In 1987, the United States Congress passed a proclamation declaring the month of March to be Women’s History Month. To celebrate this year, the staff at Committee of 100 sat down virtually with a few of our amazing female Committee of 100 Members for a new blog series called Chinese American Women Shaping the World: A Special Q&A Series. In these interviews, Committee of 100 members will talk about their career paths, the challenges – and opportunities – in being a successful Chinese American woman in today’s society, as well as their hopes for the next generation of Chinese American women.
Committee of 100 recently spoke with Ms. Mei-Mei Tuan. Mei-Mei is Founder, CEO and Managing Partner of Phoenyx Partners LLC, a boutique human capital search and management assessment firm based in New York City. Mei-Mei is also a co-Founder and owner of Notch Partners LLC, a leading provider of human capital services for institutional private equity funds.
Prior to founding Phoenyx Partners and Notch Partners, respectively, Mei-Mei built a successful career leveraging expertise in finance and general management. As a former investment banker at Goldman Sachs and Bank of America, she structured and arranged billions of dollars in financing for infrastructure and real estate projects both in the US and in developing countries. Mei-Mei serves on a number of public, private, and non-profit boards. She has been a Member of the Committee of 100 since 2013 and was recently elected to the Board of Directors.
Committee of 100: What is one of your achievements that you are most proud of, which helped dictate the course of your career?
Mei-Mei: Having started my career at such large companies like Goldman Sachs and Bank of America, I can honestly say the most challenging yet most rewarding achievement I accomplished was to start my own companies, first Notch Partners in 2002 and now Phoenyx Partners. Notch was founded on an innovative concept and new professional services model that brought together recruitment, investment banking and consulting services under one umbrella of human capital services targeted to institutional private equity firms. Defining one’s own business and commercializing a new concept was quite intimidating yet incredibly liberating for me, as someone who had built her professional life around blue-chip household names. Starting from the attic of my house, Notch grew to a 20-person consulting firm, renowned in its field, in a few years and while running my own firm, I was afforded the flexibility to raise two kids who are amazing young adults today. The company operates in New York City today – no longer in the attic.
Committee of 100: What is a major lesson you learned from a failure or setback in your career, which also helped dictate the course of your career?
Mei-Mei: Early in my career I thought I had landed my dream job. On paper, it was exactly what I wanted. Everything about the job was perfect until my second year into it when “corporate” inserted a new layer between my boss and me, and I was given a new boss, who did not like me. She and I just could not get along. Initially, I thought because I loved every other aspect of my job so much, I could manage through the relationship with my boss, but try as I might I just could not. Within months, my dream job turned into a nightmare and I resigned and left my job. For me, the lesson learned was that no matter how much I can like the content of my job, if my boss does not like me or if I do not like my boss, it probably isn’t going to work out, and I am better off cutting my losses earlier rather than living in denial.
Committee of 100: What topic/s do you feel are not being talked about enough when it comes to the advancement of women as leaders?
Mei-Mei: I feel like the issue of pay equity needs to come to the forefront more. Every company in the country should review salaries across the board and commit to 100% pay equity by a certain time. Those companies that have undertaken such a review have found that women are systematically paid less than men for the same work. Though companies may have ways to explain why, they must remedy pay inequity immediately. Until men and women both talk about this, this important problem will not be solved.
Committee of 100: What qualities do you see in the next generation of Chinese American women that brings you hope and joy for the future?
Mei-Mei: Self – Confidence, conviction and outspokenness. The next generation of Chinese American women is rising through the ranks of middle management during a time when there is increased focus on diversity and inclusion initiatives by companies of all sizes in corporate America. Additionally, the proliferation of the #metoo movement has given women more of a voice and the realization that they deserve a seat at the table, so their opinions are heard and valued.
Committee of 100: If you could go back in time and give advice to your 20-year-old self, what would you say to the younger version of you?
Mei-Mei: I would tell my 20-year-old self that ambition is not everything and that no matter how important my career may seem, the priority should always be maintaining and nourishing personal relationships with family, friends and loved ones. When I was young, I took my parents for granted and spent a great deal of mental energy either being annoyed or arguing with them. I know now that I cannot take that time back for myself or for them, as time has become increasingly precious for all of us.
Committee of 100: Who is your inspiration and why?
Mei-Mei: All of the women leaders in Committee of 100 have inspired me, though perhaps my strongest inspiration has been my aunt Lulu Wang who has mentored me since I was a little girl, more through her quiet but forceful example than through spoken words and lessons. She inspired me to attend my alma mater, Wellesley College, and later to launch my career on Wall Street. More recently she has been my rock of Gibraltar through my career and personal issues always providing a patient, listening ear and sage words of advice.