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What Makes A Leader: Celine Tan, Chief Operating Officer & Partner of The ATE Group

Celine Tan, 38, is the Co-Founder and Chief Operating Officer at Caviar Colony as well as the Chief Operating Officer and Partner at The Ate Group.

Celine Tan, 38, is the Co-Founder and Chief Operating Officer at Caviar Colony as well as the Chief Operating Officer and Partner at The Ate Group.

Celine has more than a decade of experience in branding, marketing, communications and retail, particularly in the F&B, luxury and fashion industries. The Ate Group – a notable brand strategy and communications agency in Singapore. At The Ate Group, she is responsible for strategic initiatives, brand communications and organisational structure, as well as heading directives and day-to-day counsel on the company’s communications work for reputable brands like TWG Tea, Odette Singapore, Jigger & Pony, Bynd Artisan etc. Prior to the Ate Group, she managed a few luxury fashion brands and brought a considerable amount of expertise and influence to concepts and events that were launched internationally. She heads branding, operations and expansion-related efforts for Caviar Colony, while overseeing international marketing strategy. Celine’s passion for ideation and strong business instincts are instrumental in extending Caviar Colony’s footprint across the globe.

How did you get started in your field?

I have always known what I wanted from a young age. I specialised in Advanced Advertising and Public Relations with a minor in photojournalism in Ngee Ann Polytechnic. Right after I graduated, I started working in advertising. My late father was already quite ill at the time so I didn’t want to add to his burden. (Study loans weren’t a big thing during that time.)

I then spent more than five years working for major agencies like Saatchi & Saatchi in London before returning to Singapore, where I started working in the lifestyle and fashion industry doing PR and events – and I’ve never looked back since.

If you had your time again, what would you do differently career-wise? 

I don’t believe in regrets. Every experience I’ve encountered, every step I take, every person that I have met has taught me a lesson and that’s what makes me who I am. Every decision I make is a considered one.

Has your industry changed since you started in it and if so how have you adapted to it?

Yes – in the age of the Internet and social media, communication is moving at a much faster pace. You need to be able to have all the information you need really, really fast. If you miss that window… Well, sometimes there are no second chances.

Brands must respect that the journalist is now not only writing for their media platform, but also they have become key opinion leaders (KOLs) themselves on their own respective social media platforms.

Brands now can also speak directly to their consumers, so brand communications strategies must be more sound than ever.

Life is full of challenges, what’s been your biggest professional one and how did you overcome it?

Becoming senior management at a relatively young age about 10 years ago had its pros and cons. Back then, people would rather speak to a older male colleague or just older full stop – they just didn’t take me seriously if they were meeting me for the first time. There was this unspoken assumption that I must have slept my way to the top. Honestly? Just work hard, make sense and offer sound solutions – the proof is in the work you deliver.

Which business leaders do you admire?

Rachel Lim from Love Bonito. She took a business with a solely digital footprint and pivoted to a brick-and-mortar store. In doing so, she not only defied convention but has succeeded in a very challenging time for retail. She is a solid entrepreneur who has built a dedicated team that is growing with her, and her business. Personally, she’s likable and very much down-to-earth.

What qualities do you think you need to be a true pioneer?

Resilience and grit. You need stamina to stay the distance, and you need to be tough enough to roll with the punches you’ll inevitably encounter in your journey.

On a personal level, who do you admire?

I admire women who have a clear identity of their own. Michelle Obama for example, is a strong, smart, eloquent powerhouse who chose to support her husband’s career by playing the perfect First Lady – by perfect, I mean she wasn’t seen as just another pleasant face who was gracious and a good host but she held her own in conversations, she was compassionate, she inspired and spearheaded her own initiatives including the highly publicised “Lets Move! campaign” which encouraged healthy lifestyle in children; she did all this whilst remaining a dedicated mother of two girls.

What do you think are your greatest strengths and weaknesses? 

I think I am a compassionate and fair person. I value honesty and sincerity, and I am very loyal. I’m also told I am generous – it’s both my strength and my weakness.

If you had just one day to achieve something you had always dreamt of, how would you do it and what would it be?

I believe dreams are always changing and never, ever stagnant. Currently, my dreams are for my new little family to be happy, comfortable and spend quality time together… uninterrupted..

Finally, any advice for future business leaders?

Always care for, respect and take time to listen to your team, no matter how junior or how young the person may be. You will learn something one way or another. Don’t ever think you know it all.