As part of our series called “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Began Leading My Company,” we had the pleasure of interviewing Caron Ng.
Caron Ng is CEO of NU-SET, a global lock manufacturing division formed to digitally transform a third-generation business empire. Caron is a mom, mentor, and visionary leader changing the narrative of lock solutions. Recognized for blending her industry expertise with visionary thinking, she is Los Angeles Business Journal’s 2016 nominee for “Executive of the Year”; Enterprise Women magazine’s 2017 “Enterprising Women of the Year”, Insight Success’ 2017 The 30 Most Inspiring Business Women, 2020 IWEC Foundation Awardee and 2020 WBEC-WEST Supplier of the Year.
She graduated from University of California, Berkeley; Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Business Initiative Management & Education, UCLA Management Development for Entrepreneurs, Toyota Pilot Mentorship Program, USC Marshall School of Business Executive Education in Finance, Inner City Capital Group (ICCC) Executive Training Program, The WBENC-Tuck School of Business for Strategic Growth Program 1 & 2, Rutgers University Supply Chain Management. She is currently studying at the Harvard Business School’s OPM program.
Caron mentors entrepreneurs through and serves on WBENC National Leadership Forum; the Board of Directors for YWCA Greater Los Angeles and the advisory team to local community’s young adult groups. She supports Guide Dogs for the Blind, so visually impaired can live independently and safely.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series. I know that you are a very busy person. Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you grew up?
I was born in Hong Kong and grew up in Nottingham, UK. I came to the United States to reunite with my family when I was 19. I grew up wanting to be an UN translator. But family duty called me back to the family business after I graduated from college. I wish is one day I will serve a bigger community to promote peace and financial stability. I had a golden retriever who just passed away 2 weeks ago. He had been with me for 15 years. He came to work and went to home every night. He was one of my confident as I navigate my business career.
What were your early inspirations that set you off on your particular journey?
Queen Elizabeth I (I know I am a bit weird, I am a history nerd) was my inspiration. I was never expected to join the family business let alone leading it. I got involved because my cousin’s visa got revoked. Since I was an unexcepted heiress, I am going to be the best in our family history and to lead the family business into the 21st century.
I started off by wanting to prove to my parents, grandparents and relatives, I can successfully carry on this 3rd generation business in the US. I can take care of the families who are on our payroll. They were wrong by not choosing me to continue leading the family business based on my gender.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
Despite everyone’s objection, my parents gave me the Vice President title when it became clear I was the only one left to continue the family business in North America. In my first business meeting, I had no idea how to attend one let alone how to preside over it.
I dressed like I am going to a party. During that very first business meeting which lasted 4 hours, I was so afraid. I didn’t say a word. I just stared at my blank notepad the whole time. I sat in the big conference room wondering what I am supposed to do. I only remembered everyone reminiscing how 20 years ago when I was still a baby running around in diapers when everyone else was busy building our first planogram for Home Depot’s buyers. The rest of the time everyone was whining or bragging about something.
In hindsight, it is one the funniest mistakes which also taught me the most.
My major takeaways:
- No one can put you down unless you give them permission to do so
- I do not allow meetings exceed 45 minutes
- I limited our conference room table to allow maximum 12 people
- Live agenda/minute projected on the wall
- If it is not on the agenda, it will not be discussed.
- No whining!
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
Many people helped me. I will not be where I am without them. I am blessed to have great people generously guided me and helped me at every stage of my career path.
Mrs. Jannie Chiera, the very successful CEO of Athena Engineering. She is also the mother of my best friend. One time I was at her house getting ready along with my friend for a red-carpet event. Jannie came checking on us. I wasn’t in the mood because I was struggling how to deal with vendors’ payment issues. Jannie taught me how to negotiate. “Everything is negotiable” becomes my motto. She taught me not to settle on things when people just pass them to me. She instilled the confidence I need to think is it in the best interest for the business and for me as the owner.
Besides she taught me how to wear stockings properly, so it won’t show lines on my gown. 😊
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey?
My career has 2 starts. 1st was a body in the organization who could speak English and Chinese. 2nd was a leader of the family business and the story is the latter one.
In 2009, when the market crashed, our business was crashing to the rock bottom along with it. I remembered we could not pay any of our vendors. My parents were thinking of closing the business. I asked them since I have been around for 10 years, could I have a go at it. They reluctantly agreed. I saw all these great women business leaders on glossy magazines covers and I thought I could be one of them too. I pulled out what my parents and grandparents did and repeated their business models. It created a lot of buzz initially but none of them worked. It just pushed us further into debts. This moment is the beginning of my journey. Being a successful person (business or not) is never about being the glossy magazine covers.
I was driving to my parents’ house to pick up my new born daughter. I was rehearsing in the car my “I messed up. We have to bankrupt” speech to my parents. When I saw my dad, I couldn’t say it. I left with the crying baby. I went home and wrote an email to my parents instead. Later in the evening, I got an email back from my dad. He told me how my grandmother survived the war-torn China by smuggling needed commodities into Hong Kong to keep the family afloat. He said family business always survives because the family always figures out a way to continue and it is usually the woman did.
So, I did….
Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
My drive came from both my maternal and paternal grandmothers. They were the pillars and the reasons how our families survived during the civil war in China and our families’ exodus from Hong Kong to the United States.
So, how are things going today? How did grit and resilience lead to your eventual success?
We are thriving globally! The pandemic helped us to sharpen our focus, tested our strength and weakness which led to more business opportunities for us.
I have both my grandmothers’ pictures on my desk. Their grit and resilience inspired me to continue their dreams. They had it worse than me. If they didn’t give up, I have no excuse to give up. I believe I will succeed. I may not succeed the way my friend does but not everyone’s definition of success is the same. I have no problem in taking risk because I am not afraid to fail. It is during the hard times, I learn more about myself, my team and our capability. Grit and resilience just become a norm to us. We know together as a team, we will make it through any obstacles. I love this feeling and it is permeated within our organization. I should mention we have a lot of humors and fun among us. It helps a lot during those difficult days.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
NUSET owns 20+ patents and trademarks around the world. NUSET being the only certified woman owned lock manufacturer in the US and a 3rd generation company sets us uniquely apart from others in the world.
In one of the vendor meetings at a major retail chain office, I remembered in the lobby one of my competitors said here comes another China doll with cheap prices. I was very upset, but I kept my silence. I need to be focused for my presentation. I did my presentation showcasing our latest patented Eyecon security software technology. The first WIFI and IoT lock in the world based on our stacked history of innovation. Success is the best revenge. I never looked back at them. They are not good enough to compete with us.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
Figure out your whys. Start making mistakes. Live your life like there is no tomorrow. No one is guaranteed a tomorrow anyway. We as a team work hard and we look out for each wellbeing. In this mindset, there is no room for burn out.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
Without the great people who helped me along the way, I will not be doing this interview with you. It is my responsibility to share my experience and my finance to others. One of my mentors said your bank book and your calendar reflect who you are.
2 things I am passionate about: Guide Dogs for The Blind and women’s economic empowerment.
I devote my time and energy to women’s economic empowerment. I am serving as a National Forum Leader for WBENC (Women Business Enterprises National Council) Global division after serving as a Chairwoman for the Los Angeles Forum for 3 years. My success today is because of this organization. They provided the opportunity and resources for me to grow. I love to be a part to help the next woman to succeed.
I am also a board member for YWCA Greater Los Angeles helping homeless and disadvantaged women to build better future. I truly believe women are the pillars of the families. When we empower these pillars, we will have a more stable society, faster growing economy, healthier lifestyles and a lot more laughter.
Besides women empowerment, our family continues our financial support towards Guide Dogs for the Blind. Our family has been supporting Guide Dogs for over 25+ years after we saw firsthand how a guide dog helps my sister to live safely, independently and built a successful career.
Wonderful. Here is the main question of our discussion. What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I started leading my company” and why? Please share a story or example for each.
- What makes my parents and grandparents successful in the family business does not make me successful. I need to learn and continue to evolve especially as we have locations in Hong Kong, China and the US. When I first joined the leadership, I thought if I duplicated my predecessors, we would return to our former glory. It was dead wrong! We nearly went bankrupt because of that strategy. The reason is very simple. We evolve, market evolve, and society evolve. If you don’t change, you will get left behind.
- Must find a mentor at different stages of our revenue levels. Mentors are not only for employees, CEOs need them too. I heard people talking about mentors. I thought mentorship was for staffs/ employees. One day I was chatting with my friend and she commented that I lacked direction. You need someone to guide you.
- I was selected to be in the Toyota Pilot Mentorship Program. It was life changing. When I walked into the room for the first time, 2 Toyota Senior Executives were sitting there. I can still remember my knees knocked. I didn’t utter a word. Within that year, I became more confidence in my networking and pitch; our company’s profit went up 20%. The 2 mentors are now my best friends. They said I have outgrown their capacities, but they are always my honor guests at my various award celebrations. If I have an event, they always come out to support me. Through the years, I have built a circle of mentors/advisors who are not afraid to point out my stupid mistakes and celebrate with me when I have my wins. Mentors are someone who went through the phrase of life I am going. They provide their experience, so I can go make my own choice. Currently, I have a mentor who checks on me every month to keep me focus and accountable.
- Must volunteer or serve on a cause which you believe in. What I learned in my voluntary works help me grow exponentially in both spiritually and professionally. It was by chance, one of my mentors invited me to a voluntary working luncheon. My job is to listen to groups of single mothers practice their interview skills and to review their resumes. Their hard work, their desire to give their families a better life touched me. I always ended up teary eyes and a grateful heart. My problems seem so small compare to them. I eventually got invited to serve on the board. I support our only women homeless center in Los Angeles, support our transitional women to build their business skill. I love every minute of it. Every time when I join one of our practice events, I learned something from them. Many times, all they need is hugs and their sparks will rekindle. I also have been serving on an international fellowship for the past 10 years. My role is to facilitate the class nights to run smoothly. During the pandemic, it was exceptionally challenging. Together with a team of 10 women, we managed to get elderly to patriciate on Zoom once a week. The joy to see these well-dressed elderly women is priceless. Through all these experience, it enriches my humility, my listening skill, my professional skills and my greater desire to make a better world than when I found it.
- Must have the discipline to continue to study. Challenge your mind and knowledge with people who are better than you. I.E. Enroll in an academic class at UCLA business school on different subjects: I graduated from UC Berkeley with a degree in English literature. I knew nothing about business. I was born in Hong Kong and grew up in the UK. My family expectation for me is to marry well. In 2014, I went to a WBENC event. I heard all these women were talking about their journeys. I wanted to learn. Since then, I had earned scholarship to all my study in business, leadership, finance from the best universities in the world. (Master in Entrepreneurship from UCLA Anderson School of Business, Finance from USC Marshall School of Business, Leadership from Tuck University, Goldman Sachs 10K Small Business, Owner President Management from Harvard Business School etc..) At every learning opportunity, I met new friends, learn something new which helps me to make better plans and decisions. Hence, our company is getting stronger with a vast global network. I have not stopped learning ever since.
- Actively participate in a focus networking group to grow relationships and to learn from peers. For me it is the WBENC There are many networking opportunities. I had been to many events but one of the most beneficial ones are the ones hosted by WBENC. I learned, I met with friends (both peers and clients). It’s one of the vital part of my growth. It is unwise to spread oneself thin, therefore, I put my focus in one organization. The result is amazing.
Now that you have gained this experience and knowledge, has it affected or changed your personal leadership philosophy and style? How have these changes affected your company?
I learned to be a servant leader instead of an heiress to a business. I learned to listen, to agree on disagreement. I cannot be the dictatorial leaders like my grandfather and father. Time has changed. It worked in their generations but not mine. My team has grown from asking permission to now owners to their responsibilities. It’s rewarding to see my team grow. Our retention rate and growth we have seen are purely amazing.
This series is called “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me”. This has the implicit assumption that had you known something, you might have acted differently. But from your current vantage point, do you feel that knowing alone would have been enough, or do you feel that ultimately you can only learn from experience? I think that learning from mistakes is the best way, perhaps the only way, to truly absorb and integrate abstract information. What do you think about this idea? Can you explain?
This is a chicken and egg question. If I have known the 5 things I listed above, I could have avoided some family dramas, heartache, financial difficulties and divisions. Struggles and challenges will still be there, it will be in another form. In order to succeed, we all have to experience success and failure. The biggest difference is now, I have built a strong team, a group of peers and people whom I can seek advice and fall back on. This safety net is crucial because it enables me to take more calculated risks to grow.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
Worldwide Women Economic Empowerment Mentorship Program. My childhood dream is to be like my aunt, an UN translator. I believe peace and economic power will make a better future for all mankind. It is in my personal missionary plan: by 2025, I will sell the family business and join ranks with fellow social entrepreneurs to help women around the world to be financially secured. I did a year study on learning where are the biggest need. I am super excited about it.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
My LinkedIn profile.