This month’s That Mama is Singaporean public relations maven Elaine Seah!
As the founder of her own public relations firm, Brand Inc., this month’s That Mama Elaine Seah certainly knows how to sell herself. Even without her wise and circumspect interview, though, we are simply bowled over by the gorgeous photos of Elaine with her 3-year-old daughter, Islay. Both in her interview and in these lovely pictures, it’s clear that so much of what she does is motivated by love for her daughter, and for her family. Yet another enlightening read, mamas!
Can you tell us a little about yourself, your career and your family?
I come from a family of entrepreneurs: My grandfather was a storyteller along one of the five-foot-ways in Chinatown, and my grandmother was a food peddler with her own pushcart selling the most authentic Hokkien prawn noodle soup and spring rolls in 1950s Singapore. Together, with the meagre amount they earned, they raised six outstanding children who run a group of family businesses that was one of the firsts to introduce fibreglass into Singapore.
The inspiration to start a PR agency at 24 years old came from my family and upbringing, and the appetite for risks from the genes. I see from my family the qualities needed in an entrepreneur: hard work, resilience and integrity.
Despite my long working hours (which any PR practitioner can attest to), I am very fortunate to have the support of my husband who also had an upbringing from parents who were entrepreneurs.
Can you talk us through your career pre- and post-baby?
I am always prepared to work hard for my career, but no one ever told me about juggling it with pregnancy or a baby, and which is perhaps the toughest job there is.
When I was seven months pregnant with Islay, the landlord of my company’s previous location decided to raise the rent by and ousted us within a month, despite our request for extension to after delivery.
Heavily pregnant with Islay, I had to source for new office premises and oversee renovation and moving while juggling day-to-day operations at work. It was physically challenging.
Luckily, Islay was a strong child and an easy baby to look after when she was born. At four months old, she slept through the night. Slowly, I regained health – both physically and mentally – during a 6-month maternity leave.
How did you get back into the swing of things after having kids?
Shortly after the delivery of Islay, three staff tendered their resignations consecutively. The company’s business was slow, particularly bearing in mind that it is after all a small enterprise.
During the 6-month maternity leave (a luxury in Singapore, I realise), I worked from home and attended meetings when I needed to. It was a hard but necessary journey in hindsight. I was glad that I went through this journey as it has made me a stronger and more resilient individual.
Besides work and tending to my then-infant, I started to pick up my instrument, pipa (Chinese lute) again after a 20-year break. It provided relief and sanity. I also took regular walks to the nature reserves to regain my energy and figure.
How do you maintain an identity separate from your child?
Many working parents are plagued with guilt because of lack of time or energy to invest in their child. I was no different.
It was, however, fortuitous when I chanced upon a study by Harvard Business School that working mothers raise more successful and independent children while researching for a client. Then, it dawned on me that I can have a separate identity from my child, and the way to do it is to carve a career that I can call my own and have full control.
How has having a child changed the way you define work?
Work used to consume my life: socially, economically and even till now, romantically. The arrival of Islay changed how I view work: work sustains, but family nourishes.
I plan my work hours around Islay’s schedule to ensure that I have time for her. As much as I seem to have all things planned out, I do not. I am an ordinary mother who is still looking for ways to ensure that Islay does not just have time from me, but also attention and love.
How do you save time? What are your organisational tricks and tips?
In business, time is a limited commodity. My meetings are usually scheduled first thing in the morning or last thing in the evening, so that I have maximum time to clear what needs to be done during the day.
The best way to save time is to have an able and empowered team that can relieve burden. Hence, nothing is more crucial than recruitment and training. I personally recruit and train every staff in the team so that our vision and purpose are aligned.
What part of Singapore do you live in? What do you like about it?
I live in the northeast, and the best part is the waterway. Great for a long walk.
Favourite kid-friendly activity in Singapore?
Walking is friendly for all ages. Islay could do a two-kilometre walk since two.
I wish I had more time for…
Myself to pursue the arts.
I always feel saner after…
A long walk (but without the corgis).
Favourite kid-friendly restaurant in Singapore?
I have no particular favourite kid-friendly restaurant in mind but the excellent staff at La Braceria are always attentive to Islay.
Favourite family-friendly holiday spot in Asia?
I can’t say it is our favourite but we went to Mt. Bromo, Indonesia, this year where Islay took a Jeep, rode a horse, and climbed the steps to see an active volcano. We thought it was pretty good.
Do you have any tips for keeping the romance alive in your relationship?
Yes! Be involved. My husband (Matthew Fergusson-Stewart) is the Regional Brand Ambassador of Glenfiddich for Asia Pacific. He spends fifty percent or more of his time away from home. We make an effort to attend each other’s work events – in Singapore, Malaysia or even Bangkok.
We also enforce a strict bedtime for Islay. She goes to bed no later than 9pm every day, and that allows us some time to go out for a rendezvous when Matthew is in town.
Favourite date night restaurants?
Not so much a restaurant, more a bar. We used to frequent L’Aiglon but it has closed down.
Do you have any tips for aspiring “mamapreneurs” and other working mamas in Singapore?
Don’t give up. Someone once told me before that conviction does not make things easier, it makes things possible.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received as a parent?
“Just go to work,” said my husband. I am grateful for that.
Give us your essential new mama advice that might never occur to other women.
Cook for your child, for your family. It is a living legacy.
As a mama I wish I were better at…
What’s your favourite family ritual?
Dinner at the dining table.
I wake up in the middle of the night thinking about….
How much more time I can sleep.
My favourite moment of the day is…
When Islay wakes up happy.
Thanks you, Elaine! And many thanks to Sabrina Sikora of First Wife Studios for the absolutely stunning snaps of Elaine and Islay.