I am the fourth generation of my family to live and work in China and to make China the focus of our lives’ work. My sister who has blonde hair and blue eyes would often tell people that she was half Chinese. Though we were not Chinese by blood, we certainly felt Chinese due to our family heritage and my family’s long-standing relationship with China. It was from this heritage that after my mission I started to become interested in Asia, in particular China. I took Chinese language courses at BYU and studied at Xiamen University on China’s southwest coast in the summer of 1986.
After my summer program, I decided to stay and find work in Asia. Locating a company to not only hire me but to sponsor my working papers was difficult. My first job was to help set up and manage a new office in Bangkok, Thailand, for a man in Hong Kong whom many still call the “King of Shoes,” because his company is a leading manufacturer of shoes throughout Asia. We were suppliers for Reebok and several other major U.S. and European shoe brands. In the 1980s, Thailand fully lived up to its reputation as a free-wheeling place where almost anything goes. Working in the shoe industry and spending most of my time in Bangkok, I was in the heart of it all. Many times my customers would ask me: “What is a nice girl from Milwaukee doing in a place like this?” That is a question I have asked myself many times since.
In the beginning, I readily admit I hardly knew a shoe from a shoe box, I had never been in a factory, and had no idea how production, sourcing, or quality inspections worked. Being a quick study and being trained by successful people who had built the Reebok brand from scratch, I built a solid foundation that enabled me to use the excellent education I received from BYU. I originally came to Asia for what I thought would be two years of work experience, but like so many others, two years led to an extended stay. Asia provided both opportunities and essential experiences I could not receive anywhere else. This was especially true during the early days when there were few people with education or experience in China or Asia.
Through working in the shoe industry I discovered that I en-joyed product development and manufacturing. After I left the shoe industry, I found myself in other jobs which allowed me to design, develop, and manufacture products. I worked in the watch industry, leather garments, and eventually in the home furniture and furnishings industry. I found designing and developing lamps, mirrors, home décor accessories, and furniture was something I enjoyed and was an industry I wanted to stay in. The result is that a nice girl from Milwaukee, with a degree in international relations is still sourcing, manufacturing, designing, and supervising product quality in Asia—except I do it for Mondoro Company Limited (www.Mondoro.com), my home furniture and furnishings company.
Few people are fortunate to do something they enjoy as a career—I count myself as one of those people. Mondoro has offices in Hong Kong, China, and Vietnam. Recently, we have begun manufacturing products in Cambodia as well. We design, develop, and manufacture products with a focus on the medium to higher end market sector. We have UL lamp manufacturing in China and Vietnam, but we also out-source or have vendor partnerships that manufacture lamp bases, lighting, mirrors, home décor, and wide variety of furniture and home accessories. I enjoy the design and development aspect. After all these years, it is still rewarding to see a concept I put on paper become reality or watch a table or chair go through the manufacturing process.
There is something fundamentally refreshing about hand-created items and working in a small Asian village and knowing we can have a significant impact on the lives of the people we work with. Many times I have to pinch myself to remember that what I am doing is actually considered work, because I am blessed to work with my friends—friends who happen to also work for me and friends who happen to buy or sell to me, but all of them are my friends.
Running my business in Asia has not been easy. In fact, it has been one of the most difficult things I have experienced. It is tough to be far away from home, separated from family and friends, and removed from all that is comfortable and known. I have approached this with a spirit of adventure and have been willing to forego some of the comforts of home for a life overseas. My association with the Church in many of these small branches in Asia has been a great blessing in my life. I have personally observed the Church enter new countries such as Cambodia or Vietnam and have seen the growth that has taken place there.
As a leader, I have looked for ways to improve, inspire, and be an agent for change. Since Mondoro is a small company, this is especially challenging, because I have had to learn first in order to teach others whose culture is different. Over the years, I have employed BYU interns who taught me many things and brought new perspectives for me and the Mondoro staff. These interns come with fresh ideas they learned in school, and they challenge us to put them into practice.
One of our core beliefs is being socially aware and responsible as a company. In 2007, we set up a charitable arm of the company called Mondoro Charities (www.Mondoro-Charities.org) with the motto: “Helping our world one person at a time.” Our main project we call “Project Sprouts,” because it helps young needy students “sprout.” We do this through schools in Asia by providing school supplies. With the help of individual donations and through partnerships with various organizations, we have provided over 370 student and teacher desks, 450 backpack kits filled with school supplies for the young students, and also numerous other school supplies and sports equipment.
So what is a nice girl from Milwaukee doing in a place like this? That may be a question I can never completely answer, but I can say I am building a solid foundation for my life and business in Asia that continues to be a great adventure.
Hummel is president of Mondoro Company Limited and resides in Guangdong, China, and Hanoi, Vietnam. She received a BA in international relations from the Kennedy Center in 1984, an LLMCBL in Chinese business law from the Open University of Hong Kong, and is currently working on a DBA in strategic planning through the Edinburgh Business School at Heriot-Watt University.