Joanna Hotung encourages enquiry-based and balanced learning through her arts school, Kids’ Gallery.
What’s your story?
I founded the arts school Kids’ Gallery when my 4 year-old daughter “failed” art at her local kindergarten by insisting on painting an elephant orange instead of the requisite grey. The need for creativity and individuality in education struck me, both as a parent and as an entrepreneur. In the past 21 years, I have also founded Star English, Face Productions and Mills International Preschool – all built upon a foundation of enquiry-based and balanced learning. Over 60,000 children have passed through our doors since 1996, with our original students now working and studying in leading educational organisations and companies worldwide.
What excites you most about your industry?
Particularly in the past five or so years, the very rapid growth in the educational sector, with new schools entering Hong Kong, and changes in pedagogy for students of all ages. I don’t necessarily agree with all the changes, but they keep us educators and school operators on our toes.
What’s your connection to Asia?
I was born in Hong Kong to a Chinese (Shanghainese) mother and British father, and apart from education in the UK and Switzerland, have lived here most of my life.
Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
I’ve operated learning centres in many Asian cities, and definitely rank Hong Kong the best for its efficiency, speed at getting things done, transparency, and networking opportunities. Generally there’s less red tape as well, except for in the education sector unfortunately – you have to get approvals from seven government departments to obtain a pre-nursery license, for example.
What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
Get out of bed every morning and go to work.
Who inspires you?
All women entrepreneurs, especially those who work directly within the community in both commercial and social enterprises. I met Anita Roddick of The Body Shop in my early 20s, and her passionate yet down-to-earth and socially conscious approach to business and life inspired me to leave management consultancy and create my own path.
What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
How many amazing new books I got for Christmas and how I need to find time to read them all.
If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
I feel like the years of being a mum in conjunction with building a business have gone by at the speed of light, and somehow my children who were 4 and 2 when I started are now 25 and 23. If there was a way I could have slowed down time, I would.
How do you unwind?
Reading in the bath.
Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
My home in Clearwater Bay. It’s by the sea and a respite from the city.
Everyone in business should read this book:
After doing my MBA I was put off reading “business books” but am a voracious reader of the Financial Times, magazines, and biographies of business founders. I get my ideas from everywhere. There aren’t enough books by or about women entrepreneurs though.
Shameless plug for your business:
In its early years, Kids’ Gallery was cited widely in the media as the pioneer of children’s enrichment learning in Hong Kong, offering cross-discipline courses from fine arts to musical theatre to communication skills and ballet – all with the objective of developing original thinkers through their own particular area of interest. We still remain true to our core values of balance in education across all our school platforms – through high quality academic rigour with big doses of fun and imagination, leading to a genuine love for independent learning.
How can people connect with you?
This interview is part of the ‘Callum Connect’ series of more than 500 interviews
Callum Laing is an entrepreneur and investor based in Singapore. He has previously started, built and sold half a dozen businesses and is now a Partner at Unity-Group Private Equity and Co-Founder of The Marketing Group PLC. He is the author two best selling books ‘Progressive Partnerships’ and ‘Agglomerate’.