BComm '08, CEMS MIM '10
Having developed a taste for life in an international environment during a year in Milan as part of her studies, Kate Simpson is now working in the fast-paced financial services sector in Singapore. In her spare time, she has set up her own business, importing handbags and purses into the Irish market.
About Kate Simpson
Tell us a bit about your educational background?
From a young age, my heart was set on working in business. At school in St Joseph of Cluny, Killiney we were encouraged to try new things and take chances. Noticing that many students did not have time for breakfast at home, my classmates and I set up a breakfast bar, where students could pick up their breakfast as they arrived at the school door. After a few weeks, the news had spread and orders were being sent to the staff room. That is where my love for business grew from: identifying an opportunity and finding a solution.
I missed out on studying a BComm by five points and was initially inconsolable. I had the points for commerce with a language but hadn’t put it down on my CAO form, so started out at UCD studying economics and Italian. I was very fortunate to transfer to commerce and Italian within a few weeks and hit the ground running.
My third year of the BComm international programme was spent in Bocconi University in Milan. It was an incredible year and cemented my desire to travel and to work in an international environment. Subsequently, I completed the CEMS master’s in management through Smurfit Graduate Business School. The first semester was in Dublin and I was planning to spend the second in Milan. The co-ordinator advised me to go to HEC Business School in Paris to brush up on my French as two foreign languages are required for CEMS. It was the best thing that could have happened as I eventually met my now husband, Guillaume.
Can you outline your career to date?
A few days after finishing classes at HEC, I started my first internship in the city of lights at the New York Stock Exchange Euronext in Paris. I experienced a huge business culture shock at first and it took about a year to become accustomed. I learned quickly that the cafés were an extension of the office and if anything was going to be discussed and decided upon, it would be done there. I subsequently developed a strong caffeine dependency.
Once the internship was completed, I signed a permanent contract in the sales and markets team and stayed there for four years. The role involved attracting new companies to list on the exchange, competitor analysis and technology sales to other stock exchanges.
After five years in Paris, it was time for a new experience and Asia beckoned. Guillaume and I moved to Singapore in early 2014 and the time has flown ever since. I began a business development role at Cleartrade Exchange, a commodities derivatives exchange owned by the Deutsche Borse Group. As Singapore is a hub for the commodities trading there are a number of Irish energy traders here, so it’s always nice to hear an Irish accent when meeting a new prospect or client.
How did Bonheur Bags come about?
Upon moving to Singapore, I started looking into local brands and trends and saw there was a gap in the Irish market for work handbags, clutches and wallets. There are the Zara and Michael Kors levels, with very little choice in between. I set up Bonheur Bags, bringing merchandise from established Asian brands to the Irish market.
We partnered with House Dublin on Leeson Street about a year ago, and have since held two successful pop-up stores. The Christmas Pop-Up Shop will be held on 15th December. I have learned that the power of word-of-mouth is very powerful in Ireland, and that we should not only target female consumers. About 40% of our consumers at the pop-up shops are male, purchasing for their wives and girlfriends. The plan for the company is to find someone who is Dublin-based and could run a monthly pop-up shop, and to also expand into accessories.
How would you describe your leadership style?
I trust and assume the best intentions in people and endeavour to communicate as much as possible. People are definitely a company's greatest asset. I think it’s important to identify your team’s passions early in their career, as it will nearly always be their strength. Where possible, encourage people to work on one different project, no matter how small. Google has stated that half of all new product launches, including Gmail, have originated from initiative. I would say that credibility and communication are the most important traits in being a good manager. My advice, and perhaps this is from my time in France, is to bring team members out individually for a casual chat – you will both learn more from each other over a tea than I think you could in a meeting room.
What’s your philosophy in business and in life?
It is not necessarily the most intelligent person who does the best in business, but the person who wants it more and shows tenacity. If you really want to achieve something, you can always find a way of achieving it if you do not take no for an answer.
My philosophy would be to continue learning, it doesn't matter what stage in your life you are at. Recently I took part in a negotiation course organised by Smurfit in Singapore, and it was even more applicable having a few years of work experience.
I love meeting new people, while keeping in regular contact with old friends. While we are scattered across the world, in the era of Skype, Facebook and Whatsapp, it’s easier than ever to say hello.
My favourite quote and one I live by is from Mark Twain: “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do”.
Who or what are your greatest influences?
It would be my parents. My father, Gabriel Simpson studied a BComm (72), HDipEd (73) and MBS (95) from Smurfit and introduced me to UCD at a young age and was very influential in choosing a career in business. My uncle Mike (BSc 73) also influenced me in choosing life at Belfield. Unfortunately, my sister defected and chose Trinity College to pursue her studies. And there’s Guillaume, who always pushes me and with whom I have been very fortunate to have had many fantastic life and travel experiences. My junior school principal, Sr Clare Little and English teacher, Joseph Byrne also made a lasting impression with their never-ending encouragement to try, fail and try again and enthralling stories from their time abroad.
In terms of ‘what’ has been my greatest influence, I have to say failing and not giving up. It taught me to be more creative in finding ways to succeed. Sometimes when you don't get something, it’s because you weren't supposed to, and there is another opportunity just around the corner.
Do you have tips or advice for success?
I believe success is a combination of preparation, timing and a little bit of luck.
Personally, having a mentor through the Financial Women’s Association in Singapore has been very helpful in determining the right moves to make and how to negotiate at a corporate level. Being both a mentor to a junior member of your organisation and having an experienced mentor within or outside your organisation is a must have and you have to be proactive about setting this up.
Your network of colleagues and industry specialists is crucial. In terms of growing your network, adding people on LinkedIn who you’d like to get to know and sending them a message to meet up can be quite effective – you’d be surprised how many people respond positively. Try to be a connector and put people in touch who have common business interests. If you are living abroad, reach out to your local Irish Chamber of Commerce for industry specific events.
Keep your LinkedIn profile up to date and be careful what you put on social media. Your next employer will likely have already conducted an audit before you have your first interview.
In terms of job hunting, the days of relying on an online application to shine are over. Look for a personal referral in a company or contact an alum who is working there for their advice and insight into the corporate culture, management style and career prospects.
Be reliable and know that people can count on you, be it in a personal or business context.
What are your plans for the future?
Working in Singapore has been an enriching experience so far and the speed of service and doing business is unparalleled with anywhere I have seen in the world. The plan is to remain in Singapore and learn more about doing business in the south east Asia region.
In the immediate future, I am very excited to be going home at Christmas. And, I’m also excited to be starting a new role next month.
What are your interests outside work?
I love playing tennis and cooking, although I am no Mary Berry! With the proximity to countries such as Malaysia, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam and China, travel is high on the agenda. I’m also involved with the Irish Chamber of Commerce in Singapore, Financial Women’s Association and CEMS Alumni network.
UCD alumni offer: Visit Bonheur Bags at House, 27 Lower Leeson Street on Tuesday 15th December from 12-2pm in the library. Mention that you are a UCD graduate for €10 off all purchases available in store and online using the discount code UCD'. www.bonheurbags.com