Josianne Robb has been adapting since she was seven, when the Bata factory where her father worked as a shoe designer shuttered. He was one of the lucky few retained by the CEO. The only catch? They had to relocate abruptly from Belgium to Nigeria, a career move that ultimately improved the family’s fortunes.
“To be able to work hard and have somebody help you and change the story of your family for generations is incredible,” says Robb. “Now I’m trying to do that through coaching, by helping people change their limiting beliefs, see how awesome they are and gain confidence.”
In June 2021, Robb had the courage to leave the corporate C-suite and follow a long-time dream to launch a coaching business, Adaptologie—becoming an entrepreneur at 51. But it took more than courage, of course, it took money. Robb was well positioned after a lifetime of saving, knowing and negotiating her professional worth, and following her mother’s directive to be financially independent.
“It doesn't mean that I didn't have setbacks and cries and hard times,” says Robb, a third-culture kid whose love of adventure brought her to Hong Kong in 2013. “You brush yourself up and go forward, including when you're divorced.”
Below she opens up about her strategies and philosophy that money should be a tool to move you forward, not something that defines you.
Part-time job in university (1988-1991) = earned enough to cover costs
I was the first person in my family to go to university. I liked school, so it felt like the next logical step. It was only later that I realised there was a big debate between my parents about whether it was necessary. My mom was a secretary and she pushed for me to go university to have a better future, not to find a husband.
My parents paid for the first year, but the second year I had to find my own way to fund it or drop out. That was the first time I was confronted with, what is my relationship to money? Is it my master or a vehicle for achieving something? I decided it was the latter. I met a guy who was hiring people to renovate floors in shops and banks from 8pm to 11pm, and I thought, that’s brilliant. It allowed me to go to university, work, and then party.
My weekly pay covered everything effectively: rent, tuition, which was not expensive, and books, which were. I had one of the better jobs and was forever lending money to others, which was very empowering. And my mom was dead proud.
Accounting error at work (1993) = an expensive lesson in leadership and risk
My first job was in international settlements at Euroclear, and it was the first time I could pay for my own holiday. The day before leaving for Texel, I was so excited. But first there was a double settlement to resolve. We did the accounting manually; we worked until 2am; and unusually, my work was not checked. I was so distracted that I switched the debit and credit. Rather than cover our cash account to settle the trade, we landed in default for three days at a cost of US$70 million (HK$545 million).
When I returned and my boss told me, my face drained. I remember being completely quiet for what felt like an eternity. I said, “I can’t even begin to say how sorry I am. I’ll take my stuff and go.” But he replied: “What do you mean? We’re going to automate the process so this never happens again, and you are going to work extremely hard in addition to your day job to make sure the project runs as perfectly as possible.”
I was so grateful. What I didn’t know is that he had been trying to get approval to automate the treasury, but because we had a track record of zero mistakes, it had been refused. Not only did this teach me my first big lesson in leadership, but it also taught me not to be afraid of mistakes relating to money.