company has a different culture and every generation has a different perspective. Throughout my career, my focus has always been securing the result and getting the job done. So I’ve always seen obstacles as just part of work, not caused by my gender.
Don’t let anyone who doesn’t matter affect you.”
We’ve been married for almost 30 years and this is the one piece of advice from my husband that I’ve always remembered. We are not here to please everyone.
I don’t know where to draw the line between “work” and “life” but I’ve been fortunate to find purpose in what I do. I always say that we should make our passion our work. We go through different seasons in life for everything. It’s not about juggling but instead, balancing and prioritising what’s important to you during the different seasons of your life. To give an example, during the initial years when Motherswork first entered the China market, I was travelling frequently to China but ensured I made it back to Singapore for every birthday, school play, dance performance or parent-teacher conference. Now, my children are older and living in different countries but we travelled to see them as soon as VTLs opened up. I am always a mother first and I plan things so that my business syncs with my family commitments.
I bake to de-stress. I love baking because there’s something extremely comforting about just mindlessly following recipes and not having to make any decisions. In fact, my customers now call me “the CEO who bakes”! Pre-covid, I used to bake regularly for our customers – we’d have jars full of cookies at the pantry at Motherswork and would offer them during our in-store events too. My cookies are good! Many have asked me to sell them commercially but I prefer to make them exclusively for Motherswork’s family and friends. The only exception was during Singapore’s Circuit Breaker in 2020, when I baked 500 cookies for frontline workers here.
I love to entertain. My home is always open and ready for friends, whether this involves watching the sunset, having a drink on the balcony or decking the table out for dinner.
Having been very active in sports in the early years of my life when I played badminton competitively, I’ve pivoted to taking walks and doing pilates to keep my body agile. I hit the gym twice a week and attend weekly private lessons at the pilates studio Ilies Soma in Holland Village, near my home.
Traveling For Work
I’m always in overdrive in the days leading up to any business trip. There are always lots of preparatory meetings with the team and I push everyone to complete outstanding projects so that things can move forward while I’m away. So I’m usually exhausted when I get on the plane and the change in altitude makes me fall asleep immediately. I’m asleep from take-off until the meal before landing and rarely work on flights.
My jet-lag hack? I try to adapt quickly to the new timezone upon arrival by avoiding all alcohol on the first night and making sure I’m in bed by a certain time, regardless of whether I’m sleepy or not. If I’m travelling for many nights, I’ll take a sleep aid (ZzzQuil is my go-to) for the first two nights to help regulate my sleep.
Of all the cities I frequent for work – Chicago, Los Angeles, Amsterdam, Cologne, Shanghai, Beijing and Chengdu – it’s Shanghai that I miss the most. I particularly miss Old Jesse Restaurant at 41 Tianping Road in Shanghai, which makes an amazing crab and rice dish. They de-shell the crabmeat right there in the restaurant, cook it in some special sauce and top it on rice in a stone pot. It is so delicious. I also miss walking through Jing An park in the mornings, when it’s full of seniors practising tai chi and dancing to loud music from boomboxes.
It’s a bit unfair but I don’t have fond memories of Chicago, which I’ve only travelled to during winter. I vividly recall the bitterly cold wind slicing through my body and the dirty pavements after snowfall – these overshadow all the good eateries the city offers.
Success is…. every time a first-time mum walks out of Motherswork feeling a little more confident and a little less overwhelmed. Having purposefully built a business to journey with women into motherhood and beyond, our continuing relevance to mothers, even after 20 years, is tremendously satisfying.
When you’re in your 20s everything seems amplified. Everything seemed so overwhelming – such a big deal, blown out of proportion. Even the simplest issue was a problem that caused worry. I know now that is part of the learning journey that everyone has to undertake. I wish I knew then that it’s all about having the right perspective.
You know you’ve made it in life when you have a group of close friends who don’t judge you, you don’t worry about what others think of you and you feel happy for everyone and content with yourself.
Women are my greatest inspiration. I’m inspired by women who rise to become leaders in their field and who integrate their career with motherhood. With Motherswork I’ve found my purpose and the secret to integrating my life with my work, and now I want to help inspire others to do the same. I want to be a woman who is there for other women, who sees them, recognises their needs and helps to lift them up – whether this means helping them to become better entrepreneurs, better mothers, or both!
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