Born in China, Flore holds a MSc from HEC Paris and has a combined 7 years in Leveraged Finance and Private Equity under her belt. Her active participation as a founding member of the Association of Chinese Financial Professionals in the UK, led her to open her own networking platform focused on the European start-up scene ‘Entreprenary’ along with finding her current role as Chief Operating Officer at ToMaster, a company bringing top emerging London artists and designers to the Chinese market through virtual reality.
Nicolas: So Flore, tell me about your best networking experience?
Flore: Well, after attending a lot of networking events, I met some Chinese Finance professionals, who like me, were not satisfied anymore by the traditional Chinese networking events in London, designed around entertainment, and wanted something more intellectually enriching. That’s how the ten of us created the Association of Chinese Financial Professionals in the UK (ACfPU), with over 1 500 members at the moment. This non-profit organisation targets Chinese professionals but also anybody with an interest in China and gathers people around conferences and panel discussions on hot topics such as Chinese economic reforms, or alternative investments. This is a great mean not only to acquire knowledge on the discussed subjects but also to meet like-minded people and a great way for the founders to extend their network.
Nicolas: So how does the ACfPU benefit you during networking events?
Flore: Actually, I often bring up my Chinese roots during conversations and if the person shows interest I make sure to talk about the Association I co-created. You should always put your unique features forward when networking so people can connect with you and your story easily.
Flore: Well, I was far from being comfortable during my first networking events! So I would usually attend with 3 or 4 friends of mine and we would spread across the room. If one of us finished their conversation with a contact, we could join any of the three others and start a conversation with the person he/she is having with another contact. This way we would avoid any awkward moment where you are alone and also introduce each other to new contacts. Having this safety net made networking much easier!
Nicolas: Very interesting advice! And now that you are a networking pro, what’s your new strategy?
Flore: Now being an event organiser I have noticed that after the conference is over there is always a silent moment where the speaker ask the audience “do you have any questions?”. This is actually the best moment to put aside your shyness and be the first to ask a smart question! This will bring both the attention of the speaker and the audience to you. In return you will be noticed and people will straight away reach out to you during the networking session!
Nicolas: So tell me more about your role at the ACfPU? Did it lead to any fruitful connection?
Flore: At one point, I decided to organise an event around ‘Investment in Art’. For 3 months it was an uphill battle to say the least, no response to my cold emails and a lot of struggle, as I did not have many connections in the art industry. Finally I managed to put together a conference with 150 attendees sponsored by Standard Chartered bank. After that, people started reaching out to me and my network in this field literally bloomed. Six months later, when organising my 2nd conference, I met my future business partners from ToMaster who heard of me in the industry and wanted to co-organise a huge event gathering top Chinese real estate representatives and influencers from major galleries and museums in the West . The conference was a success and it led to my current role as Chief Operating Officer at ToMaster.
Nicolas: So having a leadership role in a non-profit organisation really got you noticed and put you on a new career path?
Flore: Actually in a non-profit organisation, anybody is welcomed to take an active role. You just need to stand up, propose to organise an event and you will be allocated resources! Being an organiser is so much more powerful than being a simple attendee.
Nicolas: What’s your strategy to keep up with your network after the conferences? Do you have a process in place to make sure you do not lose touch with your contacts?
Flore: The day after the networking, I usually send a very direct email to my new contacts on a hot topic to clearly discuss a potential partnership or a shared interest. It’s best to find a mutually interesting topic than the usual bland “Nice meeting you, let’s keep in touch!”. If it looks like it will lead somewhere always arrange a 1-to-1 catch-up. It’s so powerful that after, you’ll feel confident to reach to this person anytime.
Nicolas: How long did it take for you to feel comfortable at networking events?
Flore: I would say that after 5 events you start feeling at ease. All networking sessions are not productive but don’t be discouraged! The best is to attend 3 events in a row by the same organiser, you have at least 20% chance to run into the same people at the next one. After the 3rd one it will be a natural process and you’ll feel at home!
Nicolas: Back in the corporate world at UBS and Coller Capital, were you referring candidates or pushing CVs forward?
Flore: Actually I was often approached by candidates to discuss my role and get advice on the interview. Sometimes I did refer a few candidates to HR but never directly to the interviewer as he would then expect the candidate to have discussed with me particular deals or know projects in details and if the candidate did not answer brilliantly, he would not get the job. So it adds unnecessary pressure on candidates’ shoulders!
Nicolas: I thought you would have mentioned the impact it might have on you if the candidate does not perform well during the interview!
Flore: To a lesser extent it does affect me, but after 2 or 3 years in a company you are valued for your work not referrals!
Nicolas: So what prompted you to quit your job in Finance? Do you regret your years in this industry?
Flore: Finance certainly gave me a structured mindset but after so much time in the industry I had acquired all the skills relevant to pursue my own start-up dreams. For a while, I considered pursuing an MBA and I even bought all the books; but I had a lot of question marks in my mind on what I really wanted to do with my life and the MBA was not going to provide these answers! Having built these extra activities and networks on the side gave me an easy escape from the corporate world and I jumped on board when ToMaster offered me a role! Bottom line, networking not only brings you contacts, it mainly brings inspiration! You then just need to take the leap!
If you are interested in entrepreneurship, make sure to check out Entreprenary for step-by-step processes on fundraising, legal issues, finding the right partners and the right investors…
Born in China, Flore holds a MSc from…
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June 18, 2015