Anla Cheng is the Founder and CEO of New York-based SupChina, a China-focused news, information, and business services platform. Anla is the embodiment of an immigrant and an entrepreneur who has defied all odds and risen to create a lasting positive impact on her community and the world around her. From starting her career in finance, arts, and journalism, she rose to the highest ranks of the financial industry, then switched lanes to become an entrepreneur. Cheng has donated millions to philanthropic activities both on her own and along with her husband through the Mark and Anla Cheng Kingdon Foundation based in New York City. From helping the next generation of women entrepreneurs and leaders, to creating space for cross-cultural communication and understanding, it’s clear there’s no challenge too grand for Cheng.
Anla: I never had a chance to see my newborn child. They didn't have any precedent of having women work out of the home in those days. I said, "I can assure you my revenues will probably go up, not down. I can do everything that I can by phone." Now COVID-19 is proving that that's definitely possible. But in those days, it was just not that customary. They said no. I quit. There was a moment of transition because I went from being on the sell side, the head of brokerage, to the buy side, meaning as a portfolio manager. It took time for me to set it up but in the long run, it really paid off. When you go through a difficult time like that, you never know whether it works in your favour or not. But you kind of make lemonade out of lemons. That's what I did.Elle: What was the hardest part of starting your own business?
Anla: It's paving the way because it was completely new. I decided that as a mother, a fund of funds was a very appropriate, manageable field because it's not like being a portfolio manager and analyst where you have to look at the stock every minute of every day. As a portfolio manager, you're constantly affected by geopolitics. It's like a domino effect and you have to watch on an hourly basis. As a fund of funds, basically what you do is you choose the fund managers. You have a basket of fund managers and they worry for you. You have to analyze each of the fund managers and do your due diligence - are they for real, do they have a style of investment? You go through all that. But I had to learn my way. There were some managers that did fabulously which I'm still invested with and which helped me finance SupChina. And there are others who did not work out and I'm very big at cutting losses when things don't work out. I cut them out and moved on. That was a wonderful exercise. Again, it was all new to me and I had to take chances.Elle: How long did you do that for?
Anla: I'm still doing it. But not as actively because now I spend 90% of my time on SupChina. That's the beauty again of a fund of funds because you basically let your money grow with these fund managers. If you're lucky, you have these fund managers make your pot grow which allows you to do the things that you really want to do.
Anla: At the time, my goal was to be able to work, make money, be independent, and at the same time, be able to raise my daughter. I was able to achieve that goal and that made me very happy. I feel that child-rearing is actually more difficult than your work because there are no books that tell you how to raise your child. There's no one way. Your child is changing all the time, so what he or she likes today in terms of entertainment or a passion, may be very different three or five years from now. You have to start to change along with the child and nobody tells you how to go along with that so it's very, very difficult. That's been challenging.Elle: What was it about finance that attracted you to this field?
Anla: I had no interest in pursuing finance because I came to the United States to pursue arts. My parents funded me to become an architect. All these things did not have great financial remuneration. When I finished my undergrad, I became a journalist in the visual arts and made very little money. I did that for five years. I had a great time. I started writing and I did personality profiles and feature articles. I was not good at writing because English is my second language. I thought, what is the fastest way of making money and I realized that getting my MBA would help me. I looked around and I saw all these men in finance and I came to the conclusion that they were no smarter than I am. I went in and I knew nothing about anything in finance. I had to learn the language and just find a way. That's the only reason why I went in, so I could be more independent and make money. My parents wanted me to go back to Asia. They wanted me to get married. I knew that if I went back to Asia, I would end up being a housewife and I didn't want to do that. I was very happy I stayed on, pursued my career and got my break, my first job at Goldman Sachs. The rest is history.Elle: I love that you speak about independence. I find that for women, there's no independence without financial independence.
Anla: Without question. I say that to a lot of my friends and acquaintances. They're women who are very, very successful. But they say I just make my money and [my husband] does the finances. I said that's a mistake. You have to have your own bank account. You can have your joint account but you must have your own bank account because that's where you have independence. You don't have to ask him. You want to buy something, you don't have to ask for his approval. You have your own savings. You never know what could happen. You have to take care of yourself.Elle: Was philanthropy something that your parents instilled in you?
Anla: It's my mother and my husband. My mother was very charitable. When she grew up in the 1920s, it was 0.1% that were very, very affluent and she was one of them. But then during the war, they lost everything so they had to start from scratch. My mother would always say make sure that you value what you have because you never know, you could lose it tomorrow. Be thrifty and be sure you save. She was very good in that when they were refugees, she sewed the jewelry that her mother gave her into her clothes and they flew on the last plane leaving China. With that jewelry, she was able to buy real estate. That's how she made her wealth. But she was always very charitable. If there were people who were hungry or who needed help, she would always help them. My husband is probably the best kind of charitable individual because he believes in donating anonymously. He says that's the best kind of donation. That people don't need to know that you've helped them. But if you just help them, you just know and that's all that matters. He's an angel.Elle: How do you go from fund of funds to founding SupChina?
Anla: Through the fund of funds, I met some people who asked me if I'd like to do private equity together in China. So we did. Everybody had a PhD. There were doctors and I was just Anla. I said maybe I should go get my PhD. What ended up happening was they defrauded me and that gave me second thoughts. By then I had made enough money and I was very fortunate in sales. I'm pretty good at investing. I got involved with various organizations such as MOCA, Museum of Chinese in America, which really explores the history of Chinese who came to the United States, going back to the 1800s. They were responsible for putting down the railroads, etc. Then I got involved with another organization called China Institute, the oldest organization that promotes US-China relations. I'm vice-chair there now. I said to myself, I must really feel my Chinese identity.
How is that U.S.-China relations is so fraught and now it probably couldn't be worse. Even so, I thought it would be faster if we educated the West with news that I was looking for every morning at 5:30am. I would go through all the news to see how much news there is. I said if we can put it in one place, that would make my life much easier. I really started out thinking that we would have one newsletter to aggregate news. That's all I was looking for. But fortunately, my team, the editor-in-chief, came along with a podcast chief. He started doing podcasts. Now he's done 500 of them and interviewed so many Sino experts. From there, we've grown to have eight newsletters and nine podcasts. We have 40 events a year and of course during COVID, we started doing webinars. It's gotten to be this very robust community that we've built. Today, someone wrote to us. I'm not going to say who but I can tell you that this person has a very senior position at an Ivy League University. He said, "I love SupChina and I don't know how I can pay you back but I want to make a donation and it will be the biggest donation I've ever made". He said that you've put together such wonderful, meaningful articles and this is my way to thank you. We get testimonials like that almost everyday.
Our audience is very broad because we have so many products. It goes from students all the way to academics, to think tanks to ambassadors. One of our very good testimonials comes from ambassador Max Baucus, who was a former U.S. ambassador to China. We have CEOs from Fortune 500 companies. It's a broad range of executives, entrepreneurs, students and almost 50% women. We have an annual women's conference because in China, you have the largest number of women billionaires anywhere in the world. They're self-starters and very entrepreneurial so I try to feature them every year. At that event we get about 80% women and it's been a real joy for me and very sad to see that even with all this, we haven't been able to really help move the needle in terms of making sure that U.S.-China relations are in a better place. But I think without it perhaps, we might be worse off. We just try to do the best we can.Elle: What is your long-term vision for SupChina?
Anla: We hope that eventually, we will have an exit strategy with a strategic partner or maybe we go IPO, one or the other. But it's only possible because we have a large fanbase. Many people recognize the importance of understanding China. It's the second largest economy, very soon to become the largest. Many people ask us, what kind of threat does China pose? And should we be afraid of China?Elle: What does Walk How You Want mean to you?
Anla: Having a strut. Being able to walk with your head high and feeling good about yourself. Saying I did it or I'm still doing it and having those positive feelings about yourself and being able to share that with other people.
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