Marketing podcast: Life after advertising with Carolyn Kan

They say diamonds are a girl's best friend and as cliche as that might be, former MD of M&C Saatchi Singapore and founder of artisan jewellery brand Carrie K, Carolyn Kan, made the leap from the adland to pursue her passion in making jewellery. According to Kan, her passion for jewellery-making was a dormant one and it was only during a holiday in Florence, Italy, that it surfaced.

Having moved from the agency world to running her own business, Kan said that when looking at a business, the role of the agency is to "interrogate" to make sure everyone is clear about what kind of outcome the client wants.

"The partners that we work best with are the ones that do challenge and are very passionate about making sure that there is a result at the end of the day because its like a win-win. If we do well the agency does well and clients will appreciate that, that's really important," she added.

 Listen to her journey here

Marketing: How did you make the shift from advertising to following your passion?

Kan: I have always been a jewellery addict but my discovery of a passion for design is what I call a happy accident. I started about 11 years ago, during a trip, I was travelling to Florence, Italy. I was introduced to a jewellery designer who took me under her wing for a month and was learning how to make jewellery. It was one of those magical moments where I discovered a passion that I had kinda lying dormant.

I remember that second when I made that decision because I was in my teacher's workshop, filled with antique tools, romantic and inspiring. I was polishing my first ring and I looked down at the ring and had this emotional golf-ball in my throat and had this epiphany and thought this is what I want to do with the rest of my life and that was the beginning of Carrie K.

Marketing: Tell us a bit about your last role in advertising and how you made that decision to leave?

Kan: I was the MD of M&C Saatchi Singapore then and during this trip when I had this moment and I was quite clear of what I wanted to do. After making that one ring, I started introducing myself as a jewellery designer. My husband and family were super supportive so I decided to take the leap and went to NAFA for night classes. While I was learning the craft of making jewellery I started setting up the business and I literally built it off my kitchen table. For two years everything was done from my kitchen table. That's how it started.

In 2010, Elle Magazine awarded me jewellery designer of the year so that gave me a huge boost. At the end of 2011 I took the leap and rented a studio, a shop-house and hired my first full time hire. Mr. Yamamoto and his team wanted to represent my jewellery in Japan and that was incredible because that carried Carrie K. beyond the little red dot. So that really made the big leap from a small business to one that has international presence.

Marketing: What are the biggest transferable skills that individuals can rely on to bounce back should a redundancy happen?

Kan: A lot of it has to do with their frame of mind, so be opportunistic, always look for the win-win, be positive because when you are in a positive frame of mind you do attract opportunities.

One of the key things that advertising teaches you is how to connect and relate to people and to understand your customer so similarly, understand the network around you and being able to find like-minded positive people.

Because your success will depend on other people recommending you for positions. If you are in this positive constructive opportunistic frame of mind where people look at the person and say this person will be great for this organisation because I know they were able to bring something to the table, then you will always be recommended.

The frame of mind is very important, it is challenging so surround yourself with other positive people because that really helps and be humble, modest and ask for help. One of the toughest things when I started my business was asking for help because I did not want to inconvenience people. But I have seen people are genuinely helpful and they want to be able to support you but the key thing is making a commitment to give back so it becomes a positive cycle and my 10-year journey has been that where I had amazing people support Carrie K, clients, community and the team.

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