Lee Williamson podcast - Regional Editorial director, power & purpose and business director, Gen.T, Generation T, Tatler Asia Group, Hong Kong, Gen.T, Front & Female and Asia’s Most Influential

Ep 73: From Ai Wei Wei to Building Generation T (Tatler) | Lee Williamson (Regional Editorial Editor, Generation T, Tatler Asia Group)

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Welcome to Episode 73!

Our guest for STIMY Episode 73 is Lee Williamson.

Lee Williamson is the Regional Editorial Director of Generation T, Tatler Asia Group and currently oversees three of Tatler’s flagship brands: Gen.T, Front & Female and Asia’s Most Influential. He was previously the Editor at Time Out Beijing and Editor-in-Chief at That’s China and was selected as a WAN-IFRA Young Media Leaders Fellow 2020.

If you’ve ever wanted to know what it’s like to work as a foreign journalist in China, dealing with state censorship, producing “controversial” editorials and also producing media products like the Generation T list, then this is the episode for you!

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    So This Is My Why podcast

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    Who is Lee Williamson?

    Lee grew up in the UK but after university, he decided to move to China and… never went back! Oops.

    • 6:48 Moving to China
    We did the first ever sex issue... and got a little bit of trouble for it, but it was fun. We did a big cover. It was just a huge red cover. But across it, it just said SEX. It just said, you're having it. Here are all your dirty secrets.
    Lee Williamson podcast - Regional Editorial director, power & purpose and business director, Gen.T, Generation T, Tatler Asia Group, Hong Kong, Gen.T, Front & Female and Asia’s Most Influential
    Lee Williamson
    Regional Editorial Director, Gen.T, Tatler Asia Group

    That’s China & Time Out Beijing

    Lee ended up working as Editor-in-Chief at That’s China and Editor at Time Out Beijing. And he oversaw some pretty “racy” covers!

    • 8:58 Working as a journalist at That’s China 
    • 11:33 “You’ll Never Be Chinese”
    • 15:19 Censorship in China
    • 17:26 Relaunching 
    • 18:21 Being Editor at Time Out Beijing
    • 21:12 Publishing Ai Wei Wei’s first interview following his detainment in China
    Lee Williamson podcast - Regional Editorial director, power & purpose and business director, Gen.T, Generation T, Tatler Asia Group, Hong Kong, Gen.T, Front & Female and Asia’s Most Influential

    Generation T

    Lee shares how he ended up joining Tatler Asia Group, his main role being to launch the Gen.T brand across Asia.

    But… what does it take to launch a list like Gen.T and being it into a prestigious household brand?

    • 23:14 Working at Tatler
    • 25:05 Why Gen.T?
    • 26:21 Defining success, influence and power
    • 27:17 What’s the point of another “list”?
    • 29:42 Building the Gen.T community
    • 34:48 Gaining trust
    • 35:52 Getting people to share what they really want even after they say “I don’t really need anything”
    • 39:05 Seeing Gen.T’s brand value increase
    • 43:11 Deciding who gets on Gen.T
    • 45:08 Tribes
    • 47:21 Safeguards
    • 48:57 Trends among Gen.T honourees 
    • 50:22 What’s in it for Gen.T?
    • 51:09 The Crazy Smart Asia podcast 
    • 56:21 Planning for the future of Gen.T
    Lee Williamson podcast - Regional Editorial director, power & purpose and business director, Gen.T, Generation T, Tatler Asia Group, Hong Kong, Gen.T, Front & Female and Asia’s Most Influential

    If you’re looking for more inspirational stories, check out:

    • Vincent Wei: Head of Growth (Growth & Producer), VEED.IO – on going from being an (almost) dropkick to scaling high-growth startups
    • Austen Allred: Co-founder of Lambda School 
    • Malek Ali: Founder of BFM 89.9 – Malaysia’s premier business radio channel
    • Kendrick Nguyen: Co-Founder of Republic – one of the top equity crowdfunding platforms in the US

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    STIMY 73: Lee Williamson (Regional Editorial Director, Power & Purpose and Business Director, Gen.T, Tatler Asia Group)

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    Lee Williamson: I think in a lot of ways, Gen T has been a guinea pig for a lot of the evolution that's happened at Tatler over the last couple of years.

    Since early 2020 when Tatler relaunched and rebranded, it's gone from being a society magazine that covered luxury lifestyle and quote unquote high society to you know, evolving into a much more progressive idea of what influence and what power and what society is.

    So going from covering like a few families to covering the best of power influence and style across Asia, regardless of what the lineage of that is. And Gen T, a few years before this relaunch was very much a kind of test balloon in that regards. In that it was a platform for people who were successful, who were shaping the future of Asia, regardless of where they came from.

    And we were launching new media products, like newsletters, social media, podcasts for this audience. We were launching a new type of media and a very different kind of tone of voice, a very different brand identity. And I think a lot of the success of that led to Tatler eventually seeing the market to evolve.

    Ling Yah: Hey, everyone! Welcome to episode 73 of the So This Is My Why podcast. I'm your host and producer, Ling Yah, and today's guest is Lee Williamson, Regional Editorial Director of Generation T at Tatler Asia group, where he oversees three of Tatler's flagship brands, Gen.T, friends and female, and Asia's Most Influential.

    Here are some things I found really interesting with Lee story. He grew up in England, but has spent the past two decades working as a journalist in China. His first foray was with That's China, which I actually found intriguing because it was owned by an English entrepreneur who wrote a viral article in 2013 entitled, "You'll never be Chinese". Detailing his difficulties in establishing a media business in China and which reportedly coincided with the Exodus of foreign ex-pats from the country.

    Lee offers his understanding of those events, how state censorship affected him and his work.

    And also his experience as editor of Timeout Beijing, which included conducting the first Ai Wei Wei interview published in China since his detainment. And last but not least, we talk about his role in establishing Gen.T as a brand.

    How Gen.T first came about, how it fits in with Tatler as a whole, how they curate the list over a span of eight months a year, the benefits of being on the Gen.T list, the art of creating community and how they make money.

    Because lest we forget, Gen.T is a business. We cover all that and more in this episode.

    So are you ready?

    Let's go.

    Is there a story behind the name Lee?

    Lee Williamson: No, my parents liked the name and I guess never thought that I'd end up moving to Asia. Didn't even conceive of the fact that it might be confusing a bit of an annoyance for me later on in life.

    It's more difficult than you might think in Asia, particularly in Hong Kong being orderly because everybody sees an email from me and assumed my name is Williamson. So I get a lot of emails like Dear Williamson, or they just write like, dear William, like they've looked at the name and we're like, Hmm, lets just pick this random element, one of the names and call him that.

    Ling Yah: I think for anyone who's listening, they will quickly ascertain from your accent that you're English. So did you grew up in England. What was your childhood like back then?

    Lee Williamson: My childhood was very loving.

    I moved around a few times, which at the time felt like this huge ordeal moving from like one p art of a very small country to another part, just like a hundred miles down the road. But at the time it felt like the biggest deal, because England's so small, you know, moving a hundred miles on the road, feels like a huge thing.

    Born in Birmingham and then moved to Whiltshire, which is like, where Stonehenge is and then eventually to Cambridgeshire, where we moved into a converted windmill. So very kind of idyllic, this kind of fantasy idea of what an English home is and in the countryside.

    It was very beautiful and very peaceful and tranquil.

    That's probably why, when I graduated, I was like, let's get out of here and go to go to China for some excitement. But yeah that perhaps instilled in me, subconsciously that wanderlust and being comfortable with change, being comfortable to moving to new places which I eventually did my whole adult life. I've never really been in one place too long.

    Ling Yah: So is that the reason why you pursued politics at Durham university? Was it because you thought it would give you a chance to go abroad?

    Lee Williamson: No. I mean, I think one of the things you'll find out, Ling Yah, is that most of my life is unplanned. Like , I love that John Lennon quote of life is what happens when you're making other plans, right. It's a cliche, but it's true, particularly for me. So I thought I was going to study law from, like the age of 10, 11 up until the time it came to submit the university applications, mostly because I was quite smart at school. My grades were pretty good. But obviously what I had in book smarts is I lacked in imagination.

    And so I was just like, it's just like, I want to be a lawyer. Why? I don't know. They looked like they're doing pretty well on TV. And then when it came to actually thinking about it, when I was submitting my university application, I was like, oh, do I want to be a lawyer? I should now I better think about it. And just like, a year before I started to get into music and quite a big way, I kind of became this indie kid and started growing my hair long and dyed crazy colors and, it all came randomly.

    And I haven't thought about this in a long time, but I was thinking about it today when I was thinking about this interview. And I realized like a lot of it emanated from the strangest strangest place.

    Like I remember getting a contract mobile phone when I was 16, which was a big deal. Maybe even 15. My parents got me a mobile, which was like on a contract rather than like a pay as you go.

    My friends were like, whoa, dude. Does it mean you can spend what you're like on this phone? That's amazing. Anyway, a part of this package from Vodafone, the provider, was they send you a free album and it was like a destiny child album when these other things, most of which I had no interest in and there was this one from this band, the manic street preachers, who I'd kind of heard of them and knew about one of their songs.

    So I got that as a free album and I really liked it. And then I listened to their earlier stuff and I loved that even more. It's called the Holy Bible and generation terrorist and everything must go. And they were talking about like Jean-Paul Sartre and Camus and Noam Tromsky and all these literary references.

    And I was like, wow, this sounds amazing. And they're so angry and they're so like, cool. So I started reading all this material, so I started like reading at Tromsky and Camus and stuff. So I had a kind of big change in that period. And then I was like um, I don't do law.

    So I guess politics. And then my options are open?

    Because you know, I can always do a law conversion course and I don't know, like I'm into it. So yeah, that was my, like, I'm not eating a McDonald's man cause it's too corporate phase. And then yeah, I ended up going to university and no regrets.

    Durham was a great place because it's collegiate, you do get a really full experience outside of your education as well. There was like an unofficial motto at Durham, which is like, don't let your degree get in the way of your education. And like, I definitely learned a lot there. aside from politics.

    Ling Yah: So you're in this bubble. How on earth do you go from this little bubble to China?

    Lee Williamson: So, let's do a little bit when I back turn, I think it was a bit of a bumpy road. That period of time, like last year of uni and I leaving uni, I wasn't particularly equipped for adulthood. And for like the first time in my life, spiraled into a depression to be completely honest.

    And like I had some issues and I couldn't quite finish my degree because I was just really burying my head in the sand and I had all this kind of anxiety and stress , and so on. And so like, it took me about a year to kind of get my life back on track. And then I finally did, I saw counseling and I felt good.

    And I was like, okay, what do I do now? Well, I guess I'll kind of push the reset button and I'd just go away for a year teach English, have some fun. You know, I have some friends that are kind of doing the whole TEFL thing, teaching English abroad, it looks like a lot of fun. A bit of arrested development, honestly.

    Like I don't have to go out for another year if I go away and teach English. So I was like, well, I'll just go do that. So I randomly decided to move to China because the Olympics are cool. And , China looks like this whole new frontier. Everyone's very excited about a rising China.

    To be completely honest, they didn't require a TEFL certificate. You could just rock up and go, Hey, I speak English. And so a combination of those factors led me to go to Hangzhou. I wanted to avoid Beijing and Shanghai because I wanted the real China, quote unquote.

    So I ended up moving to a city called Hangzhou, which is a couple of hours by train from Shanghai, where chairman Mao learn to read English, so the mythology goes.

    Ling Yah: And was it a shock to be there? Did the locals most of them speak English or was it just a struggle and learning that you can't access Google and all these other things they used to?

    Lee Williamson: Yeah. It was great. It was exactly what I was looking for and that was looking to be taken completely out of my comfort zone and just have a totally different experience than a lot of my friends were having. To wake up and everyday to be challenging, but challenging and in a really fun, exhilarating way.

    So yeah, I was kind of like a fish out of water, but it was great. I mean, to begin with, honestly, I think I was just trying to escape my problems. The past difficult year I had in the UK. And so I was like, this is great. I can basically be like boozy student again, and like teach English and career can wait.

    But then I started to grow up in Hangzhou over time.

    Ling Yah: And how did you end up working at That's China in 2009?

    Lee Williamson: So I started writing for this local listings and culture magazine called That's China. A friend of mine who worked at the same English school, got a job as the editor. And he was basically getting all of his mates to write for them, anyone who seemed vaguely cultural scholarly, or not even in my case. Just get them to write stuff.

    So I started doing it.

    I dabbled a little bit with the university, newspaper and website. Always had consider myself a creative, without ever actually kind of really having the guts to really apply myself to it. So this was the first time I was actually writing.

    And it was a blast because I was not somewhere where a lot of people I knew would see what I've writing and which would be judgemental of it. I felt definitely a certain type of freedom to do silly stuff and actually hang on a second. So randomly, I ended up doing this column called challenge Lee or something like that, where basically every month I do like a different challenge that a reader would set and then kind of write about it kind of first person Gonzo style and the relaunch issue that my friend, the former teacher launched.

    I dressed up as a Santa Claus and went busking on the streets with my friend who dressed up. It was this big, like six foot four strapping rugby guy. He was dressed up as Mrs. Claus. In this tiny little Santa Claus dress. It's only a little red dress. And so at the end of taking a photo from that and putting it on the cover of the relaunch issue.

    So I know this sounds totally premeditated. You just happened to be speaking to me in my study where I have the old magazine down there, but this was the relaunch issue.

    So this is me dressed as Santa Claus. I had a great time if you can kind of gather, so this is kind of a young me, close up. One of my friends who was doing the design for it, his inspiration was one of those national geographic covers with a closeup of a Google-less face. And I was like, oh, thanks. That's charming. So as you can probably tell, , it was just a whole lot of fun. And so I just didn't feel restricted by anything.

    I was just writing and enjoying it and kind of cutting my teeth in a way that I didn't really feel like there were any consequences to doing bad. I was practicing.

    Ling Yah: So I was digging further into That's China. Isn't it state owned and it's pretty much written for ex-pats in the country?

    Lee Williamson: It's a very complicated story about licensees and yeah, it was owned by a local Hanzhou entrepreneur who had a media business and did a lot of custom publications.

    This magazine was basically, I think his lost ledger. He did it for the prestige of running an English language magazine. It was a title that was created about 10 years before then defunct and this guy bought the license to publish under it. So it was just like one Chinese boss, smoking lichong cigarettes, drinking green tea and not really interfering too much with these strange people and their ideas of what should be in the magazine.

    Ling Yah: I read some of the articles that you can find by Mark Kitto, who started, That's Beijing, That's Shanghai, That's Guangzhou. And he was basically saying that he had a really, really difficult time, because he was a foreigner and he was never treated as a local. Was this a story that was very prominent at the time?

    Were you aware of that tension?

    Lee Williamson: I met Mark Kitto in Beijing, later on when I was at Time Out and he was doing his kind of leaving tour as he was about to leave China after we released that article, which was a fairly kind of bitter farewell to China basically.

    Ling Yah: And it went viral, didn't it?

    Lee Williamson: Yeah, exactly. Every expat in China was talking about it for that month.

    And yeah, he basically wrote his article saying, you will never be Chinese. And he was talking about how his experience of trying to do business in China and trying to do a joint venture and ultimately long story short, getting screwed over and then getting kicked out of the company that he formed.

    And at the time, it caught a lot of people's attention because uh, I think it was more of a David Goliath story. You know, this happens all the time. Big multinationals, I didn't own come in and do a joint venture with a Chinese company. And they kind of lose that like the intellectual property and lose those court battles and so on.

    But they're not so interesting stories cause they're big corporations, but this guy, it happened to him and it happened to him in the very early days. And he did a very good job cause he works media, kind of getting the story out there about what happened to him. And then many years later when he decided to leave, he wrote this article, you'll never be Chinese.

    Which basically as the name implies, wasn't a particularly fun farewell. That's not the experience I had at all. Uh, Clearly uh, I got screwed over in business. And I don't deny that happens an awful lot. I mean, it doesn't matter if you're a multinational corporation or a kind of SME owner. For me on just the anecdotal small scale level I never felt any prejudice or racism .

    Quite the opposite in fact. I think I was a lot more welcomed and tolerated than it would have been the other way around than someone chinese, for example, coming to the UK and having this bad English as I have had chinese and not integrating as much as I didn't integrate.

    Yeah. So, nothing that I found at all

    Ling Yah: With the power of retrospection, why do you think that's the reason? Is it because do you think you didn't start your own business and was trying to get a huge chunk of the profits perhaps? Apparently there was this exodus of expatriates from China, especially in the literary and journalistic scene at the time.

    And they also wrote essays about leaving too.

    Lee Williamson: Yeah, so for me, I mean, definitely I don't know if these are exactly the same time, but like a couple of years after this, Xi Jinping's China did start to manifest itself. After he came into power in 2012. Definitely the gradual opening up of the country that was happening under Hu Jintao for the previous decade did begin to kind of reverse itself.

    And obviously we're very much in the consequences of that over the past five or so years in terms of the way China's relationship with the world has changed. The way China has changed. And so, yeah, I definitely couple of years later, there was more of a kind of cracked down on certain things and journalists fees is not being renewed. Some of them my friends.

    But yeah, I don't know if this was necessarily the same time or related to what Mark went through. I think it was more just like in China from like 2012 to now basically. You know, if you just look at the two Olympics, the 2008 Olympics that announced China's arrival on the world stage, reemergence and then the world stage, and everybody's been so massively impressed and the narrative being mostly positive.

    And you compare that to the narrative ahead of this upcoming Olympics. Like the winter Olympics in Beijing, it's kind of like night and day. You know, now you have diplomatic boycotts of the Olympics and China kind of digging his heels in the mud and being much less like, oh, please, please love me.

    Look here I am. Judge me. Just being like, no, this is who we are. Being much more assertive in its way. So those two kind of totem poles I think are emblematic of the way trying to change. And ultimately why I decided to leave as well.

    Ling Yah: Did you feel like there was increased censorship in terms of what you could freely write without being concerned about your safety.

    Lee Williamson: I was writing about where to get a good burger and like the best way to see the hidden stuff in their Forbidden City. I think we've missed part of the story. But I went to Uh, eventually work at Time Out Beijing and then run it as editor a few years. So no, I mean, I didn't feel for my safety in any shape or form. We didn't have to submit to sensors.

    But there was a certain amount of self-censoring. So previous editors to me, they did use to have to go through the government censors before they would publish. But what they would do they told me was every issue every month, the census would take one article out, right?

    Because they're doing their job. So they need to prove to their boss that they are on the case. They're being vigilant. So they would take something out of them, even if it was the most vanilla edition ever. So what the editors, my predecessors did, is they would write something that they would know had gone too far.

    But they wrote it to get taken out. So they wrote it, not really caring that much about the piece, but just kind of doing it because they knew it would be the one thing they'd take out. And so they'd be fairly strategic. So they wouldn't get anything that they worked on, they love, taken out.

    They just get this one piece that they kind of banged out.

    I mean, certainly there's a certain amount of self-censorship anyone who publishes in mainland China has a certain amount of self-censorship , around the particular kind of hot button issues. But for the most part, my job was loving Beijing and proselytizing about how great Beijing was to live in as a city, which was a really easy thing to do because I love Beijing.

    It was a fantastic place, especially in those early years, it did feel like the new frontier, like the streets are paved with gold. This is the land of opportunity. This is like the new world. The new world order, but certainly this is where the new narratives are. And uh, yeah, it's thrilling.

    So my job was to go stand on a milk crate every day and say, like to a global English language audience, this place is great and you should come here and visit or live. And if you do make sure you go see this tourist attraction or the show, or make sure you eat here. And that was a lot of fun.

    Ling Yah: It Wasn't that a time where the media landscape was shifting a lot and you really had to adapt to the times?

    Lee Williamson: Again, not particularly writing about where to get good Beijing duck.

    Ling Yah: You had to relaunch TimeOut Beijing.com as well, right?

    Lee Williamson: Yeah, we did.

    So that was mostly just to improve the website, to improve the UX because it was a bit of a clunky old site. But yeah, that wasn't necessarily anything to do with censorship or what we could or couldn't write about it. It was more just about improving the product.

    And I think that experience was very much led to my interest in product development in media and kind of seeing media as products. Cause it was my first real, like rolling up my sleeves experience of how do you improve a product so they can better serve the needs of your audience. I originally got into media for the glamour and the glory, obviously.

    And then the kind of finally having a byline and, and being, being able to be in creative industry. And this was the first time I did something, which I've subsequently done a lot in my career. And not that I really enjoy, which is building products that serve audience needs and kind of building communities around that.

    So that's what relaunching TimeOut Beijing.com was all about.

    Ling Yah: Can you take us into your mindset at that time as an editor? How were you thinking about the various products that timeout was offering, how you positioned it to the people?

    As you said in your bio that you had three profitable years?

    Lee Williamson: Yeah. I mean, definitely. I think if you want to a successful career in media, you can't live in a bubble and it's increasingly difficult, particularly if you're in lifestyle media.

    If you're not in hard news, it's increasingly difficult to have that kind of church state divide between like editorial and everything that involves money as like the senior editorial person, that it was my role, I sort of my role to work very closely with the commercial department to build products that could be monetizaable.

    So, in my time there, we launched a family magazine because there was a lot of revenue streams coming there from international schools. We launched a map, which we did in partnership with the Beijing airport um, the international capital airport there and any number of different. We had to pivot quite quickly to WeChat like everybody did.

    So we had to be agile because all the advertisers wanted to be on Wechat and that's where the audience was. So it was one of my first lessons as well of like, you need to go where your audiences. You need to sometimes make some tough decisions. And sometimes that means cutting down on stuff that you may personally love, but you realize there's less of a market demand for it.

    So in my case, like most media junkies, I love print, but like there was less of an appetite for it from our readership and less of an interest in it from our advertiser base. And so like over time, the print product was getting thinner and thinner, but our digital output was increasing and we want more and more channels when we're focusing on Wechat and so on.

    And I think that agility, especially working in media where margins are getting squeezed and, , there's definitely more prosperous industries to be in. I'm very bullish on media in general, by the way, maybe we'll get into that later. But it was an important lesson to make like making difficult decisions in that regard.

    But as an editor, ultimately your job is to just make fun cool editorial that people want to read. They want to talk about it, that they want to share. Like the stories that I remember, some of the more kind of heavyweight stories like we did the first interview with Ai Wei Wei to be published in mainland China since he was detained back in 2010.

    We did the first ever sex issue or did this massive sex survey and got a little bit of trouble for it, but it was fun. Kind of push the boundaries. We did a big cover. It was just a huge red cover. But across it, just say SEX just said, like you're having it here are all your dirty secrets.

    And um, we did get some international schools which were distributed to writing us angry letters and sending us back the issues. This kind of fun editorial wins like that.

    I remember we did this article on our food section called the seven 11 challenge. And we've got like two of the best chefs in Beijing gave them like a hundred RMB, like 15 US dollars.

    So go by stuff at Seven 11 and make a gourmet meal out of it. So we gave them a challenge to kind of use these ingredient only stuff that you get at Seven 11 and try and make a gastronomic feat out of it. So kind of fun stuff like that. These are the things you remember as an editor.

    Ling Yah: I want to talk more about the Ai Wei Wei e dition, cause that sounds really, really fascinating.

    I mean, what's the backstory behind that? How did you get him to agree to do it?

    Lee Williamson: I wish I had a more interesting story to tell you, Ling Yah. It was more just that Time Out international wanted to do it cause he had a big show coming up, I think, at the serpentine or the Tate or something. And so they helped to arrange it.

    So I went to up to his compound and on a Saturday morning in tow Chang D and we interviewed him. And he was delightful actually. He took a few minutes to warm up, but when he did, he was very gracious and generous with his time and, yeah, fun and funny and honest. And this is the time when he was really big on Instagram was posting all the time.

    So we posted a couple of photos of me during the interview and I kind of walked out and was like, ah, and when I went away to Instagram and then I kind of like made some dumb joke and one of the images he put up and he was like, ha ha. And I was like, oh my God. Look at me. The, the Ai Wei Wei Instagram buddies.

    So yeah, so that was interesting. So the first interview with him since publicly mainland China, since he'd been detained in 2010. That was a landmark deal. But again, speaking of the kinds of hoops that sometimes have to jump in in China, like we couldn't put it on the cover. Just in case the wrong official, saw it in like the airport or something going to Starbucks and was like, ah.

    So we ran it, but we just didn't make a song and dance of it.

    He did his first ever headline show in a mainland China gallery in 2015 which is crazy because he was massive by then internationally. We didn't have actually done a big show in mainland China. And we worked with him and he designed our cover, which was awesome.

    This is going to seem like I'm the most egotistical person in the world. Cause I have like that cover before, but I actually am actually looking at it now. So just for the safe center of illustrations, I mean, my study, I will show it to you.

    I got a signed copy.

    So he designed our cover and obviously he said, Ai like, his character, but we couldn't say it was designed by Ai Wei Wei.

    So the corner we had to put, Ai Ai, what's this thing? Guess who designed our cover, what I mean? Best speak to those kind of like opaque laws that you have to kind of get around.

    Ling Yah: So how do you go from timeout to working at Tatler?

    Lee Williamson: What really appealed to me about the generation T project, the Gen T project was this really exciting new brand new project.

    It had really worthy aspirations, which is trying to build community and connecting and inspiring young leaders in Asia who are shaping the future of the region for the better. So it was really cool to begin with and it's opportunity to work regionally. But then also it was a brand new project.

    So I was like the first hire to use startup parlance. So we cover startups, a lot of Gen T, we also kind of use a lot of startup, no longer Sherman can operate like a startup in that we're a separate business unit and we're pretty agile and so on. So I was the first hire brought on board to help the whole of Gen.T build this project.

    And that was really exciting because it was a blank sheet of paper. It was like working for a startup, but it was a startup within a legacy media company, which meant that we had the resources of a legacy media company. So, , we had , stuff like distribution and finance and it and HR and an amazing creative team photography team.

    All these benefits. And when we call, we'd say like, hi, I'm calling from Gen T in the early days. And they're like, ah, sorry, what? And you say, I'm calling from Tatler and they go, oh yeah, Tatler. Cool. Cool. Cool. so that was like an instant, like kind of, a few steps up the ladder. So we were kind of starting from scratch.

    We were sitting on the shoulder of this giant in the region, which is Tatler in the region, which opens a lot of doors, which gave us a lot of benefits.

    So ultimately the opportunity to really build something and feel ownership of something from scratch. And to do that regionally across eight markets across Asia was really, really enticing to me.

    And so that combined with my desire to move to Hong Kong and different kind of lifestyle as I just become a new dad factored in with me moving to Hong Kong to help launch Gen T across Asia.

    Ling Yah: As you've mentioned, Tatler is incredibly established. So what was the reason that they were deciding to launch Gen T?

    Was it because they felt that there was a pivot in terms of the interest and the kind of people they wants to reach and what kind of additional thing adamant did gen T bring?

    Lee Williamson: Yeah. I think in a lot of ways, Gen T has been a guinea pig for a lot of the evolution that's happened at Tatler over the last couple of years.

    Since early 2020 when Tatler relaunched and rebranded, it's gone from being a society magazine that covered luxury lifestyle and quote unquote high society to you know, evolving into a much more progressive idea of what influence and what power and what society is.

    So going from covering like a few families to covering the best of power influence and style across Asia, regardless of what the lineage of that is. And Gen T, a few years before this relaunch was very much a kind of test balloon in that regards. In that it was a platform for people who were successful, who were shaping the future of Asia, regardless of where they came from.

    And we were launching new media products, like newsletters, social media, podcasts for this audience. We were launching a new type of media and a very different kind of tone of voice, a very different brand identity. And I think a lot of the success of that led to Tatler eventually seeing the market to evolve.

    Ling Yah: How are you guys defining, say what success means and what influence and power means?

    Lee Williamson: I think Tatler like the idea of what society is in general has evolved and Tatler needed to evolve with the times to, recognize people who are shaping the future of Asia through their work, through their mission, rather than , because of who their parents were.

    And that is a change that we're seeing, I think more and more in the region particularly in Hong Kong and Tatler evolved to reflect which is really exciting, which was also represented by the fact that we launched the inaugural Asia's most influential list in December of this year to honor and to recognize these people.

    So that's again, another natural evolution of the genteel list, which identify as the leaders of tomorrow. , people show a huge amount of potential people have already weeks, a lot of success already, but have much further to go to be the establishment and AMI, which really celebrates, the pinnacle of achievement in business, in philanthropy, in social impact.

    Ling Yah: I mean, I feel like there are a lot of lists out there. You have the Forbes 30 under 30, you have the 40 under 40, how were you thinking about creating your own list? Because a lot of people, when I talk to them, they will always ask me the question, but what's the point of another list? Isn't it just glorifying yourself?

    Lee Williamson: Yeah. I can't comment on a competition. You said it, not me. But one of the differences between Gen.T and some other lists that you can see is that for some other lists, it's a numbers game. It's got a bunch of people on the list get their names spelled, right.

    Got a picture. I put it in the magazine, click, click, come for shoot goodbye. With Gen T, getting on the list is not the end of the journey. It's the beginning of your journey. So we say that Gen T with like the mafia, like once you're in, like you never get out. So when you come in, when you come onto the Gen T list, that's how we build our community.

    So getting on the Gen T list, of course, it's an accolade and it's something you can put on your LinkedIn or your Wikipedia page. And we get that all the time, of course, but it's the benefits that you get from being part of the Gen T community. So it's being covered in our content. It's being connected to like-minded young leaders, both in your country and across Asia as well.

    It's the kind of ancillary benefits that come from being part of our community like access to various events or information as well as yeah connections you wouldn't otherwise be able to get. I think that's the Gen T difference. We've had so many collaborations between businesses on the Gen T people that have met through us, we lost count.

    We stopped tracking. We've got about a half a dozen companies that have come out of the Gen T list of honorees that have gone on the list for something else, or they met each other and then started another company together. So many investors, investees have met through the Gen T list. We even have a marriage that has come out of our community.

    So to entrepreneurs that met in Shanghai, they're both on the Gen T list from China met through our event and married. So you know, community is at the focus of everything we do. And I think that's the key difference in that we're creating a list of build a community because what we want to do is identify these people, but then once we've done that, we want to help to catalyze their impact.

    And that's where the rewarding part is for me. It's not just like, Hey, you're on all their snap snap. Thanks, bye. It's building relationships, building community with these people helping them do the amazing things that they do, doing what we can as a media platform to kind of amplify their message, to connect them with others and to support them how we can.

    Ling Yah: Are there particular examples that you're proud of to show that you have really helped to build this community?

    Lee Williamson: So many.

    I think one of the things that's been really gratifying is seeing how through the connections that we've built, people have kind of taken it upon themselves to keep the conversation going. So, they will connect with other Gen T honorees across the region back when you could travel.

    You know I remember meeting a Gen T honoree in KL and he said, whenever I travel for business, I'll look at the Gent T list in like Taiwan, say, if I'm going to Taiwan and I'll find people and I'll message them on Instagram and I'll say, hey, I see you're Gen T too. Do you want to join me for a drink?

    Because he's like, for him, that is like the fact that on Gen T is so we've already done the research for them that there's someone worth knowing a little about a certain level where a conversation will be interesting for him. So I think there's things like that. We've really created a community of like-minded people that kind of speaks to how we've been able to build community.

    And our community have come with us on, on highs and lows began initially. So Gent T was incubated on the Tatler locally for a couple of years. So like Singapore Tatler had a Gen T, Taiwan Tatler had a Gen T and then we took these eight individual kind of sub-brands like the operating in silo and locally and turned it into one pan Asia brand.

    And we did this in early 2019.

    The goal being to kind of come out with a big launch event, which was the Gen T Asia summit, which was a big ideas festival to kind of celebrate bold and put in ideas and leaders that have them in Asia and then the protests hit Hong Kong. And so our November date got postponed to April 2020 and the rest.

    So we had to pivot to virtual events. We've done I dunno, I think 60 or 70 virtual events since the beginning of the pandemic now. Too many to recall.

    But also to small scale community events which at the time we were like oh, this is really span, adapt plans. Like, how do we really make an impact with these small events?

    We want to bring like 2- 300, 400 people into like a big, spanky ballroom and have these amazing like talks and experiences, and then bring people together so they can really connect. Now, how can we fulfill that mission otherwise, but in a way sometimes when you get lemons, come and make lemonade.

    We discovered quite quickly that these small scale events were actually having, taking more impact than the big events, because big events is something you can quite easily consume passively. You can go to an event, you can watch a talk, you can meet a couple of people, but then you go back to your hotel room.

    That's kind of it, you're still kind of feeling it alone. If you have like a lunch in a pretty private location with like, eight entrepreneurs from different industries in the same market, and maybe like a high level speaker, for example, which is a format we do quite a bit, then sparks fly.

    People feel like they can be honest. They can share. They're not just passively consuming the content. They're engaging in the content. They're contributing. They're asking you the questions they're learning from each other.

    We find that the impact of that is a lot higher because they'll go off and tell 10 people how great that event was, rather than if you watch like, just a panel discussion.

    Like, oh yeah, that was pretty good.

    We want a number of lunches with kind of guest speakers in Hong Kong, for example. And so many times a lot of the honorees will come up and say, that's the best lunch I've had all year. Like when can I come to another one? This has been like sparks have flown.

    And so I think that's an example of like in these small ways, how we try and add value to our community, because ultimately that's the acid test, right? When you pull together a list of high people based on high achievement and then you try and build community around them.

    Obviously these high achievers are exceptionally busy. That's how they got to that level of success. So anything that you do, if you want their attention, if you want their eyeballs on an article, or if you want their time to come to your event, you need to add value to their life. And I think by virtue of just how many successful entrepreneurs and leaders of all fields.

    We have all such talks on the Gen T list, whether it's like, Malaysia's youngest parliamentarian, or like the founders of like unicorn companies. They make time to come to Gen T events. And I think that is something that really speaks to the impact we've been able to make.

    Ling Yah: So those who are looking to organize events for high-achieving people, what are the main things for them to consider since clearly Tatler's done it really, really well.

    Lee Williamson: I think you start with why such as what your podcast is about. I think like when you're building any media product, start with empathy. Start with empathy and put yourself in your audience's shoes and be like, okay, the people we want to reach, what do they need?

    What do they have right now? What do they not have right now? What can they gain from our offering? And you have to really honestly ask that question because very easy to be like, yeah, we're great. So of course everyone would be like, really, really honestly, like ask yourself that question and try and figure it out.

    So whoever your audience is, if they need X, then go and make sure that you can deliver x to a really, really high quality. So in the case of like entrepreneurs and other young leaders who are very busy and very careful about how they spend their time, you just got to make sure that anything you do is adding value.

    So maybe it's giving them a connection that they wouldn't otherwise have a connection with. Maybe like there'd be a big tycoon and maybe someone else in the industry in another market they might not know or maybe it's access to content or information that is exclusive to them. Whatever it may be you need to make sure that you are answering an audience's need, and it's the same no matter what demographic of people you're trying to appeal to.

    Ling Yah: Understand their needs means that it's probably not going to be found on the internet. So that means you need to gain trust for them in others, for them to share.

    How do you gain trust and build that trust with all these different high-achieving people?

    Lee Williamson: Exactly like the older, you know, design thinking, classic stages. It begins with empathy. It starts with listening and not like going in with your preconceived notions, actually like asking open questions and listening.

    I find that to be the most exciting time. So it's actually something that I'm doing for another project we're working on a Tatler right now. We're starting with the empathy stage and we're doing some interviews. We're about to start doing some interviews. We'll just finish the questionnaire with some of the honorees on our AMI list, for example.

    And so I'm going to go through some of the the biggest tycoons in Asia and be like, so what do you need that you don't already have? And the answer is, could it be well, probably very little, but like that's the challenge is in trying to find out- cause when you have pretty much everything, the money combined, like what can you give them?

    So you've got to come up with something unique. And so that's really, really exciting. So yeah, always starting with trying to figure out your audience and what motivates them and how you can turn a pain point in their life into like a positive.

    Ling Yah: So I do want to dig on that a little bit more, you know, when you first asked that question that they probably would say, well, I don't really need anything.

    How do you break that boundary and go beyond?

    Lee Williamson: Yeah, if someone says I don't need anything then that's often not true.

    This is almost certainly a pocket. I'm pretty sure he never said it, but like supposedly Henry Ford said, if I'd ask people what they wanted, they would've said a faster horse.

    No one would have said, oh, a motorized vehicle, but just what I need, because nobody could think of it. Right. They thought they were fine with their horses. He probably didn't say it's too perfect to quote, but it illustrates quite nicely that, sometimes people don't know what they need.

    And so I think the challenge as like a product builder, whether you're in Silicon valley or whether you're working for a media company is listening to what they're saying or what they're not saying or what they don't even realize they're saying. So it may be, they may be , complaining about this, that and the other, but they don't necessarily know what the solution is.

    One of the things I like to generally ask people, cause people are reticent sometimes to talk too much about things that they love or be too effusive but I definitely find if you ask people what pisses them off, they're quite happy to talk and talk like at length. So if you ask that question, obviously not quite like that, a little bit more taxed, they're quite happy to offload and you can learn a lot that way as well and make sure you're not doing that.

    Ling Yah: That's a fantastic tip. Has there ever been anyone who refused to be on that list?

    Lee Williamson: We didn't have anybody to my knowledge has refused to be on the list.

    In the early days, we had a lot of, so what? Like a Hey you on the Gen T list. Congratulations.

    Like what?

    Gen T. It's Tatler's new platform for young entrepreneurs in Asia. Okay. I know Tatler. Okay, cool. Do I have to do anything, , like, you know, that was a kind of the general reaction and it's been good to be honest because like that's the way it is when you're building any new brand.

    You know, You need to build equity in the brand. You need people to, care about it. You need to takes time to kind of build that status among your audience and even coming with the kind of Tatler name tag, which would boosted it through a significant degree. In terms of prestige in the region, it still was a struggle to gain credibility with this specific audience segment of like entrepreneurs and the kind of younger generation who had different values and were looking at things differently and maybe saw Tatler differently.

    And that changed over time.

    It went from us calling people and say, Hey, you're on the Gen T list and go, okay, cool. To people coming up to me and saying, how do I get on the list? And that's my most common, the most common thing people ask me when I'm at a networking event or whatever, it's like, hey, my friend is on the list. How do I get on the list? Or like, how can I nominate myself and you know, we have a public nomination form. And when we put that up online few years ago, we didn't get that many applications. Now we get like hundreds. Hundreds and hundreds and hundreds to go over a thousand a year.

    So yeah, we never had anyone who didn't want to be on the list, but certainly we had people initially who were not bothered and what's been a really satisfying part of, the journey is building a brand that people have felt infinity with and that want to be a part . They've seen the benefit to their friend who may be on the list.

    And they kind of want to be in the club as one of our honorees who says to our kids, she calls it like mommy's secret spy club or something. So her kids can relate to it. It's like a secret place that she goes to where she can learn and do cool stuff.

    Ling Yah: Amazing. So two questions arising out with that. You mentioned building equity.

    Were there particular milestones in building Gent T that come to mind that you saw the value of it increasing?

    Lee Williamson: uh, A couple of years ago, just before the pandemic the Obama foundation had a leadership summit in KL.

    They picked like a lot of fellows from across the region to be in their young leaders program. And we saw the website and we're like, wow, this is pretty cool.

    And then we start to get suspicious about just how many Gen T honorees were in there. And we're like, this is getting more than a question. This is basically a Gen T list but with the cool design uh, Obama branding. And okay, so we kind of reached out to them or they reached out to us I don't know not like my team in KL.

    So I ended up going there and cook it so many Gen T honorees flying into KL for the event like dozens and dozens. I went to KL. I got to attend the summit. And then we hosted a couple of dinners for the Gent T honorees. A kind of an unofficial satellite event is because we had so many honorees across agent in one city.

    It was great. Anyway, the organizers that worked for the foundation told my colleague, like yeah, off the record, but we did refer to the Gen T list quite a bit when we were doing our research. And that for me was like, oh my gosh, like, , we've reached a level of credibility and respect.

    Obviously I'm not suggesting that they looked at the list and just copied it. But the fact that they use that as a barometer of credibility, they were like, when they were sifting through all the applicants and for their fellowship program and we're figuring out, , who's a real, who's not one of the things I looked at was their profile to learn more information about them.

    And if we had a profile on them that kind of already start to, they're getting some indication that they've reached some level of success that was like, wow.

    That was a big moment for me because this was in the early days as well at the end of 2019. And I was like, wow, we're really starting to make it.

    just thinking of A recent example was when we launched the Gen T list 2021 last September it was fantastic because we were able to get a hundred people together in a hotel ballroom for dinner, which none of us had done at that point for basically almost two years.

    And so there was incredible crackling atmosphere in the room. I emceed the event. I felt like I was emceeing a riot. It honestly, it was just so wild in there. It was like a gala dinner, but most people were stood up between tables. Cause I'm like, oh my God, I haven't seen so-and-so in so long. And oh, I've always admired. blah blah blah I've wanted to meet them for a long time. You know,

    There's an incredible energy in there. And so we had a lot, we had entertainment and so on that night, but that day was the day that Danny Young, who's the co-founder of kinetics, a digital health company that does circled DNA, but also project screen.

    His company do the vast majority of COVID tests in Hong Kong. They also do tests for Heathrow airport and a lot of places in the UK. They are the test provider for like the premier league in the UK and LA Liga and so on for like one of Hong Kong to here. It was a COVID. So it was announced that day that his company was going public.

    Like a one point something billion dollar evaluation, like while he was back. And he hadn't slept the night before cause he'd been like up all night working the night before, and then from like 6:00 AM, he was doing like Bloomberg and CNN and Ft and all this stuff. And then he came straight away from a town hall meeting with his staff to come to our event.

    And that for me was like we've got to a level where we really are bringing these people together. He had this insane day, this massive like milestone, it was the first like Hong Kong unicorn company to become publicly listed. And the founder chose to come to our event that night to celebrate.

    And I pulled them up on stage and I did kind of send me impromptu fireside chats. The guy hadn't slept for two days, but he was admirably He kind of kept it together. I was looking around and looking at the stage of the person next to me, I was looking at the people in the audience and I was like, wow, we really have the most successful, coolest, , entrepreneurs and young leaders in Hong Kong under one roof right now.

    You know, I was looking at, it was like one of Hong Kong's best known jockeys, sat right there. And then there's like, knock fire. The founder of Kluk like, , another unicorn company , Jack Jang Erewhon looks like they may even be a decacorn now. A huge company.

    They were all under one roof and that was like, wow, that's the power of Gen T that we could bring people together. We could celebrate down Danny Young's achievement. People kind of felt comfortable and felt part of something.

    Ling Yah: So you've talked about the list, the community.

    So we have to discuss how you actually come up with that list. I understand that the entire process is actually nine months and you go through it with your team. Can you give us you know, behind the scenes look of what that is like?

    Lee Williamson: Yeah. Coming up with a Gen T list is uh, a huge headache. But it's one worth having because it's important. It's how we build our community. And also it's kind of like our pre-vetting all that content because we write stories from the editorial lens of the people and ideas and businesses shaping the future of Asia for the better. So when we kind of create the list , throughout the year, we then write stories on the people and the people on their list and their businesses.

    So it was kind of like, we're focusing on people who are creating solutions and we don't want with volts into glasses. We write very objectively, but by nature we're covering kind of the positive impact that they make. So it's a very, very difficult job, but once it's done, we have just a long list of amazing stories to write for the year.

    Yeah, it's a massive process and it does take about nine or 10 months. It's a huge headache, to be honest, but it's, something that's very, very important to get, right. Because that's how we build our community.

    So to get the right names there's a multifaceted process. Obviously we do our own market research. We asked past honorees to nominate people for the list. And then we also every year, we find a tribe. We call them a tribe. This is our panel of industry leaders, nominate names to the list and help us to vet them.

    And this is really, really important as well. So they'll nominate people from their industry. And then we have our own nominations people that are getting a lot of media attention or people that other honorees have nominated or people that we were familiar with. And then we also ask our tribe members like, Hey, you didn't nominate X, even though like he or she is in your industry, why not? What do you think of them?

    And so we kind of, we stress test every single nomination with, with this committee of people who have kind of seen it all, done it all. We'll talk about pretty big people, like on our tribe this year with Steven Chen, who is a co-founder of YouTube.

    Ling Yah: These tribes. You have a different tribe for each jurisdiction?

    Lee Williamson: Yeah, that's right. Yeah. So it's anywhere between like 70 to 80 people in total. So in most markets we have about 10 people on a tribe. 10 or 12 people.

    They're a key part of it, but another key part of it is we have a proprietary scoring system. So we have a number of different metrics that we look at and it's a million dollar question, right? How do you measure positive impact? Like it's fairly difficult to do, but we certainly, as much as we can, we try to quantify it through some in-house metrics, which are obviously under lock and key. I can't share with you exactly. The secret sauce. But we do what we can to objectively quantify it and to put kind of numbers against various achievements.

    But the key criteria for the Gen T list is achievement in the last 18 months. So it doesn't matter like how big your you've got your company five years ago, if it's still at the same level.

    It doesn't matter if you have a big name and the media is writing about you a lot. We look at an achievement. So how do you entered a bunch of new markets with your company? Have you had a huge fundraising round? Have you just launched an innovative new product? All of these things are things that we look at for the list and then we will rate people based on what they've been doing in the last 18 months.

    So sometimes you'll get back on the list, but a lot of the time the list is about a 98% chance new names. Cause we're looking at what's happened in the last 18 months. And people who come back on the list of people that it was hit, like milestone after milestone basically. Some of it's quite easy to quantify.

    Like I mentioned before, like I say, Malaysia's youngest parliamentarian. Something that you can hang your hat on, like wow, this person is really leading and then maybe someone's done like a hundred million dollar like series B round. And they're like, wow, this company is clearly valued by the market very, very highly.

    But then there's other people, cultural leaders and so on who it's been more difficult to quantify people philanthropists and social enterprises. These people we ask ourselves like objectively, like to the extent that we can, can we say that their work has made the world a better place last 18 months. Has their work made the world more sustainable or more beautiful or more generous or more humane and in some kind of way, or more equitable.

    And if their work has contributed to making the world more equitable, more sustainable, whatever it may be, then we'll strongly consider them for the list.

    Ling Yah: I imagine you must have safeguards in place to ensure that you certain lists have, and they will have a nominee on and there was a recent controversy there was one person on that list. And it turns out that everything that he was being talked about was all false. How do you ensure that this doesn't happen to you? Because one incident can ruin everything.

    Lee Williamson: Yes. Yes. Absolutely. I think by having the thorough vetting process that I just mentioned is really all you can do to avoid a controversy such as that. I'm sure that the list that put the individual that you're referring to have very thorough processes as well. But yeah, all I can speak of is from my example, which is like, we do our best to not leave any stone unturned.

    And certainly like our proprietary scoring system is helpful, but you're still relying on information that they have provided sometimes. And so having that industry insight, having the tribe and having the relationship, a strong relationship with the tribes and not just so that these industry experts like giving us a name of an email, then like, that's it.

    Maybe they'll come to the launch party. Like we get on the phone with them. We have coffee meetings with them. We go to their office with a long list and a clipboard and my cast for that, for their insights on people that they do nominate, they didn't nominate. That's incredibly, incredibly useful.

    And again, from day one, with Gen T, that's where being part of the toddler group really gave us a leg up because we could like reach out to these big tycoons and established people from day one and say like, Hey, do you wanna help us with this project? And because we were calling from Tadler, they said, yes, if we were calling from a startup media company, they probably would have said, well, they wouldn't have picked up.

    Ling Yah: So based on the kind of people that have to be having on your list, do you see a trend in terms of the kind of people who are coming on and the kinds of things they're doing?

    Lee Williamson: And everybody's making the world a better place. Everybody's having a positive social impact on the world, whether it's you're making the world more equitable, more sustainable, more beautiful through their works.

    The trends we see on the list are trends that we're seeing across society and across entrepreneurship in Asia. Our sustainability category is growing every uh, social entrepreneurship category is growing every year. Our finance and VC category is growing every year.

    There's more and more people in crypto and NFTs.

    And I'm sure this year is going to be the year of NFT on the Gen T list. So yeah, the trends are generally reflective of that. I think one of the great strengths of the gentlest is it's diverse. Someone in our community they'll often say like, Hey, I'm a FinTech entrepreneur, for example, but I know all the Fincher entrepreneurs in Hong Kong or Singapore, wherever they're from, but only few Gen T , would I be at a dinner sat next to an Olympic gold medalist. And then like next to them is like, you know, a well-known artist and next to them is like a Michelin star chef or whatever, like that diversity is really strong. And then that FinTech entrepreneur can also be connected to someone else in their industry. And into the market, they might not otherwise know.

    So in general, the list is very, very diverse. But certain trends do emerge. The word social entrepreneurship being one, sustainability being another one. And of course cryptocurrencies, everything NFTs and probably the metaverse. We'll see a couple of honorees on this year's list.

    Ling Yah: You've clearly done a lot. You've built this community. The question, I suppose, a lot of people will have, will be what's in it for GenT? Because you are ultimately a business. How do you generate revenue to continue doing what you're doing?

    Lee Williamson: So like a lot of media companies , we rely on advertising and sponsorship to support what we do. So we work quite closely with partners who wants Gen T to put their spin and editorial lending, credibility to produce like branded content for them, or sometimes we'll do co-branded events with the Gent T community.

    And what we like to do is like win, win, win events. So we'll try and do like small intimate events where the partner is able to really bring something to the table for the honorees. Maybe it's like access to a high quality speaker they have that the honorees want to meet. And at the same time the sponsor wants to meet them.

    We always do stuff where it's kind of like win-win for the community and the sponsor.

    Ling Yah: So other things that you do, the newsletters you mentioned ealier , there's also the podcast, crazy smart Asia, and you are on as well sometimes. Can you tell us a bit about what that experience is like, because you have interviewed some really, really interesting people about Jimmy Wales.

    Lee Williamson: Yeah, yeah. Yeah. So Jimmy Wales I met when he was a guest on a virtual event that we did and I asked him to go on our podcast, which he said yes to yeah, it was a lot of fun. I find it much easier being on your side. Like I say uh,

    I think off mike, this interview has given me a massive imposter syndrome cause some of the, callibres some of the other guests you've had on this podcast. I'm like, why am I telling a podcast audience like, well, how I went to school?

    Who cares? So I'm feeling very big imposter syndrome right now. So yeah. Thank you so much for inviting me. It's been a pleasure so far. So yeah, I, I enjoy being on the other side. Like this is what I get out of my out of my job is that 'm really curious, and I love storytelling, of course, and the majority of people on the Gen T list that we do coverage on, they have these incredible, incredible stories.

    And Crazy Smart Asia gives us the long form capability to really tell the stories in their own words, like there's only so much you can do with even like a 2000 word article, but to spend like 45 minutes talking to somebody and hear the intonation in their voice, what gets them riled up.

    What gets them morose. That's really, really exciting. And so far Kevin Kwan hasn't sued us for using the crazy Asians, which is good.

    Ling Yah: I mean, like I listened to quite a few of the interviews that you'd done before. You clearly love it. You're very natural at. What is your process in preparing for these kinds of interviews?

    Lee Williamson: I think no different from yours. I've listened to a lot of your interviews and a lot of your interviewees have said like your research is so good. And I have to say the exact same opinion. I don't know if you've been calling my mom or what, but like, you seem to know a lot about me, which is really impressive.

    So I don't think it's really any different in that we'll do some research on the guests. We'll often do a pre interview just to kind of break the ice and get a sense of like what they're excited about, what they're interested in talking about. I'll maybe test the water then if there's something like uncomfortable potentially for them to talk about, I'll see if they're willing to do it because they'll say yes and that's great.

    And if they say no, then you get good at the frostiness on the pre-call I suppose, rather than the recorded interview. And yeah, in otherwise it's just kind of record longer podcast and then edit out the boring questions. But that's what I love most about my job, because I get to meet some of the, just the coolest, most influential leaders in all different kinds of fields.

    Back when we could travel, every year when we launched the list, I get to fly around the region and go to the launch parties.

    I mean, each of our eight markets across Asia.

    It's like entering a cheat code in a video, right. Cause I'd like kind of fly into a city. Like I fly into KL for example, like, dump stuff in the hotel and get changed, go downstairs usually to the ballroom at the same hotel. And then there's like 50 of the most inspirational, amazing leaders and entrepreneurs in that country.

    And they're all under one roof.

    to like shooting fish in a barrel and go from one to the other, to the other. And so for me, someone who's very kind of curious and , just gets really, really excited in telling people's stories and hearing about , the things people have gone through and what they've overcome and whether it be able to achieve that's what gets me excited every day, coming into work.

    Ling Yah: Is there a particular person that comes to mind right now that has really excited you recently?

    Lee Williamson: The last episode of crazy smart Asia we interviewed a Nadine Lustre. Who is a big pop star there and an actor in the Philippines, like huge, huge, huge 10 million plus Instagram followers or something. and she had been quite candid in the past talking about mental health and in the pre-interview I was like, we've talked about this in the past.

    And then she kind of mentioned like suicidal thoughts and so on. And I was like, are you willing to discuss this? Obviously it's personal to you. She said that she was, she was willing to discuss the suicide and so on.

    So I went into the interview obviously with, the utmost tact we had a conversation and she was so incredibly brave and honest.

    And she revealed quite a bit about her struggles with depression and a suicide attempt that she she'd made that she'd never revealed before. I didn't know the conversation would go there at all. And I was just kind of bowled over by her bravery and how she's this big pop star actor that could just be like working in the sponsorship deals , put a face on her Instagram, et cetera, but like she doesn't have to talk about that stuff, , but she's using her platform because she, wants to raise awareness of suicide and depression and de-stigmatize it.

    And that's a microcosm of everyone that's on the Gen T list. We think of pop stars as maybe not sometimes the deepest of people or whatever, but like everyone on the Gen T list, we identify them for a reason. And she kind of really showed that in that episode that she had this courage and tenacity to talk about a really difficult topic.

    So that was something that genuinely bowled me over that we did recently. Like I said, it was the last episode, the most recent season of our podcast. And for me, that hits home because I used to be a smiled and volunteer back when I lived in the UK, which is a kind of suicide prevention line which is difficult for me because it's listening and usually I'm a big talker.

    But joking aside it I did it because it's really important. Because suicide kills like more people under 40 than anything called, well, maybe a second off the car crashes, but , it's a huge silent killer and it's really, really important. And Nadine just kind of stood up and was like, I'm going to use my platform to kind of spread this message.

    So that was a recent example.

    Ling Yah: Wow. Thanks for sharing that. I mean, we've talked a little about what you've done before, but what's coming from the future. Do you have any plans for the future? Gen T have any plans for the future? What can we expect?

    Lee Williamson: So yeah. Plans for the future a lot. We are hoping eventually to be able to deliver on that promise of a summit this year should COVID restrictions allow. Well I think one of the most exciting new projects, we have a lot of continuation of things.

    We're looking forward to the Gen T list this year. There'll be a new season of our podcast. And so on.

    One of the most exciting new products that we're launching it's called Gen T disrupt, which is an online learning course. So basically like a masterclass style videos, but aimed at , millennial and gen Z young professionals in Asia who're looking to up-skill and give their career a boost. We have partnered up with sofa soda, which is a startup in this space. Run by Tim Yu, who is a Gen T honoree and good friend of Gen Ts. He's created this platform. We've partnered with them. We're creating 10 courses with Gen T honorees as the talent to kind of teach people, everything from McCann FTEs to like emotional intelligence, public speaking, entrepreneurship and leadership.

    To help them upskill and , disrupt basically. That's why it's called Gen T disrupt. So that's really, really exciting because a lot of what we do is we do put out a lot of content to a wider audience, but also a lot of what we do and the value we bring is to the people in that community.

    The Gen T honoree is, so this product is, , truly like, , B to C it's out of that with the mission of helping a wider audience to kind of like, ah, yeah, upskill and improve themselves. So that's super, super exciting. We're doing five in Taiwan with Gen T honorees on my Taiwan list, which will be in Mandarin.

    That's launching next month. And then starting the summer, we doing five with our Hong Kong honorees. The super, super exciting Tim you is one of our good friends, very fine entrepreneur. He's a founder of snap mask, which a lot of people will be familiar with. It's like Uber for tutors.

    You take a picture of your homework and get connected with a tutor. So he's built one really impressive , business already. That's doing incredibly well and he's launching our second one and I'm sure it's going to reach equally stratospheric Heights as well. so for me that's been been one of the most fun things the last couple of months, because as I said, a couple of times, I love building media products and this for me is totally new space.

    Like I know nothing about online video courses and so to work with a partner, with expertise in the space, but to bring the Gen T brand Gen T editorial voice. And of course, people from our community and working with them to kind of put something out into the market that we're really proud of has been another cool process.

    Ling Yah: And even though you've talked about imposter syndrome before, I'm sure there are lots of people listening who really admire what you've done and want to follow in your footsteps. What advice do you have for these people?

    Lee Williamson: Don't beat yourself up too much. I had a pretty slow start in my career. I didn't know what I wanted to do. And , I felt like definitely in my mid to late twenties, I had to play a little bit of catch up because I was kind of treading water, worried about making a wrong move and almost like paralysed in living too many different directions I could take. And so I did kind of didn't take any of them.

    And then I realized that I was being so hard on myself, like if you haven't done this that the other by the time you're 24, your career is over. And that's very much not the case. I'm now realizing that the grand old age of 36, life's a long game.

    It's kind of be easy on yourself. Be kind to yourself, just take it one step at a time just to make sure you're focusing on improving yourself, always being in receiving mode, try and learn and soak up as much as you can do jobs that challenge your yourself, do jobs that you find rewarding and you have to go into it with the right mentality, then things will come.

    Ling Yah: So do you feel like at this point you have found your WHY?

    Lee Williamson: I think I'm closer to finding it. I think I've discovered in the last decade a lot of WHYs. I don't think people have one WHY. At least I don't.

    There's a lot of things make me excited to do what I do and to, get out of bed in the morning and they include coming up building media products that audiences love. Also mentoring and training other people in the industry where I'm able to, like, there's a lot of satisfaction in that.

    And like helping people in the early stages of that career. I think there's a few different WHYs. There's a few different things that make me excited to be doing what I'm doing. And I'm pretty sure I'm going to find some others in my career, cause I'm very much an unfinished piece of work myself.

    And I think over time, I'll discover even more and that's exciting. Like if you feel like you've just found all your whys, then what's there left to kind of reach for? I found a couple of them and watch this space, I suppose.

    Ling Yah: And throwing in a wildcard here. What is one thing that you feel you should be doing, but you aren't and why?

    Lee Williamson: Despite what I just said, I think should probably would be less hard on myself even than I am, because everybody has a proclivity to be a bit hard on themselves and to compare themselves to others and to kind of wish they were doing certain things or wish they'd done things a little bit better.

    And so I think I should be better with that although I think as we've touched upon before, everything begins with empathy, right. But I think I can all what, you can only be more empathetic. You can always listen more. So I think there's a lot of things that I feel like I'm still learning how to do, and I want to get better at them.

    Ling Yah: And what kind of legacy do you want to leave behind?

    Lee Williamson: I think as relating to what I just said, I'd like there to be a lot of younger journalists who would be like, yeah, I learned a lot from that guy. To be remembered as someone who was humility, because I think without humility, there's no growth, right? Like everything stops and humility.

    If you don't have that humility, it doesn't mean a lack of decisiveness. It doesn't mean a lack of leadership. it means listening to people. I mean, it's not, thinking you have all the answers. So I guess to be remembered as somebody who, brought people together, who helped people be their very best selves at work and lead with humility and represented them.

    Ling Yah: What do you think are the most important qualities of a successful person?

    Lee Williamson: Humility. Cause obviously at Gen T one of my favorite things is I get to meet all these people that have much better answers than I do to this question. usually what they'll say is certainly humility for sure, but one of them will say persistence and having kind of an, , it's a cliche, but learning how to fail and learning from it and getting back up when you do, I mean like all cliche is a cliche because it's true, right?

    So certainly what I've learned from the honorees and the entrepreneurs in our community is the value of persistence. Persistence, and consistency. You can't just like, be your best self, a few weeks out of the year. You're going to be your best self , every week kinda just be hustling couple of days a week.

    You've got to be hustling every single day.

    And just having that tenacity and getting back up when you do get knocked down, like dusting yourself off and just keep walking , showing up is half the battle. So , just having that, tenacity and not being afraid to fail, and then just leading with humility.

    There's too many people in the world that are like bosses, not leaders. And I think that admitting you don't have all the answers is the first step to doing something genuinely innovative. If you think that you have all the answers, you're never going to truly innovate, you're just going to iterate.

    Ling Yah: And where can people go to connect with you? Find out more about what you're doing as a Gen T.

    Lee Williamson: If you want to find me, you can find me on all diverse channels LinkedIn, Instagram for people who are misguided enough to want to be me in a few years, then you can connect with me and I'd be happy to answer any questions.

    And generation T, you can find us at generation T underscore Asia on Instagram. Or you can look at our podcast crazy smart Asia available wherever you get podcasts. And for general information or to read our stuff, generation t.asia.

    Ling Yah: And I'll put all those links in the show notes.

    Before I round it up, you actually mentioned that you had stopped drinking four years ago.

    What's the story behind that?

    Lee Williamson: Hm. yeah, I did. So I did dry January in 2018 and I'm still doing it technically. It's the longest dry January on record. It was one of those things. I just moved to Hong Kong. My wife and my son who was like 18 months at the time hadn't yet joined me. And so I was like, well, I guess meet some friends and kind of go to pubs or whatever, like, as it will do in Beijing, who I probably won't see that much when, when my family get here. Or I can you know, run a bit more. So I like running and kind of try and get a bit more shape cause in Beijing, I love my job. As I mentioned that It was the prophesies about how great the city was, but it was also to know the city is like F & B scene. And so a lot of my professional network, my personal network were kind of the same. And there was always a new bar opening, whether it was, was a new restaurant that had new menu.

    So I put on an awful lot of weight. I was like 108 kgs. Pretty big. If you look back at pictures of me, it looks like I've been stung by a bee or something, or it looks like one of those like face apps where like you can change somebody. so I was looking to, lose some weight so this is why I instigated it, but all of a sudden, like after a month, I just felt I had more time.

    I wasn't like, going out later, so I was getting up earlier and then I had more energy for that obvious reason. I don't know, I just have more clarity, more focus, kind of better moods. I had less fat and more money, which is the right ratio of everything.

    And I, I generally, and I know that everything has come back to empathy today, but I felt like I had more empathy. I feel like a lot of the time in conversations, people are waiting for their chance they're not listening, they're waiting for that to speak. That, it really accentuated when people are drinking and had a couple of drinks.

    So what we do this thing that went in for that chance to blah, blah, blah. So for me yeah, it wasn't an addiction issue or anything. But when I did it for a month, I was like, oh, that's interesting. I feel really good.

    Let me see if I can do it for three months. And I did. And I was like, let me see, as a personal wellness challenge, can I do a year without drinking? That will be quite the achievement. And then I did. And then by the end of the year like my brain had rewired. It's like, like I was like, I'll get some good start drinking again now.

    And I was like, Hmm, why? Which has like, there's a British male in his early thirties. It was a very strange realization. So yeah, so I, I still kind of reap the benefits in terms of like more focused at work generally a better sleep and so on, have more time for my son and everything.

    Ling Yah: Is there anything else you'd like to share that we haven't covered so far?

    Lee Williamson: Ling Yah, this has been a lot of fun. And I've shared more in the last hour and a half or so then I have with anyone for a long time and I've really enjoyed it.

    So I don't think I have anything else to give. But yeah, I did want to say thank you so much for inviting me on your podcast. I think it's fantastic. I love what you're doing and it's been a real, real treat, like a real honor to be invited. So thank you so much.

    Ling Yah: And that was the end of episode. 72.

    The show notes and transcript can be found at www.sothisismywhy.com/72 and stay tuned for next Sunday, because we will be meeting one of Asia's only two black VCs about his journey from being an entrepreneur in the Netherlands, and being on the same board as the CEO of ING, the prime minister of New Zealand and the head of the UN to his time at Harvard, before taking up a role as a VC in Singapore.

    We talk about his experience with raising $60 million for his fund. How LPs are different in Southeast Asia compared to Europe and the U S and the types of founders he works with.

    If you want to learn more about what it's like being a VC in Southeast Asia, then stick around and see you next Sunday.

    External Links

    Some of the things we talked about in this STIMY Episode can be found below:

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