Michelle Gropp

Co-Founder of Lead with Words

"From living in so many countries, I learned very quickly (out of necessity) how to communicate with and relate to people from all over the world, adapt to unfamiliar circumstances, and be resourceful.."

By Katie Capstick, Intern

19th July 2017

SOCIAL MEDIA

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School History​​​:

  • Queen’s University:
    Master of International Business, 2013

  • Vienna University of Economics and Business:
    MSc Strategy, Innovation, and Management Control, 2014

Work Experience​​​:

  • International trade at the United Nations in Chile;

  • Finance at an insurance company in Canada;

  • International HR at a localization company in China

What led you to live in so many countries around the world?

I’ve had a love of adventure and risk-taking for as long as I can remember. My parents played an enormous part in this. Passionate about travelling themselves, they didn’t let having 2 young daughters stop them from exploring the world.

We started off going to popular destinations in North America and when I was 12 years old, BAM! They took us to Burkina Faso in West Africa. My eyes were opened and my curiosity piqued. My curiosity got the best of me one day and I drank some extremely contaminated water. I could have died from the parasites, but the only bug I got was the travel bug.

   I’ve now lived in 7 countries across 4 continents, and have travelled to over 35 countries. Studying abroad brought me to Hong Kong, Brazil, Denmark, and Austria, while working brought me to Chile and now, China

   From living in so many countries, I learned very quickly (out of necessity) how to communicate with and relate to people from all over the world, adapt to unfamiliar circumstances, and be resourceful. These are all extremely valuable skills for everyone to master in today’s world – no matter what country you live in or what job you have.
 

Why did you move to China?

 

I moved here for love. My husband and I are both Christians and we met online on a Christian dating website. He was in China and I was in Canada. After 2 months of non-stop emails and Skype calls (for 7, 8, or 9 hours at a time!), we knew we needed to meet in person. I suggested moving to Beijing, and less than a month later we were standing beside each other at the Beijing airport, in total shock that the other person actually existed. We got married a quick 6 months later in Canada, then came straight back to Beijing to start our next big endeavour together: a company.

Why did you start your company in China?

 

At Lead with Words, we transform top talent into outstanding, global communicators. When employees communicate better, they bring more value to their organization. Our training programs help employees present clearly, communicate persuasively, and negotiate effectively.

   Our recent clients include: Mercedes-Benz, BMW, State Grid (the Chinese state-owned enterprise for electricity – the second largest company in the world after Walmart), and Cinda (a large Chinese asset management company).

What we do is needed all around the world, but there are some specific reasons why we started in China:
 

  • We believe this is where God wants us and where we can have the biggest impact

  • The Chinese educational system is strongly biased towards hard skills (math, science, engineering), so there is a big need for soft skills training

  • There is a large presence of Fortune 500 companies in China who value the type of services we deliver and realize the strategic importance of training their Chinese employees well

 

What does it take to start a successful company? Could you share some of your personal experiences?

 

There are a number of ingredients needed to be successful, but I’ll highlight a few of the most important ones:

 

  1. Long-term Strategy vs. Short-term Gain
    Don’t lose focus of why you started and why you do what you do. Many companies have asked us if we could do training for them that is not exactly what we do (i.e. Business English, personal branding, etc.) Even though we have the ability to lead trainings on those topics, we decided against it because in the long run it would dilute our brand identity. It takes a lot of faith to turn down big deals (especially at the beginning!) and to believe that better, more relevant opportunities will come.

  2. Integrity
    No cutting corners. Always be honest, always issue an invoice, always pay your taxes, always have a lawyer review your contracts, always treat your employees well. If your gut says someone isn’t reliable, trust your gut and avoid it – regardless of the size of the deal.
    Our integrity was tested one time when we wanted to give a client an official invoice even though, in this rare instance, they weren’t requesting one. This type of invoice is very unique to China (it’s called a “fapiao”) and it guarantees you’ll pay taxes on the amount stated (so you can imagine many companies want to avoid issuing them.) But we were adamant about giving one. It turns out that we ended up receiving payment months and months before the other vendors who did not issue an invoice.
    The path of integrity means you’ll lose out on a number of opportunities, but in the long run you’ll also avoid LOTS of pain.

  3. Passion & Persistence
    The word passion comes from the latin “enter the pain.” It’s where we get the word patience. You have to love the venture so much that you’re willing to endure lots of setbacks, frustrations, and failures. Progress is never a straight line. Things might seem flat for months, then BAM! – you land a major client and things start to take off.

  4. Chinese
    This is unique to starting a company in China, but as a WFOE (Wholly Foreign Owned Enterprise), it’s 100% necessary to have someone who speaks Chinese. My husband is from California, but has been in Beijing for over 7 years and is now fluent in Chinese. His Chinese skills allows us to be successful here without having a Chinese business partner.

How is it working on a daily basis with your husband?

We love it and wouldn’t have it any other way! As a startup, you put in extremely long hours. Who better to spend all that time with than your best friend?

     That being said, it isn’t always easy. Lines between work and personal life are always a blur, so we need to be intentional to separate the two every now and again.

    I’m all for husbands and wives being business partners, but I would strongly warn against starting a business with a boyfriend/girlfriend. Doing business as a couple takes a high level of commitment. For our business to work we have to put our marriage first. Clear expectations help us keep a clear course. When there isn’t that life-long commitment, the question of which gets priority – business or significant other – becomes a major issue that can wreck both the business and the relationship.

 

What advice would you give to aspiring female entrepreneurs?

The biggest thing that holds back female entrepreneurs is a lack of belief. You can start a business and use it to change your community, country, and even the world. Don’t listen to the lies in your head that you can’t do it or that the world is against you. Commit to your passion, find a great need, and go make it happen! You’ve got this, girl!

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