“You have to meet Carmen. She is one of those successful people whose presence will charm you from the first minutes”, a mutual friend of ours living in Italy advised me years ago, in 2010. I admit it did take me some time to suggest this interview to her. She is a woman with a very busy agenda, sometimes travelling to 5 different countries in one week.
Meeting her in London, in the spring of this year, was truly fascinating. My only regret was that those few hours we spent together were running so fast. One can only learn in her company. About life, about business, about the beauty of the soul… A model, an inspiration!
Carmen is a licensed instructor in Mind Mapping, Executive Coach, Licensed Fashion Feng Shui & Transformation Game Facilitator, author and speaker with more than 15 years of experience in the beauty and image industry. She teaches courses on personal image and development, on Fashion Feng Shui, on beauty and health, but also works as a business consultant all over the world.
You are a woman of international lifestyle, you travel a lot. Going back in time, where did you start your very first journey and how did you choose your first destination?
I would say that I am a citizen of the world, rather than a “woman of international lifestyle”. I think I have always had a calling for traveling, but it depends on what we understand by traveling. I travelled in my dreams ever since I was little. As a teenager, my dreams started and ended the same way, with me leaving and then returning back to my body. It was only the story of my dream that differed. I would travel to faraway worlds, contribute to the lives of the ones I met, help solve their problems and then, upon accomplishing my mission, I would return…
Yet should you refer to my international trips, my first big trip was my leaving to China, via Moscow and Siberia, where I went to study. One week on a Russian train was the chance for me to learn a bit of Russian, to make sure I don’t die of starvation (laughs). This choice was mainly related to the fact that I pictured myself studying in China for so many times that I also found the solution to being physically there. This journey completely changed my life as well as my perspective on several things.
Where does this passion for Oriental languages come from? Why did you choose to study in China?
My passion for foreign languages was not, nor is it limited to Oriental languages. I believe the ease to learn and reproduce with a very articulate pronunciation any foreign language has to do with the same dreams from my teenage years, when I was visiting various places and always spoke the local language. I then discovered, during my real trips, places that I had only seen in my dreams, sort of a déjà-vu. And the only reason I managed to learn foreign languages must have been that I already “knew” them from a different life or from a past experience. It has always been very easy for me – should I stay for two or three days in a new place, anywhere in the world, I would end up speaking like the locals, their language or completely imitating their accent.
In fact, this is my force, which practically makes any person of any nationality accept me in an instant: mirroring – this same phenomenon also helps be listened to as a coach.
Why did I choose China? I believe China chose me, when it sent a Chinese teacher in my life. She noted I had a very good accent and gave me the idea to study Chinese more seriously. At that particular point, I was already studying and speaking French, English, Italian, Spanish, German. I felt the need to learn something more special than just the languages of international circulation. Furthermore, by studying Hindi and Bengali, I came very close to those places I once visited in my dreams.
When did you first enter the world of business?
I knew since I was little how to address things to my own benefit. My uncles believed I was lucky with the lottery tickets so they were drawing their tickets with my hand in order to win. Although I was only 4 or 5 years old, I had my own percentage on the winnings – converted into sweets or even more, should the profit be significant, into fashionable clothes.
My grandfather was a veg & fruit retailer, my uncles had small private businesses and mother was running a grocery shop. Since I come from a family where commerce was the main occupation, I could say I used to see mountains of money on a daily basis. When we were little, every evening mum used to pay us 1 Leu if we arranged the coins and the notes so she could do the banking for the shop. This is how I learnt that one must earn their every penny. I always had an easy view on money: I knew that money can be earned should your brain work; therefore training your brain was important. And I can say this one thing: all I learned during the years did serve me well even after 20 to 30 years.
If you want, we may talk about the modern approach to business or, in other words, about risking your own money, taking risks in general, about having responsibilities, paying salaries, having headaches. I trained myself during the many years I spent in Japan, by traveling everywhere in the world as a buyer representing the Japanese company I was working for. I opened my first company in France and then I continued in Belgium, Turkey, China, all these before I returned to Romania in 2002.
I used to sell high-end culinary products like foie gras and caviar, but also containers of shoes and clothing items. I created my own line of cosmetics for the Chinese market, I managed 5 star Hotel SPA centres in Turkey, I delivered cosmetic products and equipment for beauty centres, I organized events, exhibitions and I even created a TV station.
I was further committed to learn as much as possible from my consulting experiences: I authored books on raising ostriches in Japan; I learnt how to make chocolate in Switzerland, as well as cheese and wine, of course, on an industrial level, in Italy. I installed factories to process fish in Turkmenistan and sold boats with Yamaha engines and Nissan cars. In the end, each experience enriched me by studying each case in particular, by making lifelong friends and by building unique memories.
You ran a beauty magazine in Romania for 9 years. Why only for this long?
Is it too long or is too short? Saying “only” makes it look too short. I believe I accomplished the mission I set for myself when I began in 2002, to “bring forward the Romanian education in aesthetics”, and so I moved on.
Each issue of the magazine, as well as the events, congresses, exhibitions and numerous classes I organized changed many lives.
Many of my formers employees are continuing my work and many people in Romania have a career in this field. Their results and their evolution really pleases me, especially when I think I was the one giving them their first make-up kit, encouraging their interest for cosmetic products and advising to start their own beauty centre or spa.
Why was it so short? Because although I had a public life and pursued public activities, being featured on TV and during different broadcasted events, I did not feel I belonged to that world. To some extent, I was contradicting my discrete nature. If it weren’t for those nine years in Romania though, I would have not understood my purpose in life and could have not enjoyed what I am now doing with all my heart – helping people pursue their own destiny.
We all know, in theory, how to live a healthy life, from all points of view. Why do some of us fail in applying verified and viable advice? What would you, as an experienced life & business coach, advise one to do in order to better apply the theory?
Oh, yes, of course! We are all good at theorizing things, but practice is the killing factor. There is no doubt that our inner voice is strong too, in the relationship with ourselves. If it tells you: “You cannot do this!” then you really cannot do it! When speaking of a healthy life, which includes a healthy diet, one must know that what is generally accepted as a good thing might not necessarily work for you. Each of us is unique and our organisms’ reaction to certain diets varies for every individual. If we acknowledged our uniqueness, I believe all the companies selling miracle diet products would go bankrupt.
Should we really know ourselves, what we want, whereto we go, how to recognize and eliminate our toxic relations, we would all improve our relation to ourselves.
I would recommend to everybody to look into the mirror, to listen their inner voice and verify what defies their own life. Look around, see who harms you and take measures. It is never too late to leave a situation, a relation or even a country without even looking back for a second! A decision you make at a certain time is based on the information you had and you processed until that moment. Have no regrets, this must be one of the secrets leading to happiness.
What is your connection to Feng Shui? Where did it all start?
Feng Shui has always been one of my greatest passions. It began as soon as I arrived in China. First I heard of Feng Shui when I visited the Chinese emperors’ tombs. I deepened my knowledge when I was living in Japan, where I had the opportunity to meet true masters. Over the years, I discovered how Feng Shui applies to health, to nutrition, to the relations with people around you, to professional guidance and even to fashion. These helped me create a personal coaching method based on Feng Shui, which encapsulates all the important aspects of life. Since Feng Shui masters are human too, I even had the opportunity to coach some of them and be their business consultant. Staying close to people with special abilities and knowledge helps in reaching the essence of wisdom.
For several years now I have been the keynote speaker in Feng Shui conferences and in 2012, due to my international activity, the Chinese Government awarded me the title of International Feng Shui Ambassador. I am currently looking after the International Feng Shui Association to promote the true Feng Shui culture and to create links between Asia and the rest of the world. Being a professional translator in Chinese and Japanese clearly contributed to my election as a vice-president of the Association. I am now coordinating the translation from Chinese of a reference book on FengShui.
Why did you choose to reside in Switzerland?
It never crossed my mind that I would someday live in Switzerland. But I found here people that appreciate me, what I do and what I can offer them. Let’s be honest, everybody needs acknowledgement. Had I been more satisfied in Romania, I would have not decided to leave again, but I lived there for nine years and felt like I did not belong there. I was living in a parallel universe. The nearly 20 years I spent abroad before 2002 remembered an image of Romania which I could not find upon my return.
The chapter you authored in “Business success with ease”, a book published in the United States in 2013, advises to follow our instinct in order to become successful in business. What is success?
If you asked this question some 30 years ago, I would have probably said: having a lot of money, traveling, affording everything you want. I could say that on this definition I reached success when I was quite young. In my thirties I had a lot of money, spent most of my time traveling, affording and granting myself any extravaganza.
I could have walked into a store and bought an entire collection, without even trying it on. I would have paid with a platinum or a gold card and they delivered the items to my home address, since my life was divided between planes and those restaurants of the hotels where I would have been accommodated. I never cooked. I was envied for my life, but I was not happy.
Should you therefore ask me now, what success is, I will answer: being able to enjoy with your loved ones all accomplishments, be they small, yours or theirs; to contribute as much as you can to the welfare of those in need or even of those wealthier than you are. You would not believe how many rich people are actually unhappy. What makes me a good coach is that I lived for ten lives and made all the possible mistakes, including in business. I know what being unhappy because of your money really means, as I also know what is like to fear you are loved for that money and not for your qualities.
Some say you should leave something behind: a child, a book or a tree. I have already written books and planted trees, and since I don’t have any children, I am involved in working with orphans. When I was in Romania, I worked with a group of children diagnosed with HIV. In Switzerland, I am currently working with an association that builds schools for children in Nepal, where I will soon go and teach mind mapping techniques.
For me, success comes at the end of that training day when participants tell me:
“You are a bloody good trainer…”
or when I hear from my former students telling me about their successful careers in their countries.
Success is whenever people “touched” by my wand, as a transformation wizard, find a new path in life and are happy.
If I were to paraphrase a Romanian poet, success is when “your enemy is forced to admit you are the best one between the two of you”. The original text was describing here Revenge, but this is, in fact, Success – being recognized for your abilities by a fastidious society, a hostile one, especially to foreigners, yet still earning its respect, regardless of the country you’ve travelled to. Don’t be afraid to say it out loud that you are originally from Romania since what you are made of is stronger than the image of the country.
I wrote a chapter on instinct in “Business success with ease”, because I found, after over 30 years of working in different countries and cultures, that following your instinct and listening to your own inner energy is a universal principle. If you feel something is wrong, even if there is no logical, analytical or immediate explanation, you should always trust your instinct!
Do you recall your most representative business mistake?
The most representative business mistake would be persisting in a business despite unfavourable environment or timing. If you are two years ahead of your time, you are a pioneer, but if you are 10 years ahead and you persist, then you are an idiot. This is what my father used to say and I agree with him.
You must also avoid bonding to your business as if it were your child. I did that and it was very hard to make a decision to stop. Nobody abandons a child easily, isn’t that right?
We are always talking about what needs to be done to be successful in business… Do you believe one needs talent to succeed in business?
I think the answer to this question lies in the wisdom of the peoples: “Do unto others what you would have them do unto you”. Being talented in business means being able to walk in someone else’s shoes and see whether you would shake hands with yourself. Why would you or why would you not? This is how you prove your talent to foresee any situation, to envision in great detail each scenario, to know that the worst case scenario can go even worse. When discussing the best case scenario though, your imagination should not suffice. I saw many situations in which things turned out even five times better than we originally expected.
Tell us about how you became a member of the Association of Image Consultants International.
This is the most prestigious image consultants’ association worldwide. I have been a member of this association for over 10 years. For several years I was the President-Elect and the Education Vice President for AICI France, the very chapter of European image consultants. I gave up the idea of becoming President because of my already very busy schedule. I have been giving lectures and contracted clients from France, Switzerland, Italy, Turkey, China and also from Romania. I am happy to have a few very talented students from Romania, who truly love this job for more than its popularity.
I started this year a school campaign called beauté responsible (responsible beauty) which aims at accepting ethnic and structural diversity and aims at raising awareness amongst youngsters on the issue of fake role models chosen from the magazines and from commercials.
We show youngsters how beauty is reached in magazines by extensively using Photoshop. See how useful a publisher carrier is? There is so much real beauty surrounding us, should we choose not to be ignorant about those different than us.
What circumstances brought you to now being the manager of The Swiss Image Institute?
Swiss Image Institute is the header on my invoices. It is, in fact, Carmen Okabe in an administrative Swiss format. I like invoicing for myself more than I did when I had many employees. Of course, I also like not having to chase for my own money, like I used to do in Romania with bad paying clients.
Swiss Image Institute and ISMED, Institut Suisse des Medecines Douces, is a guarantee for high quality courses, with a unique content and with viable solutions for your medical, therapeutic, coaching or corporate practice.
I have been contracted by Swiss companies for specific training courses, such as the current Swiss Perfection Cosmetics, which is the most exclusive cosmetics brand to be found only in high class locations.
When you glance at a business partner, what is the one image detail you focus on?
I look at people through the lenses of a professional, since I am an image consultant, after all.
I immediately know what needs doing to upgrade the client’s value and make someone look more interesting, what speech or posture impediment should be corrected… But since my life stopped being all about appearances, I now connect to a person’s energy which is why it does not matter if someone is less dressed up, tired or with a lisp.
The element giving me a general idea about one’s level of self-esteem is the shoes. Many people dress up to be admired, but their shoes are made for their personal comfort. Everybody deserves to have a comfortable pair of shoes! This shows you are not afraid to step on the ground, to be rooted. Imagine someone during a business meeting whose shoes are tight and maybe already has blisters. That person will look forward to end the meeting so the shoes can be taken off… How can exclusive attention be given to me, the business partner? Needless to say what the answer might be if I asked to take a short walk together.
What other passions do you have?
I like making jewellery. This is something constant in my life, regardless of whether I was living in Romania, China, Japan, Turkey, France or Switzerland. It is not a business, as I create one piece at the time, for myself or for my friends. A lot of people encouraged me to turn this passion into a business and, who knows, maybe I will in a few years (she laughs).
If Romania was a brand or a company, what would be those first decisions you’d make to sell it better?
I always believed Romania has a lot to “sell”. Unfortunately, it now comes with passive, obedient and self-sufficient people. But what can you do, “this is Romania”.
Why do Romanians manage to accomplish so much more abroad than in their home country?
I have never been politically involved whilst in Romania and perhaps this is one of the reasons for which I did not make much money there, but rather spent what I earned abroad.
I now live in Switzerland and, looking at the Swiss model, you see the country is managed like a private enterprise, by a board of directors who rotate yearly in taking the presidential role. Each of them tries to do the best during the mandate, nobody has the time to steal and they would not even think of it.
Unfortunately, Romania elected already bankrupt or extremely corrupt political models on linguistic criteria. I will not go further into this discussion, as it is not my place to speak. One could make a very good living in Romania though from tourism, should enterprisers understand they cannot recover an investment within one year.
What is your favourite place in Romania, the one you enjoy escaping into when you are not travelling the world?
I love escaping in my mother’s arms, regardless of whether she is in Bucharest, at our home in the countryside or comes to visit me in Switzerland. I love to feel like a child again and feel her motherly scent…
Until 2002 I would travel back to Romania every month, even from Japan. But to be honest, I no longer miss it, this is not my Romania. I carry around my own Romania in my heart and nobody can take that away from me, neither the Government, nor the opposition…
Allow me to congratulate you on your
Romania in contact
initiative. I was pleased by the opportunity to meet you and I assure you of my support for your project. I will therefore offer two hours of online coaching for three of your readers who seek change in their lives. During these online sessions, I will evaluate their potential. All they have to do is to write an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with their own personal story and also their birth date in full and I will then choose those who convince they do need me.