Between her classes in business and marketing at Harvard University and marathon study sessions, Katherine Yip worked as a dishwasher at a restaurant in Boston’s famed Faneuil Hall. Some of her colleagues never worked overtime, but she often would stay behind and help clean up. Her extra service eventually paid off; one afternoon, the manager said he needed someone reliable and diligent for the cashier’s position. He chose Yip.
While her pay didn’t go up in the new position, Yip valued the new role for the trust the owner had placed in her and the opportunity to learn new skills, such as accounting, she said. The position also gave her a better appreciation of how hard it was for the owner to make money.
“I think the most important thing for an employee is not to look at what you can get first, but think about how you can do your best,” said Yip. “Little stuff sometimes will reward you a lot.”
Today, Yip is chairman of KYG International, a global investment and advisory firm based in Hong Kong. She is the first and only female founding partner of Pacific Alliance Group (PAG) and VinaCapital Group (VCG) two of Asia’s leading listed investment funds.
Before she reached this pinnacle, however, Yip pursued her passion for “edu-tainment”— essentially, a form of entertainment such as a video or a show that aims to educate viewers. In 1987, she founded AMW Hong Kong, a design, sourcing, manufacturing and distribution business. The company partnered with a Wisconsin company to distribute Disney products in China.
Yip’s career took another great leap after she received a call from American Girl doll founder Pleasant Rowland, who needed someone to manufacture accessories for the dolls. According to Yip, Rowland cold called her after seeing her photograph in the media with Wisconsin’s then-governor Tommy Thompson. “She said that she approached me because I had a kind face,” recalled Yip.
Yip knew that Rowland’s company needed “precise craftspeople who could work with multiple small parts.” She first approached high-end lingerie manufacturers, believing they could craft miniature, high-quality clothing. She was “politely laughed off their premises” after she explained that she needed items durable enough for child’s play but deluxe enough to justify the high price tag of the doll.
So Yip did it herself. In 1997, she established her own factory and became the exclusive sourcing agent and quality control provider for American Girl. In 2012, she sold the company, AMW HK Ltd.
“My work with American Girl has been pivotal to my career,” she said. “It taught me to trust my instincts. It allowed me to expand my expertise, strengthen my entrepreneurial skills and achieve my passions. And it helped me define my equation for success — passion plus talent plus hard work.” (Image credit: Katherine Yip)