Interview with Kathy Gong

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Back in May, I visited Kathy Gong’s office in Beijing. In the meeting, I was struck by the similarities we share in company culture despite being a world apart; both of our offices have a punching bag, a small team of passionate people and a leisure table: hers a pool table and mine a Ping Pong table. That was where the similarity ended.

I was energised by Kathy’s passion for CSR and community involvement, while at the same time I was also invigorated by the wide global perspective and indepth knowledge of this young 29 year old. Her multifaceted strategic approach to business innovation was not only an eye opener, but an inspiration.

Kathy Gong owns four businesses, including KG Inc, an enterprise focused on bridging business relations between Chinese and international companies. Not surprisingly, Kathy was also the youngest international chess master in China – reaching the pinnacle at the age of 13. She was also the youngest Board member of the World Economic Forum Global Shapers Community.

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Kathy Gong in an interview with Wu Chun

Below is an excerpt of our discussion.

At the age of 28, you were the youngest board member of the World Economic Forum Global Shapers Community. How did this involvement shape your thinking? How did it prepare you to become a leader?
I feel prouder of being a shaper than a foundation board member. A group of shapers bring real action and positive social projects into each of their own communities – and all of them united together make a global impact and then the unheard voice is heard. That’s when things happen that give you a new and bigger purpose that is beyond you and your life.

Being a board member trained my strategic thinking. Global Shapers Community has 4000 shapers from 450 cities (hubs) globally and we are growing rapidly every year. Its vision and core remains – Improving the State of the World yet at the same time keeping its creativity and constructive chaos (when it comes to young people). This is what I learnt from Prof. Schwab, the founder of World Economic Forum and other board members. It is a real privilege. Of course one of the responsibilities for me is also to speak for my country as the only member from China.

This experience has broadened the horizon of my life and deepened my understanding. It was not so much about the people you get to meet like political leaders, Heads of State and business leaders such as Bill Gates, Larry Page or Jack Ma etc. But meeting these people have made me both bold and humble at the same time – and this has enabled me to chase my dream and to live beyond it. In Chinese we say 不卑不亢; or as Joseph Rudyard Kipling put it: “If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue, Or walk with kings – nor lose the common touch.“

Excellent calculation only makes a good chess player; imagination and creativity create a master.
– Kathy Gong Global Shaper, World Economic Forum

Your company put together a spectacular APEC Women’s conference in Beijing last year, attracting thought leaders and high profile personalities to the event including Ru Yi (the Oprah Winfrey of China),…. and Brunei’s very own Wu Chun. What were some of the obstacles you had to overcome to make this conference a success? What lessons did you learn from this experience?
The cause of APEC Women Leadership Forum is very close to my heart as a female entrepreneur. Organising this conference was fun and challenging, especially the fund raising. The budget to organise this two day conference for 300 people was around USD $600,000.

When the opportunity arose, I immediately said yes to organising the APEC Women Leadership Forum starting from 2013 even though at that time I only had less than $1000 in my pocket, and that was my entire initial asset to start my own business. I hate to raise funds and borrow money from my friends because asking for favours makes an entrepreneur mentally weak and friendships become tricky. I also believe that most of the time in life hard choices are the right choices. Therefore I chose the hard choice – to get sponsorship from unknown companies. I literally made 100 cold calls every day and knocked on every door in almost all office buildings in Beijing CBD. I even pretended to be the front desk of my company KG Inc and made up a fake name Daisy. Out of 500 of cold calls and cold visits, 3 said yes. From this experience, I always remind myself and my colleagues that: every great thing has a humble beginning. I firmly believe in this.

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Kathy Gong (middle) on a panel with Global Leaders in the World Economic Forum

At the age of 13, you became the youngest international chess master in the history of the China. How has the game of Chess helped in your entrepreneurship endeavour?
Chess is the love of my life and is part of my brain. Chess is a game of beauty based on logic, probabilities, psychology, structured thinking and most of all, wild imagination. It has shaped me into being very logical; but also childlike so that I follow my heart and creativity.

When it comes to business, my natural thinking process on even a small matter is like chess playing. For example, if I make this move, what potential moves will my counter-partner make? And then what should I do in response? Or if I do this, what possible moves will I encounter and how should I prepare to maximise the success rate and to reduce the expected risk? “Accidents or bad surprises” happen less in my work life. In chess we refer to accidents as the move you fail to calculate.

However excellent calculation only makes a good chess player; imagination and creativity create a master. In business too imagination and creativity only come from freedom – the freedom to believe, to challenge, to fail, to fear, to love and to follow your heart and soul. Chess grants me a heart and brain to discover my freedom on the chess board and beyond.

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Annual Curator’s Meeting at Geneva 2014

Your company recently launched an App that could potentially revolutionise the way we do business by simplifying the communication process through digital mind-map while integrating the elements of social media. Tell us about the innovation.
PinPoint breaks down lengthy conversation into key points, forcing business communication to be simple yet structured – so that everyone can understand. It also integrates instant mobile solutions and provides real-time data analysis on project process, team performance and productivity.

PinPoint will be globally launched this July with both English and Chinese versions. In August we will offer accurate real-time translation, potential partners recommendations and financial offerings, all for free!

Which leader inspires you and why?
It’s hard to say. I am inspired by so many of the leaders. But if I have to name one – I admire Aung San Suu Kyi, because she is a woman who fights for the freedom she believes in with love and kindness.

“A group of shapers bring real action and positive social projects into each of their own communities – and all of them united together make a global impact and then the unheard voice is heard. “– Kathy Gong Global Shaper, World Economic Forum

This article was published in the Jul-Sept 2015 issue of Inspire Magazine. Download it here!