Welcome to Money Milestones, in which an accomplished woman reveals her financial thought process and the spending, borrowing and investing that reflects her growth
Charlene Ree grew up in Taiwan as the middle child of parents with opposite financial perspectives. Her father, a doctor, is very generous and loves treating family and friends. Her mother, who came from a modest background, is a go-getter who budgets carefully and craves a discount.
As a serial tech entrepreneur in digital advertising, Ree has adopted both their philosophies. For each business, she has set a strategic plan—and she has invested wisely in a diverse portfolio that includes real estate, conservative bonds and riskier startups and cryptocurrency. It's not all work, though: she makes a point to reward herself and spread the wealth around, with gifts for relatives and dividends for employees.
“A lot of Asian people shy away from talking about money, but I feel that’s changing,” says Ree. “I’m willing to share because I know the value of being part of a community.” In that spirit, she breaks down her money milestones, from her first joint venture to her first investment property, and her ultimate goal of an IPO.
First-ever luxury purchase (2002) = spent HK$9,330 on Louis Vuitton
I was a philosophy major at Fujian University, which says a lot about my personality; I was always very curious and wanted to know the whys. But, of course in Chinese society, people feel, how are you going to make any money with that degree?
I decided to get a masters in media ecology at New York University, which was still not the most practical degree but taught me to analyse how the media influences people’s decision making. It equipped me with insights into marketing and how to fine-tune messaging.
After graduation, my aunt hooked me up with an internship to help a friend sell fabrics into New York from China. I made the inventory; organised fabrics with codes; and carried the portfolios, knocking door by door in the Garment District. I wasn’t paid by commission and didn’t know to ask for it. Even though I closed a few US$1 million (HK$7.8 million) deals, I only earned US$1,000 (HK$7,800) a month for six months. At least I learned a lot!
I wanted to treat myself with my hard-earned intern money and, luckily, I had a friend at Bloomingdale’s who let me use his 20 percent employee discount. I paid US$1,200 (about HK$9,330) for a Louis Vuitton wallet and four bags—one for myself, two for my sisters and one for my mom—which was a very good deal.
Httpool Asia joint venture (2009) = borrowed HK$643,560
I had been working in performance-driven marketing for a digital agency in New York, helping clients reach the right audience at the right time with the right message. One of my clients, the European-based Httpool Group, was interested in expanding to Asia and we decided to do a joint venture in 2009. Since I got married that year, I felt more financially secure and able to take a risk. My business partner and I weren’t experienced in startups, so it was good to get guidance and structure. Httpool also gave us a loan of €70,000 (about HK$643,560). We were very profitable and paid it back with interest after about two years.