Wendy Yu grew up with the life of a princess, but she has changed from crystal slippers to the designer shoes of a professional businesswoman running her own investment firm.
The transformation happened while she was working to change the image of Mengtian Group, an Asia luxury wooden door firm, founded by her father in 1989.
The 25-year-old, who single-handedly established her firm Yu Capital last year, has made three major investments, including a stake in Chinese taxi-hailing app Didi Kuaidi. She is also an angel investor in ASAP54 and Bottletop, two British fashion startups.
“I grew up hearing my father say that being an entrepreneur is a challenging and rewarding job that demands great determination and hard work. I never realized how hard and challenging it can be until I learned it from experience.
“Sometimes I have doubts and am stressed, but I have to keep those feelings to myself and carry on with the work,” Yu says as she sips tea in the cafe of central London’s Four Seasons hotel in Mayfair.
When meeting Yu, one is struck by her glamour and poise, consistent with her image in the media, but her intelligence comes through in conversation.
Yu was born in Zhejiang province but left home to study at a British boarding school in Taunton at 15. Her love of dressing up led her to undergraduate studies at the London College of Fashion.
She became known in Chinese social circles for her huge collection of designer evening gowns paired with limited-edition handbags. She attracted over 100,000 followers on social media.
Not only was Yu frequently spotted among celebrities in the front row of events like Paris Haute Couture Fashion Week and Cannes International Film Festival, last year she was invited to the Queen Charlotte’s Ball at Kensington Palace, an iconic annual event.
Yu is the youngest and only Chinese patron for the British Fashion Council’s Fashion Trust, which supports aspiring British designers. She was invited to serve as committee member and vice-chairwoman of Amfar (the Foundation for AIDS Research) Hong Kong 2016, which raises money through a gala event.
But Yu has greater ambitions. “When I was growing up, I didn’t think I’d take over the family business, but in more recent years I started to feel the great responsibility on my shoulders of helping my father. I felt that I had to contribute.”
She now serves on the board of Mengtian and realized that her fashion sense could help the business survive the manufacturing downturn that China is now experiencing, by increasing the luxury status of the company’s furniture range to target the country’s affluent, young consumers.
“Our firms’ old customers are usually older-generation, successful homeowners in their 40s and 50s who greatly value quality and brand, but today’s young consumers in their 20s and 30s have increasing spending power. They value style greatly. I want to lead the firm’s structural shift and use our good-quality furniture to build a lifestyle for this new consumer class.”
Yu decided to find leading international fashion designers from countries like Italy, France and the UK to help Mengtian’s Chinese clients create tailored interior design consistent with their diverse lifestyles – design that would be fulfilled using Mengtian furniture. Today, Mengtian has over 1,000 retail stores in China, two factories in Zhejiang, and employs over 3,600 workers.
Hiring fashion designers for interior design work is unusual, Yu says, but it could be her winning card, creating an industry mindset change. She is in charge of signing contracts with the brand’s major designers. “What I want to help clients design is a lifestyle, and I believe a client’s lifestyle preferences can be captured by the feel of a preferred fashion designer.”
As a young businesswoman yet to prove the success of her vision with performance results, it is perhaps easy for Yu to be labeled a privileged, second-generation rich child, which in Chinese translation has mostly a negative connotation.
“I have just started my career, so it is easy for people to associate me with my family background, but when I am in my 30s I’d like people to know me as a successful investor and business leader.”
What she envisions is consistent with her role models, which include Pansy Ho and Victoria Beckham. Ho, 53, is the daughter of Hong Kong billionaire Stanley Ho and managing director of various companies he founded. Beckham, 41, is wife of British soccer player David Beckham, who launched her own designer brand and made it a great success.
To reach her goals, Yu dedicates an hour each day to reading. Her Kindle bookshelf contains a wide collection including business management textbooks and popular titles in philosophy and psychology, most of which her father recommended. Last year, she completed two executive learning programs, at Oxford and Cambridge, and she plans to take similar courses in the United States this year.
“I want to work hard but also work smart, setting priorities straight and using 20 percent of the time to achieve 80 percent of results. I also leave some time to myself so I can pursue my personal interest and hobbies,” Yu says. She shows me her nails, beautifully painted in red in the spirit of the Chinese New Year. Nail art is one of the hobbies from her princess life.