Christine Khor and the harmony with people

If playing various roles in society is like directing an orchestra, then Chorus Executive Managing Director and Co-Founder Christine Khor is the conductor. She leads two businesses, chairs the Victorian Development Board of The Hunger Project, and takes care of her family. It’s a tough call for a woman like Christine, but she’s dancing to the music that she has created.

Her decision of taking the entrepreneurial path stemmed from her genuine interest in people and in creating harmony with her clients and the candidates, as she matches people with positions in companies, and coaches them in growing their careers.

That desire to know more about the behaviours of people led Christine to take a degree in psychology and criminology. But it wasn’t her first choice. “I am Chinese. And like every good Chinese person, I was supposed to go into either law or medicine. But I didn’t get the marks to do either of those things. I ended up getting an arts degree at Melbourne University. The closest thing to being a doctor I guess was psychology. I’ve always been interested in people, how people think, what excites people, and motivates them. I think that’s the essence of who I am and what interests me.” That interest and her early introduction to business blended well and provided her with a good foundation for her ventures.

Her parents were immigrants and had always been in business. They had restaurants, a nursing agency, and a supermarket, not to mention that they also bought and sold properties. Hence, Christine was exposed to the business world since she was six years old. At a young age, she witnessed first-hand how people make decisions, push themselves out of their comfort zones, make mistakes, and learn from them. After school, she would help her parents in the restaurant and the supermarket. “I saw how hard it was to make money. But I also saw the pleasure of seeing something grow,” Christine recalled.

Before she embarked on entrepreneurship, Christine first worked for a few companies as a marketing person. Finding the right people for the role was a bit of a difficulty, and she realised how much easier it would be if those who understood marketing and sales would be the ones to recruit for those roles. That insight inspired her to leave her job and start her own business of recruiting potential candidates for marketing positions. It grew substantially, and the opportunity to expand the venture through a merger was too good for Christine to pass. Through a collaboration with another business, their staff grew and had offices in Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane.

However, she found that bigger does not necessarily mean better. Due to misalignment of values, she went on a demerger and worked on her own. “It’s not that anybody else is wrong or that I’m right. It’s just that it was different,” she clarified. It was tough for everyone involved, particularly for Christine. But the good thing out of that situation was that it gave birth to Chorus Executive.

“My son was very funny. He said to me, ‘Oh, Mum! The chorus! That’s the best part of a song.’ So, there are some reasons why we created that name,” Christine explained as she talked about how she came up with the brand Chorus Executive. Her business keeps the stakeholders in sync with each other.

Still, that interesting journey brought her tons of lessons. Sometimes, she had to hit some wrong notes to find the perfect melody as there were a few bumps she had to go through while starting it out. “I think the first thing that was very difficult was that no one knew me and no one cared,” she quipped. The transition from corporate to entrepreneurship proved to be a huge change of environment that required several adjustments. From a large corporate budget, Christine had to contend with whatever money she has saved up. Nonetheless, she managed to put the proper platform in place at the beginning of her business. From working for a company with a huge staff base to suddenly running her business with only a handful of people was a bit trying as well. As an extrovert, she draws energy from people around her. Finding herself alone in her new environment also took a toll on her at certain times.

“It was a humbling experience. But it was also enriching because it showed me that I have the skills, the drive, and the resilience to do it on my own,” Christine pointed out. While she gets her highs from people, they are as well the reasons for the lows. “If there’s anything I’m going to say about my key learning, it is to be very careful with the people you go into business. Whether it’s a partner, an employee or a supplier, values count. If you are going into partnership, you should take it as seriously as getting married,” the lady entrepreneur shared.

Another mishap she encountered early on her journey was getting embezzled by one of their first employees. Not only was the trust broken, but the incident also impacted their confidence in themselves and the cash flow of the business.

Many people would think how lucky or fun it is to be an entrepreneur. But behind the position, there are loads of work to do to keep a business running. “It’s scary a lot of times. As an entrepreneur, you’re managing cash flow. You’re managing revenue. You’re managing people’s lives. If you’ve got a team, you’re responsible,” Christine remarked. It involved making sure money is there so that her staff can feed their families and children. Although it’s true that she gets to do what she loves to do, she also has to deal with the tax office, IT glitches, and staff problems. Moreover, she may not have any boss above her, but her customers are her bosses. Pleasing the customers entailed more pressure as compared to answering to a boss, who may provide more leeway to an employee, unlike a customer would to an establishment he patronises.

For every hardship, Christine sees an opening to rise above the situation. “The upside of it is that you’re creating what you’re doing. You’re building something, and for me, it’s quite often from scratch. You’re doing it in a way that suits you. It’s the empowerment and autonomy to create your destiny,” she cited.

As she has recently started doing CrossFit, Christine likens the entrepreneurial journey to doing physical exercises. The activities may cause a strain on the body, but the satisfaction is enormous. Along with it are the wonderful results afterwards. “I’m 50 years old, and I’ve started lifting weights. It’s hard to do. You’re sweating, it’s sore, it’s hurting, and you can’t breathe. But you leave there saying, ‘I feel pretty good about this. Look what I did. I squatted 49 kilos or lifted 60 kilos. I’m proud of myself.’ And it doesn’t matter that someone else lifted 100 kilos because for me, every day I’m better. Yesterday, it was 50 kilos. Tomorrow would be 51, and the next would be 52. So, every day I can do it a little bit better. I think about it sometimes like entrepreneurship. It’s hard work,” she said.

Despite the challenges of owning businesses, Christine is fortunate to have friends, staff, a family and a husband that are very supportive of her passion. Although she can’t think of a single person who has guided her on her journey, she has a particular sector in society that has inspired her a great deal. “I take a lot of experience from other people. I think some of the people that I’ve taken a lot from are single moms because those that I’ve worked with are the most amazing, resilient, caring, optimistic people that can juggle to make things happen with very, very little. So, they weren’t only teaching me about business strategy. They were also teaching me about resilience, optimism, creative thinking, seeing things through a different lens, asking for help when needed, those sorts of things.”

She also looks on friends who are entrepreneurs themselves. Two years ago, she joined EO, which has given her tools that she could apply in her endeavours. “What I’ve learned is that entrepreneurs need to show humility and vulnerability and ask for help at that 5% mark. I’ve learned that every business is different, but the essence of the person is the same, such as the drive behind the person. I’ve realised the importance of getting the right team and the right structures in place. Also, as entrepreneurs, we can be the same people that can hold back our businesses because of our behaviours and mindset around what we expect from our teams and employees,” she disclosed. She also picked some functional lessons from the various activities she has attended in EO.

“Entrepreneurs are driven by a cause. They want to be successful. But it’s not about the money. It’s more about wanting to make something, build something, and create something. Entrepreneurs don’t give up. They’re people that get down, get up, get down, get up,” Christine stated.

With the drive and persistence entrepreneurs have, she also injects those qualities in other endeavours she’s involved with like the global organisation, The Hunger Project. Deeming herself blessed with good education and opportunities, which differentiates her from women in Uganda, Christine is bent on a mission of sharing what she has with the world. “It’s just not fair that I have too much food and too much of everything while 25,000 people are dying each day from starvation. That is not okay for me. So, I got involved with the Hunger Project. Our mandate is to end world hunger by 2030.”

Her commitment to helping a charity is rooted in her deep passion and interest in people and the values surrounding them. With all the hardships she has gone through, she hopes to pass along these values and learnings to her children. However, she wants to do things differently from how she grew up taking things too seriously and stressing over the security of her family. “I don’t want my sons to be too driven that they become stressed. Stress is the number one killer. I don’t want my children to be like that. I want my children to have integrity, to try hard, and to do their best. Then when they have done their best, to congratulate themselves on that,” she imparts.

With that in mind, Christine is taking a different tack on how she is approaching life. So as not to put too much pressure on herself, she is excluding her big goals this year. Her thing at the moment is to be better today than yesterday, opening her mind to more opportunities. She still sees herself very much involved in her businesses several years forward, but more in Peeplcoach than in Chorus Executive. She will still be active in The Hunger Project, and still do yoga and CrossFit to keep herself healthy.

Indeed, this dynamic entrepreneur needs all the energy she can get because she is always on the go. As of the time of this interview, Christine was preparing to face 400 people at Telstra to talk about the role of confidence and personal brand. She loves public speaking, and she’s passionate about it. “Everything that I do is about getting to the heart of people, educating and empowering people, and helping people,” Christine remarked. As she found her beat in the business space, she’s happy to give others a voice in the chorale of life through opportunities that can help them blossom and be in harmony with society. Her optimism, resilience and spirit to keep going are the instruments that bring soul to the rhythm of her entrepreneurial journey.

This article was originally published on the EO Melbourne blog as part of a larger series sharing EO member stories. This content has been reprinted here with permission.”