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Blossom's Sarah Kochling

My name’s Sarah. I’m from New Jersey and I came to China for the first time in 1989 as a student. I went on to graduate with a degree in Chinese and Political Science from Wellesley. Afterwards I went to The Chinese University of Hong Kong as a Rotary Fellow for a year and there I got a job with the International Wool Secretariat. I came to Shanghai for the first time in 1991 with Procter and Gamble and never left.

Now I run a strategic insights innovation and design consultancy called Shanghai Blossom Innovation. We work with Fortune 500s, helping them find ways to grow. It’s all insight driven, so we help our clients discover cultural insights, market insights, category insights and use them for growth.

In 2013, I co-founded the Women’s Executive Network (WEN). I was asked by the American Chamber of Commerce to help them develop a pipeline of women leaders to support their board (they had no women on it). We started holding low-profile cocktail parties for CEOs and it took off like wild fire. We were officially established in 2014 as a committee of AmCham and today we have about 400 members, regional directors and up. And our focus remains to help these women, not just go to the AmCham boardroom (today we have 5 of 11 seats), but to other NGOs and corporate boards.

I’ve always been active in the “women’s space”. I founded the Wellesley Club and I worked for five years on Shanghai TEDx Women. I went to a women’s college so it’s kind of my mission to advance women.

What I realized when I was working with WEN, is that it’s very hard to get women on boards because they’re closed ecosystems, so I started looking for other ecosystems that I can connect one to. One of them was the start up scene, so I became a mentor for Chinaccelerator. Most of my mentees there have been men, so I’m an equal opportunity mentor!

Back in 1998 when U.S.-China relations were at a low, a bunch of venture capitalists approached me to open a theme park. I was skeptical (I’d never even been to a theme park!), but at this point I had a track record in China, I had delivered on the re-launch of Head and Shoulders and launched Tide detergent here. What interested me was not the theme park itself but the notion of sponsorship, alternative media.

It was tough because no one understood the word “theme park” -- they just thought it was like Disney. We ended up making a commercial that ended up being a case study in business schools because it was almost unprecedented in terms of its impact.

I love almost everything about Shanghai, I love the energy, the dynamism, the speed. What I don’t like is no one’s speaking Mandarin anymore. Or you don’t need it to thrive here. In some ways Shanghai’s losing a little bit of itself. I was riding my bike recently and just feeling a bit wistful of the things it used to be. I think they have to be really careful to protect some of the cultural heritage that’s here before we end up with something like Hong Kong.

I bike everywhere. I just bought myself a new 28 inch black cruiser and I was so thrilled about it. Most people are buying cars, but I’m very pleased with my new bike. I used to have a clunker, it was 16 years old and it was just time to go to bike heaven. I still love exploring old neighborhoods by bike and Shanghai has also done a great job greening the city since the Expo.

I’m a cocktail drinker. My favorite bar is still Senator Saloon for a Basil Gimlet. Generally I like the old style cafes — I’m a garden-café girl because I have two dogs. I love Vita Bistro, they’re redoing right now, they have a big lawn in the back you can just let your dogs run and have a great cup of coffee. They also do an all-day brunch. I don’t like eating in the morning but love breakfast food so I love Egg and Diner.

I will always be a Chinese business person but I don’t know if I’ll live here forever. I do love the communities here just to name a few: Unravel, the FCC, Historic Shanghai, the Royal Asiatic Society, AmCham, and Rotary Fresh Start. I’ve just set up another program, She Speaks!, which will feature inspiring female speakers, hosts, and panelists.

I’m actually really honored I’ve been asked to give a speech at Rotary in October. Thirty years after they bring me here I’m giving a speech. It’s all come full circle!


[Shanghai Famous]:

Shanghai Famous is a SmartShanghai column focusing on people out there in the city makin' the scene. They're out there around town, shaping Shanghai into what it is, creating the art, culture, and life around us. We asked them what's good in Shanghai. We asked them what's bad in Shanghai. We asked them to tell us more, more, more about their wonderful selves.

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