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Profile: Sharleen Chin
Sharleen Chin, CEO at Meiling Inc. Ltd., recently won a very prestigious prize from the Women Innovators Network in the Caribbean to attend the 5th infoDev Global Forum on Innovation and Technology Entrepreneurship in South Africa. Several hundred highly-achieved female entrepreneurs from Antigua, Bahamas, Barbados, Dominica, Grenada, Jamaica, Montserrat, St Kitts & Nevis, St Lucia, St Vincent, Trinidad & Tobago, Belize, Guyana and Suriname entered the competition and out of those came just four eventual winners, so she is justifiably proud of this achievement.
She was born in Trinidad and went to school here, but migrated to Canada very early on to pursue a degree in journalism at Ryerson University and eventually stayed to raise her own family.
We sat down for an interview shortly before her departure for SA.
WW: What did you do before you became CEO at Meiling, Inc.?
SC: I studied to be a journalist, but life steered my career to the fields Public Relations and Marketing from early on. Before taking a hiatus from full-time work to raise my family I was PRO at Canadian Tyre, one of the biggest department stores chains in Canada. I maintained my work skills while at home though (something I strongly advise women to do all the time) and when I sought to resume my career I was hired as Executive Director for a Canadian college foundation. That was my last job before I returned to Trinidad.
WW: What led you to return here?
SC: Meiling is actually my family, and we always spoke of working together ‘some day’, but there was never any solid idea of when, or even how. However, in my job at the foundation I collaborated frequently with one of the biggest event planners in Montreal for our fundraising events, and my own event planning and management skills were honed to the point where that same planner began to call on my help in managing other projects. That in turn led to Meiling asking me to coordinate a major regional project she was working on. That was in early 2010 and was supposed to last 4 months but, in true ‘Trini timing’, it’s still going on! Anyway, it gave me time to fall in love with T&T again and I decided to stay. The project morphed into a New Business Development role, which then solidified into my current position.
WW: From where do you draw inspiration and support?
SC: Meiling, actually, has always been an inspiration to me… independent and uncompromising, and I greatly admire that. And my mother (now deceased) was always one of my greatest supports. One thing though, that I can NEVER stress enough is the value of an active network, for both personal and professional support… to me it’s one of the greatest assets one can have. But there is a third lady, Anne Hewitt, who inspired me from very early on to always trust my instincts and stay true to who I am, and that lesson has never left me.
WW: Who is Anne Hewitt?
SC: She was the HR Manager at a company in Barbados that I once worked with. On my first day I was shown to a desk and, to my absolute horror, a typewriter! It was 1984 and no one in the company yet had a computer. I had just come from a job at one of the most progressive companies in Canada, where every employee was proficient in Word Processing and already had their own desktop computer, and there was just no way I could go back to working on a typewriter. I summoned up the courage to tell her but really didn’t know what to expect. She didn’t just listen but facilitated getting me a properly equipped office, and before long the entire company was computerized. And throughout my time there she remained open to my ideas and innovation and inspired my confidence and my own instincts.
WW: Have you played an ‘Anne Hewitt’ role to others?
SC: I’ve always played an ‘informal’ mentorship role but this year I had the opportunity to do it in a more formal capacity. I spearheaded the participation of three emerging designers in the International Fashion Showcase at London Fashion Week (under the auspices of FATT and UTT). They were humbled but extremely inspired by the experience and I know it was a tremendous learning opportunity for them.
WW: What has been your greatest challenge thus far?
SC: Definitely that would be my son, who is developmentally challenged. Again, having a great network proved invaluable, as through that I was able to get him the best care, but this experience taught me that nothing is impossible once you are determined to find a way to make it happen. A lot of times the first response is ‘no’ but the next step is finding a way to turn that into a ‘yes’. Today my son is at university, doing a major in history and a minor in education, pursuing his dream of becoming a history teacher.
WW: Any words of advice for other young people pursuing successful careers of their own?
SC: Yes… it’s important to remember that there’s a difference between confidence and courage. Confidence is a quality you gain from previous life successes. Courage is stepping out on a limb when you don’t have the experience or assurance of outcome. Courage is what will take you to the level of success that is reserved for a special few.
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