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Fascinating entrepreneur’s tale of bridging East and West

This is the fascinating story of how an ambitious young woman went from studying neurosurgery to dominating the cultural consultancy world in a few short years.

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A quickly obvious contrast

When you first meet Monica Moffitt, you can’t miss her smile, it is brilliant and sincere, and it lights up any room, so when this tall, young, African American gal shakes your hand and hands you a business card, the contradiction that is Moffitt becomes immediately evident, as her Texan smile contrasts the Chinese characters all over her card. She’s used to the curiosity, and I could tell she almost enjoyed it when I looked up from her card to her face. I was immediately fascinated.

Moffitt is the founder of Tianfen Consulting, a cultural consultancy which separates itself from other consultancies by being more than just an HR branch for Western companies trying to branch out into the East and vice versa, no, the team handles general management, human resources, marketing and general business, emphasizing the nuance of the human to human business interactions.

Her company helps small to medium businesses into the Asian and American markets, and helps them to understand everything from how to hold a meetings, professional protocol, and entry routes. Moffitt is one of perhaps 100 people in America that works in an extremely tiny specialized niche, helping high net worth individuals in Asia to take advantage of the EB-5 visa for immigrant investors which is a method of obtaining a green card for investing at least $1,000,000 in America, creating at least 10 jobs.

What most Americans don’t know about the Chinese

Moffitt says that there are two primary traits of the Chinese people that most Americans are not aware of. First, she says that they really do understand American culture, and the majority will speak English to you on the street, and will often ask you your thoughts on current American politics.

She notes they are the “friendliest people on the planet,” which she says confidently, having traveled all around the globe, visiting nearly every continent. “It’s like southern hospitality times one thousand. If you are lost and ask someone on the street where to go, even if they’re late for work, they will physically walk you there themselves.”

When she lived in China for the first time and told people she was from Texas, she said with a chuckle that they always ask two things – “do you like Bush, and do you know Yao Ming?”

Moffitt confessed that like most Americans, when she first visited China, she had a preconceived notion that she would be a giant and would be the only black person, but she was surprised to find that she didn’t stand out the way she had feared, as there is quite a large African population in China, which is where people often assumed she was from.

From business analyst to entrepreneur

If you’re not already intrigued by Moffitt, there’s more – her background reads like an Aaron Sorkin movie about an Ivy Leaguer who followed her dreams. Her mother was fascinated with Japanese art, and gave Moffitt a Japanese middle name, so her affinity for Asian cultures started at an early age. Although she consults on all Eastern nations, she speaks most frequently about China, and she narrowed down her affinity when her best friend dared her in high school to dump Latin classes and take Chinese, to which she said, “I will if you will.” Her friend dropped it, but Moffit just kept going with her studies.

After graduating from a prestigious private school in Dallas, Moffitt sought to be a neurosurgeon and “save the world,” adding “that was always the plan.” She went off to Vanderbilt and began studying to become a neurosurgeon, but she continued pursuing her Eastern Asian studies. When she flirted with the idea of dropping neurosurgery, her father was conflicted, and her mother encouraged her to follow her heart.

So she finished Vanderbilt with a BA in East Asian Studies and Chinese, moved to China, and at age 21 began teaching at a University where the students were all a year or two older than her. Due to a family illness, Moffitt moved back to Texas and took what she intended to be a short term job before she left for China once again, but she spent six years excelling at an international IT firm as a business analyst for global software. Her mentor at the IT firm mentioned to her that the company offered tuition reimbursement, so Moffitt enthusiastically asked if she could get her PhD in Chinese Literature, but was met with a stern “no,” so she settled for pursuing her MBA from the University of Texas at Dallas.

Moffitt discovered that UTD had a very specific program, International Management, which differs from the standard International Business programs, in that it focused on the people side of the business, and human organization development. She finally found a way to combine her psychology and neurosurgery background (the human side) with her cultural and language studies (the cultural side) in the form of a MBA (the business side) to specialize in marketing and consumer behavior across international boundaries.

With her MBA in hand, Moffitt left the corporate world and launched her consulting firm, and as she handles Eastern nations, and one of her partners handles Latin America, the firm has an impressive global footprint, all because of a high school dare and an offer for tuition reimbursement.

Lani is the Chief Operating Officer at The American Genius and has been named in the Inman 100 Most Influential Real Estate Leaders several times, co-authored a book, co-founded BASHH and Austin Digital Jobs, and is a seasoned business writer and editorialist with a penchant for the irreverent.

Business Entrepreneur

Entrepreneurs: You’re unemployable in your own company, must define your role

(ENTREPRENEURS) Once you’ve built a successful business, it’s time to reexamine your role and determine where you fit in best.

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startup optimize to key metric

In my experience, most entrepreneurs are “accidental entrepreneurs.” They happened to be good at something, or they had a unique one-time opportunity to provide a product or service to the market. Then years later, they wake up one day and realize that they’re running a big business.

As an entrepreneur, one of the unintended consequences of building a business is that you become essentially unemployable within your own organization. After living the life of freedom, flexibility and responsibility of being a business owner, it’s difficult to go back to a “nine-to-five” job. This is why many entrepreneurs don’t enjoy staying with their businesses after they’ve sold to other organizations. Within months, they are frustrated that they’re no longer in control and the new owners are (in their opinion) making poor choices.

I see many situations where entrepreneurs are bad employees in their own organization. In fact, they may be the worst team members in the organization by having inconsistent schedules or poor communication skills and/or by inserting themselves into areas that aren’t useful. They can also have too much freedom and flexibility. And while most entrepreneurs insist on clearly defined roles, expectations and goals for all of their employees, they don’t always take the time to define their own roles, expectations and goals.

So why do entrepreneurs become bad employees?

I believe that it’s because they don’t have someone holding them accountable. Think about it: Who do they report to? They’re the owners. Part of the definition of “owner” is being accountable for everything but not accountable to anyone. Having a board of directors, a peer group or a business coach can provide some accountability for them, but another solution is to clarify their roles in the company and then abide by those definitions.

If you find yourself “unemployable” in your business, it’s time to define your role. It starts with outlining your main focus. Do you concentrate more on day-to-day execution or strategic, long-term decisions? Do you consider yourself an owner-operator or an investor?

Most entrepreneurs start as an owner-operator and put in countless hours of sweat equity doing whatever needs to be done to build the business. But over time they reinvest earnings in the business and hire a management team so they can step back and take on a more strategic role. Sometimes it’s not clear when the entrepreneur makes that transition, which can lead to challenges for the entire team.

Focus: Strategic Overview

If your main role is in dealing with long-term, strategic decisions, then it’s important for you to communicate that to the team. Clearly delegate tactical roles and responsibilities to the leadership team.

I’ve seen many instances where owners do more harm than good by haphazardly injecting themselves into tactical decisions that should be handled by the leadership team. Instead of jumping in when they see something they disagree with, I encourage owners to actively “coach” their leadership team to be better leaders. The approach of micromanaging every decision of others will frustrate everyone and lead to an underperforming organization.

I have one client that decided his role was to build strategic relationships and work on a new service offering. He was confident that his leadership team could handle the day-to-day operations of the business. Over time he discovered that being in the office every day was actually a distraction for him and his team. So, he moved his office out of the building.

To maintain his ownership responsibilities to the company, he scheduled one afternoon a week to physically be in the office. Team members knew they could schedule time with him during that weekly window when he temporarily set up office space in a conference room. Not having a permanent office in the building also sent a message to the team that he was not responsible for day-to-day decisions. Sometimes not having an office in the building is better than the team seeing the owner’s office empty on a regular basis.

Focus: Day-to-Day Execution

If you decide that your role is in the day-to-day execution of the business, then clearly define your role in the same way you would define any other team member role. Are you in charge of marketing? Sales? Finance? Operations? Technology? R&D? Or, some combination of multiple roles? Take the time to outline your responsibilities and communicate them to the team.

Just as you define your role, also define what you are NOT going to do and who is responsible for those areas. After all, sectioning off some tactical work does not abdicate you from long-term decision-making. You must set aside time to make the long-term, strategic decisions of the company.

Being an entrepreneur sounds glamorous to those that haven’t done it, but ultimately, the owner is accountable for everything that happens in their organization. It can be quite sobering. And while some entrepreneurs have a delusional belief that they can do everything in a company, it’s not a path to long-term success.

All entrepreneurs have to decide what their role should be in their organization – even if it means that they’re contributing to their “unemployable” status.

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Business Entrepreneur

Startups love pondering inclusion, yet half have no women in leadership

(STARTUPS) Tech startups are a huge part of discussing diversity and inclusion, but something as simple as hiring women in management somehow remains elusive.

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women in leadership lean out

According to the Silicon Valley Bank’s annual report, over half of startups have no women on their leadership team. None.

As hard as this fact is to believe, it is also hardly breaking news. Organizations who have surveyed startups and technology companies for the past several years have seen that long-standing trends that disadvantage women and other genders in the tech space are still at play.

Like many other gendered debates about the treatment of women and other minority workers, this problem is seemingly a Catch 22 or a chicken and egg situation. Critics will continue to argue that the reason ladies aren’t in leadership roles is because they don’t have innate leadership qualities or that once their non-male employees have proven themselves, then they will start getting the resources and promotions that they say that they desire.

Like many other myths about women in the workforce, these beliefs only serve to reinforce the status quo by transferring the responsibility for these frustrating conditions onto the marginalized party.

These beliefs are busted not only because they’re tired gender clichés, but because we have hard data that proves the financial and cultural benefit in long-term effects of women leadership in tech.

However, for all the discussion of diversity initiatives, the likelihood of traditional funding going to women-led startups is still small.

For now, startups with women in leadership roles were more likely to get their funding from investing teams that were also led by females. Wouldn’t it be great if other investors began to not only understand that in 2019 it’s imperative that a company’s leadership reflect the diversity of the employees that comprise it? That workers will be more motivated, feel more understood, and have greater buy-in when they identify with their management?

Empowering women is how more get involved in tech. Diversity of leadership helps organizations thrive. And if something as simple as binary gender diversity is such a tremendous challenge, all other diversity issues are still (unfortunately) a large mountain to climb.

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Business Entrepreneur

C. J. Walker: America’s first self-made millionaire was a black orphan

(ENTREPRENEUR) When you think of our nation’s first self-made millionaire, C. J. Walker is probably not the picture that may come to mind, but this generous genius made it to the top, breaking every glass ceiling possible.

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These days, it seems like Oprah gets all the bragging rights. I don’t think it’s quite fair that some car-gifting mogul gets to bask in the glory of a path that was paved a century ago. **No offense, O Great Winfrey. You’re cool, too. Please don’t take my Altima back.**

It’s time to pay our respects to the first female self-made millionaire in America. My friends, I’d like to introduce you to your new idol, Sarah Breedlove, better known as Madam C. J. Walker.

This gal had just about every card in the deck working against her. Both of her parents and all of her siblings before her were born into slavery. Her mother died when she was five, and her father passed the following year. Orphaned, she lived with her older sister until she married at age 14.

As if that wasn’t enough, a mere two years after her first child was born, Sarah’s husband died. I mean, she just couldn’t catch a break. Unfortunate event after unfortunate event. She then moved to St. Louis to live with her brothers, working as a washer woman for a mere dollar a day. Classic rags-to-riches stuff.

Her brothers worked at a local barber shop, and she wound up learning a thing or two about hair care while sharing a home with them. This planted the seed that would lead to her working with Annie Turnbo Malone, selling African American hair care products. As she learned more about hair, she must have realized she had a knack for it, because she decided to roll up her sleeves and put some indie elbow grease in.

After moving to Denver to work on her own products, she married Charles Walker, who provided the advertising know-how that would help her venture succeed. She adopted the name C. J. Walker and began traveling and training women in the fields of beauty and sales.

Eleven years later, in 1917, she called her first convention of so-called “beauty culturists” in Philadelphia. Here, she rewarded her top agents as well as those who were the most philanthropic towards local charities.

What I love about C. J. is that as her business grew, so did her awareness of the social climate around her. She never forgot where she came from, never hesitated to give back, and never gave up. She lectured on topics such as women’s independence, helping educate other black women in the ways of business.

Upon her death, it was determined that she was the wealthiest African-American woman in the country. In true C. J. style, she left two-thirds of her future profits to charity.

If I ever get mega-famous, I’m doing it the C. J. Walker way: Keep a level head, educate and help others, and put your community first.

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