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Conversations with the Inspiring Mel Lim

Today we’d like to introduce you to Mel Lim.

Thanks for sharing your story with us Mel. So, let’s start at the beginning and we can move on from there.
I am originally from a small island of Penang, Malaysia. I moved to the US at age 19 to study architecture at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena. It was my first trip to the States, so you can imagine my excitement. I landed with two suitcases: one contained three pairs of jeans, two pairs of shoes, five blouses, and three hand-me-down, knitted wool sweaters; the other case held my artwork. I had no drivers license, no social security number, no bank account, and was greeted by a distant family friend. Within three days of my arrival, school started. That was my “hit the ground running” start to life in the US.

We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc. – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
Within three months of my arrival in the US, the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis plagued my country. Many families went bankrupt, including mine. My parents gave me two choices: return home, or stay. I chose to stay, but I had to figure out how to survive on my own. Money was tight. I hitchhiked and walked to school four miles every day for four months until I had money to buy a car. I ate one packet of Ramen noodles each day for three months straight! I had become independent overnight — no support system, no safety net, no friends, no family. Nothing. I didn’t even have money for phone service, so I rarely called home. I sought economic hardship assistance and worked full time for four years to put myself through one of the most rigorous private art schools in the world. By the time I graduated, I had massive work experience and job offers from top architectural firms. I graduated with no student loans and holding the highest honors in my class. Given what I’d accomplished despite the odds, I figured I could do anything.

MY “unfortunate” life, molded my resiliency and grit. I immediately learned how to be quick, resourceful, and self-reliant, and how to navigate tough life lessons involving racial discrimination and sexual harassment. Imagine being 19 and broke, and wondering how long you can stretch a packet of Ramen noodles, without compromising integrity, values, and health. Essentially, I learned how to survive and thrive. I learned how to hustle. I worked in architecture for seven years with some of the most coveted top firms in the US. By the time I turned 23, I had designed casinos, stadiums, and retail centers, including one in Madrid, Spain. When I turned 26, I founded my own product manufacturing company with $1500. Within 24 months, I’d scaled my business to over 1000 renowned retailers worldwide, with over 500 SKUs.

In 2006, I pivoted my business toward consulting and have been scaling technology and software companies ever since.

So let’s switch gears a bit and go into Maspira Groupe and MSovereign story. Tell us more about the business.
Creative talent is expected in my profession. And while I have that in abundance, it is not my secret sauce. Any designer who has mastered her craft over time would just keep garnering industry accolades. That is a given. But I wasn’t particularly interested in just winning trophies. And my secret sauce is not the vast work experience I’ve accumulated since I was 19 either.

What sets me apart is my ability to strategically problem solve, especially under extreme conditions. That is my mojo. I get super excited when I can take a company (startups and Fortune 500s alike) from point A to point B, and help them see potential, influence change, drive innovation, enter a market, grow and scale, despite limited resources: time, money or people. What clients/organizations see as challenges, I see as opportunities. And I’m able to execute on ideas on a global scale given my international experience. My special skillset combines strategic thinking with clearly defined, excellent execution.

Hence my two companies today:
Maspira Groupe is a growth consultancy. We help companies design and develop their products, their business models, growth and brand strategies. We typically serve clients in the software and technology space: big data, cybersecurity, AI, neuroscience, IOT, and Saas, to name a few. Some of our past and present clients include well-known brands like Varonis, Axure, LeEco, Tata, Intel, Comcast, and Zeeto.

MSovereign is a media company. It is a platform to help people achieve equanimity and find meaning in their work and lives through mindfulness and to help companies craft value by reframing their approach to impact creation and experience design. This is my forum for keynotes and workshops, where I teach others how to do what I do.

I have three career moments of which I am most proud:
— When I graduated from college, all on my own
— When I took a key technology client IPO and became a new mom, concurrently (I remember breastfeeding my newborn, watching the bell ringing ceremony, and seeing my work plastered all over Times Square. If only I had been able to share that moment with my late parents).
— When my first book, Turtle Design in a Rabbit Age was recently published by one of the world’s leading academic publishers, CRC Press | Taylor and Francis Group.

Looking back on your childhood, what experiences do you feel played an important role in shaping the person you grew up to be?
Absolutely! Without a doubt. Every trauma, setback, and challenge I faced in my younger life or watched my parents endure when I was small, all prepared me for my life today. The nonexistence of safety nets in any form equipped me with the tools and agility training I needed to survive and succeed, for myself and for my children. My resilience, readiness, and determination are a springboard for the success I bring to my clients and businesses.

Learning how to survive with integrity as a young person helped me build mental stamina and emotional independence, and develop a deep sense of self-awareness and spirituality. It made me realize that no matter the situation, I am blessed with the power to make things happen — to constantly learn, grow, adapt, love, and live a full life.

Which women have inspired you in your life? Why?
I have two women in my life who helped shape the woman I have become and who inspire me to this day:
My late mother taught me from childhood that I’m her daughter. She emboldened me with the awareness that I can do anything and accomplish whatever I put my mind to. My sister and I grew up hungry, and without hot water or reliable electricity. But we knew we had our parents’ resilient DNA to survive, and had strong values and convictions instilled in us since birth. My Mom taught me to always give 200% effort when everyone else is giving 110%. She taught me hard work, focus, dedication, and the determination to see things through to completion, and how to dream and live big.
My late godmother holds a special place in my heart. She managed and kept up the house, and was the woman who raised me. She taught me unconditional love, deep empathy, compassion, respect for all beings and most importantly humility. Because of her, I am able to balance all that I do today: embracing motherhood as a single mom to my two boys (ages four and seven), and running multiple businesses with mindfulness and equanimity.

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Image Credit:

@ Maspira Groupe LLC

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