Interview Time: A Peek Into The Life Of A Successful Corporate Businessman, Tennis Coach, and Opportunity Seeker Who Has Done It All In LIfe...Well, Almost All!
Semi-Retired Garment Manufacturing and Export Professional, Certified Tennis Coach, and Full-Time Opportunity Seeker!
An interview by Andreas Gross
Pictures provided by Joe Mak
Date of Interview:
December 30, 2020
June 18, 2021
Hi Joe, and thank you very much for availing yourself of this interview today. We’re excited to get to know you a little more and take a peek inside the life and mind of a creative professional like yourself – a man who has it all and has done it all! Let’s go ahead and start off with some general background, shall we? You know, like where you are from, your hobbies and interests, how you got to the point you are at now in your life – those kinds of things.
Certainly, Andreas, and thank you for inviting me to share today. A man who has it all and has done it all, ha, ha! Well, I can’t say I have it all or have done it all, but I definitely do feel I have been richly blessed to be able to have lived such a happy and fulfilling life so far.
And that’s the important part, right?
Indeed, Andreas, it is. That’s the important part! And staying positive when looking towards the future helps to keep it that way. Speaking of positivity, I think the main objective of your website Biz Opp Empire is to offer positive encouragement for solopreneurs – I really like this term, by the way – not to be scared to make their first move and take that first step forward. As I always tell my tennis students, if you run to hit the ball, you will have a 50% chance of winning; but if you make no effort at all to go after the ball, your chances of winning will go down to zero…but more on that later.
Looking at my personal background, I was born and educated in Hong Kong. In those days, Hong Kong was still under British rule, so growing up in an environment where Chinese and Western cultures mixed together brought those of us who grew up in it a greater understanding of the two worlds. Guan Gong wearing Santa's gear exactly sums up my deep feelings and understandings about the fusion of Western and Chinese culture.
I studied design in school, and worked in garment manufacturing and exports for many years – in fact, a fashion company recently head-hunted me again, but we’ll get to that later on here. With a background in design, anything leading to a good life, like music, movies, paintings, and good food have always been among my favourite things to pursue. Tennis is also a definite priority of mine. I have both coached and played tennis for personal enjoyment for many years now.
Besides working in the apparel industry, I am also a certified tennis coach. I love giving lessons to adult tennis players to help them change. You can see this in their form, tactics, strategies, and general mentality and mindset of how they think the ball should be hit and how they think the game should be played. Sure, playing tennis by thinking of it as a set of rigid rules and fixed protocol can work, but the player is limiting his game - limiting himself, really – when he or she plays this way! When clients come to me for coaching, I partner with my clients to help them discover avenues of change from within. My goal is to help my clients understand who they are and what their current abilities are regarding the game so that they can develop their own personal skills and strategies to make themselves better players, rather than just continuing to try to play as the “textbook player” their coach from years ago told them they “should be.” I believe these very same rules apply just as much in business as they do on the tennis court.
I currently live in Eastern China with my family – my wife and a 10-year-old son. You know, Andreas, I look at it like this: with all the hardships that come in life, home is always sheltered with peace and love. To enjoy as much quality time with your family as possible is really the most valuable treasure you can get in life. Looking into the future, helping to pave a better direction and brighter tomorrow for my son is my priority.
Wonderful, Joe! Yes, yes indeed, good times with family are definitely a blessing in this world. And you are 100% correct about Biz Opp Empire as well. The whole idea of the website is to encourage those thinking about going into business for themselves, or those who have recently gone into business for themselves – whether part-time or full-time – to know that they are not alone in their uncertainties. To know that there are others out there, too, in this world who were just as scared, nervous, and excited but still followed through with “taking the plunge” into their dreams, if you will, just like these entrepreneurs/solopreneurs reading the website now are thinking about doing or have recently done themselves.
Let’s talk about your entrepreneurial side, shall we, Joe? I know you’ve worked on design teams and in related professional capacities for big established companies in the past, but I also know you have that “solopreneur spirit” I always talk about. This clearly shows itself with the work you’ve been doing on your own as a tennis coach, and I know you always have your eyes open for any promising ventures that might align with your goals.
As you know, Andreas, I only consider myself to be semi-retired after having left the corporate world – I’ve kept my tennis coaching going all these years, and lately I’ve been promoting, selling, and distributing organic milk here in the community, as you know as well. [Although this has ceased as of the time of publication of this interview due to me getting back into corporate life full-time.]
Ha! Yes, yes! We love the milk. My family has been through many cartons of it!
I always keep “one hand on the trigger,” if you will, always looking for fresh opportunities that may present themselves. In fact, as I mentioned earlier, just recently I was head-hunted by a fashion company to be their Creative Director heading their design teams; so recently I’ve jumped back into the corporate game! Before I answer this question any further, I’d like to show you the video that I presented to this headhunter company. Please take a look:
Everyone reading this interview will, ultimately, be at a different stage in life. We all go through different stages in life and we live, and learn, and grow as we make our way through these stages. Remember this: there will always be chances ahead of you – chances waiting for you to discover and act on in the future when the time is right. Life may have its ups and downs – yes, that is true – but grasp every opportunity that is right for you, big or small! Doing this will help you meet people, expand your circle, and will ultimately open doors for you when those doors are ready to be opened. The more door keys you can gather, the more doors you can unlock!
Like I say, I’m still looking for chances – I’m always looking for chances. As I always say to myself: “I still have the music in me!” When this opportunity with the fashion company opened up I decided it was time to make a change after years in the export business.
Very inspirational, Joe! Thank you so much for sharing. While the ‘inspirational atmosphere’ is brewing here, let me ask you this: if I were to just ask you straight-up “What makes a great businessperson?” what would you say?
Whether you’re in business for yourself as a “solopreneur,” working with a small group in a start-up, working as one small employee in a large mega-company, or working as a powerful company leader with divisions, departments, and teams underneath you, continually building new connections while maintaining and strengthening good relationships with your existing customers/clients, no matter big or small, is of utmost importance. Your networks and your relationships can make or break you in life and business alike. A great businessperson builds a strong network of people who trust him, or her, and who he or she trusts in return. A small handful of very happy customers who will talk about you and your business in a positive light has a much better, far-reaching effect than masses of customers who don’t even know your name, who you are, or what your company does, but just happened to buy something from you one day by one-off chance. Sure, you might get a lot of business one day for a variety of reasons, but you are operating under a boom-and-bust model this way. As quickly as the customers started coming, they could just as quickly disappear; and once the customers disappear, and no one remembers your name or what you do, your business is finished. To be a creative leader, one has to be knowledgeable and sensitive in all areas. He or she has to have an eye that can judge from various angles (not just one), and a heart to accept different opinions. And, of course, these various facets need to be nourished and discerned through one’s own life experiences.
Very well stated, Joe. How true that is! Along the lines of encouragement, what are some of the things you would consider to be highlights of being a "solopreneur"?
It’s a fight for survival, which can be looked at as a negative by some, or a positive. I prefer to look at this as a positive, a highlight. Surviving means rising to a challenge and succeeding, and that is definitely one of the primary keys to being a successful solopreneur! Going into business for yourself also helps to keep your mind alive and broaden your scope and perspective on life, build personal and business connections, and keep you on the lookout for opportunities that may come your way. All of these things I consider to be highlights to varying degrees and in various incarnations.
Great! And can you tell us about some of those “survival challenges” you speak of, please?
The biggest aspect of surviving as a solopreneur rests on you having to make your own decisions and judgement calls by yourself. No matter if you are right or wrong, your decision is the one that counts – it’s all on you! Of course, many people think of this as a positive aspect of going into business for themselves, as many people go into business so they can do just this – be the sole decision maker of their own business, their own fortune; however, although I believe that this can be a positive if you want it to be, I definitely cannot say this aspect is not challenging!
Another big challenge is beating others to get orders while maintaining professionalism and gaining trust from your customers. But, again, much of the strategy behind how this is done and what methods are employed to get this done goes back to you, the businessperson¸ making your own decisions for better or for worse (hopefully for better!).
The last major challenge I will speak about today is adapting to a changing business environment. We can all see this very clearly these days with the Pandemic and how things have changed and are continuing to change in business practices. You know, Andreas, I really enjoy working at home these days – and this is largely because the world has changed! Not just because of the Pandemic, although that has sped things along, of course, but the Internet, the rapid development of artificial intelligence, and the general increase in speed of electronic communication in various forms: the world has changed and numerous businesses and business practices are more conducive to a work-at-home type of set-up these days.
When I look back at my peak in apparel exports, I used to have an office with a sizeable showroom…I use to have several offices, actually – in Tokyo, Osaka, and Nagoya, Japan; and in Delray Beach, in the States. Quite a bit different to picture than the man who now says he enjoys working at home, huh?! Ha, ha! But those were different times, and that was a different world order – a different business landscape.
I should stress, it’s not just solopreneurs who face these challenges, but any businessperson, really, who really cares about getting ahead and leaving his or her mark in this world. Whether you are working purely for yourself, working with a team, or leading a mega-millions company: learning to trust your decisions, building mutual trust with those you interact with, and being able to adapt to changes in an ever-changing business landscape are three major challenges a solopreneur – or any creative businessperson – should take pride in rising to meet.
Great, Joe; great! It’s been great hearing from you. I really do appreciate you opening up to us, and I know our readers do too! Before we wrap things up entirely here today, is there any other advice you’d care to share with others who are interested in working for themselves or even just developing good business skills in general?
Like I’ve said before – and will continue to say – try the 50/50 chance rule. The best things in life rarely just drop in your lap. In all but the very rarest of circumstances, you have to put in the leg work and actively pursue them. If you put in the leg work, you have a 50/50 chance of making your dreams become reality. If you sit around idly waiting for your dreams to magically manifest themselves and just fall into your lap one day, your chances of getting what you really want in life go from 50% down to almost zero very quickly.
Lastly, I’d like to say this: Business comes when it is invited, and stays when it is well treated. I’ve always kept this motto in mind when dealing with my customers and clients and have found it to be very truthful.
Wonderful, sound advice, Joe. Thanks again very much for all you’ve shared today. As we wrap things up here, how can people interested in learning more about you and your endeavors contact you?
All are welcome to get in touch! I’m always happy to make new friends and connections and talk with people about business and life. I’m Joe Mak on WeChat and my email address is email@example.com. Of course, if it can be arranged, I’m happy to talk face-to-face with people as well!
Great stuff, Joe! Thanks again so much for your time today. Ladies and gentlemen, Mr. Joe Mak – semi-retired garment manufacturing and export professional, tennis coach, and full-time opportunity seeker! Joe, the world is definitely a better place with you in it! We are glad we got to hear you share your story today!
And remember, you read about it all on Biz Opp Empire - promoting ideas, inspiration, and opportunity within the realm of small business, freelance, and entrepreneurship!
Owner and Operator of Biz Opp Empire, a website by Andreas Philip Gross Enterprises
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