Attorney at Law Magazine writer Susan Cushing spoke with Kristina Han whose global career in law and high finance was as distinctive as it was eclectic. But Han was seeking something beyond the confines of large firms and corporations which is why she launched her own, very unique business — Own Your Wonder.
AALM: Could you offer a brief overview of your career?
KH: After completing my undergraduate studies at Harvard, I worked as an investment banker at JP Morgan and then a brief stint as a bike messenger in Paris before earning a dual degree of JD/MA at Duke Law School and Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies.
After my graduate studies, I worked at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom (NY) in structured finance and corporate finance departments. I then went to work in business intelligence at Kroll in their New York, Hong Kong and London offices, focusing on asset searches, intellectual property investigations and tax haven issues.
During the global financial crisis around 2008, I started a fin tech business in London, which ended up being a spectacular failure. I then took a few years off, got married and moved to Spain and had a baby. We moved to Singapore when my daughter was 2 years old and I went back to law as an in-house lawyer working on international regulatory and compliance issues for a private equity firm, TPG Capital. After having a second baby, we moved to the United States, just outside Washington DC, where I continued to work for TPG for about a year before starting Own Your Wonder.
AALM: What prompted you to transition from practicing law to launching your own business?
KH: After working for large institutions for most of my career, I wanted to build something from scratch and determine the path of my own success. I also wanted to do something that was meaningful to me and mission-driven.
AALM: Please describe your company and services.
KH: Own Your Wonder provides makeup service and lessons for professional women and businesses. We help women use makeup as a tool to feel and look confident, whether it’s for a work or social occasion. Businesses hire our services as part of their employee benefit program.
During this unprecedented and challenging period, we have begun offering online lessons and workshops on looking professional and client-ready on video platforms.
AALM: Could you explain how you came up with the concept of Own Your Wonder?
KH: I came up with the concept of Own Your Wonder because I hate doing my own makeup and I’m very bad at it. To this day, I don’t even own a makeup brush. When I was trying to figure out my next step after TPG, I went to a large beauty retailer for a “complimentary” makeover so that I could look my best for an interview with a potential employer. I was horrified at how my makeup looked and began to wonder why there wasn’t a place I could go to achieve an everyday, polished look (and not look like I’m going to a Halloween party or an ’80s wedding!).
AALM: What do you love about what you’re doing now?
KH: I get to work with and help women who have a similar approach to beauty as I do — they are pragmatic and functional in that they want to look good, but don’t want to spend more than 5-10 minutes in the morning achieving that look. I also love that I am building something that is genuine and meaningful that I am proud of doing every day. I also love that my daughter gets to see me building a business from ground up and be part of the entrepreneurial journey.
AALM: What challenges or obstacles did you encounter with your startup?
KH: Not knowing anything about the beauty industry, makeup, social media or marketing, I’ve had to learn everything by just doing it. I’ve self-funded this business, which means that I’ve had to be very resourceful and scrappy in every aspect to the point that even a small size coffee at Starbucks is a luxury.
AALM: Do you miss practicing law, and if so, what specifically?
KH: Not at all.
AALM: What advice would you offer other attorneys who might want to make a similar transition? Do you have any advice specific to women who would like to start their own business?
KH: Starting your own business is a really difficult path, but also one of the most rewarding experiences you will ever have. I would advise building (or finding) a strong network of other women entrepreneurs as a support system. There are a lot of groups and organizations out there to support women business owners.
AALM: In addition to your many other accomplishments, you are a former Olympic swimmer. We would love to hear more about that.
KH: I swam in the 1988 Olympics for South Korea when I was 14 years old. My family immigrated from Korea to the Washington, DC area so that I could swim with one of the best swim clubs in the country while attending public school in one of the best counties known for its school system. It’s still a mystery to me how my parents were able to research swim teams and schools back in the 1980s when there was no internet and they hardly spoke any English!
AALM: You attended Harvard, Johns Hopkins and Duke. In view of all that you have achieved in your life is it safe to say that you’re an “over-achiever”?
KH: Part of the motivation I had in starting my own business is that I felt I had done very little over the course of my career. The reason is that I never had any specific goals that I wanted to achieve. Instead, I went from one job to another simply because the opportunities were offered to me and I never thought about what I wanted from each job. The result was feeling empty and unfulfilled because I never had any intentions or goals. So, from that perspective, I feel utterly under-achieved. I can see how others can look at my resume and think that I’m an over-achiever, but I’ve honestly never felt that way.
AALM: What accomplishment are you most proud of achieving?
KH: My children!
AALM: How do you balance your professional life with your private?
KH: I’m happily married with three children (8, 6 and 11 months old). I don’t really try to balance my professional and family life because my family, especially my children are my absolute priority and my work comes in a distant second. In my mind, “balance” means treating the two more or less equal, but I’m not sure if that’s realistic in my case. The beauty of having my own business is that I can try to design my work around my family life (though it’s not always easy or successful). This is very important to me because my middle child has a rare chromosome syndrome and epilepsy, needing full-time support and care. Prioritizing my children over work means that my business may grow slower than I would like, and I may miss out on some commercial opportunities, but it’s a choice that I’m very happy to make.
AALM: How are you involved with the local community?
KH: We work with various local organizations that empower young girls and women in need. We also work with local groups that support transgender individuals. We’ve provided workshops on self-care and looking professional for job interviews, as well as using makeup as a tool for looking one’s best.
AALM: Are there any changes in the future that you’re looking forward to?
KH: I would like to be a pioneer in the beauty industry to bring on a much needed change in the current narrative that makeup is only for the young, trendy/beautiful and product-junkies. I would like to see people using makeup, not just as vanity, but as a powerful tool to look and feel our best. I would like to see businesses offering makeup service as part of their employee benefit, just like gym and wellness initiatives.