April 2, 2007
Vivienne Tan: More than meets the eye
Vivienne K. Tan wears a pair of jeans and a light jacket over a simple geometric blouse to a photo shoot. She prefers earthy colors - the deep blue of the sky right before dawn; the soft, textured brown of dried leaves; and a green so bright it seems electrified. Apart from a classic, almost mannish type of watch, she has no other jewelry.
One doesnt necessarily expect the daughter of a taipan to bedeck herself in ornate gold and glaring red, but the simplicity of the ensemble does take one aback, until one realizes how the well-cut lines and natural hues are a perfect frame for the wearers own pretty Chinese features. If elegance were a statement, then she delivers it quickly, efficiently, and with panache.
"I just came from a TV shoot, so Im still wearing the makeup," she admitted. "I didnt know what to expect, so I just put on what I usually wear." Apparently, it takes little effort for someone with a postgraduate degree from the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising in Los Angeles to be presentable, although that phase in her life is long past. Nowadays she sticks with no-fuss, classic pieces, rather than the latest fashion trends.
"When I was in the States, I was really into fashion. My sisters would ask what I was wearing, and Id tell them it would arrive in the Philippines in three years. When I packed all my bags and came back here, I was still able to wear my [fashion-forward] clothing. But I was so busy working day and night. The only time I thought about shopping was when I saw my picture and I was wearing the same thing from two years before," she said.
PASSION, NOT GLAMOUR
Vivienne does not have the affectations of someone constantly in the public radar and overly conscious because of it. She doesnt have a posse of bodyguards to guard her every move and block off unwanted elements. Her speech is a smattering of local slang with English only slightly accented by her extended stay in the United States, where she also finished a degree in math and computer science at the University of San Francisco.
She is a frequent traveler, on business and at her own leisure. She admits to being a little more interested in communes abroad, where she deems people to be more open and expressive in their interactions. She is also fond of documenting her travels, and doesnt feel ill at ease in asking strangers for a photograph, or taking one on the sly.
"I was in Shanghai and it was a bit chilly. I saw this cute Chinese boy with a unique expression on his face that I couldnt describe (in words) and so I felt compelled to take some pictures. Then in the same street, there was this smiling old lady wearing a Nike hat. When I saw that, I just had to take a picture," she recounted. "I just go on a roll sometimes. I like taking action shots. I especially love taking photos of parents and their kids."
One can surmise that Vivienne feels less constricted abroad, as she has never actually gotten used to being in the limelight in her own home country. Ironically, she doesnt like her photo being taken. "I have very few pictures of myself when I was a kid because I hide from the camera. I grew up with a lot of memories but hardly any pictures that captured the moment. To make up for it... I became the 'official photographer' in parties, dinners and reunions, to the point that I am hardly in the pictures. But, at least I captured the memories," she said.
Vivienne doesnt like taking self-portraits. Her participation in a scene is always as the person who envisioned it. Although her photography serves as a sort of personal journal, she remains hidden behind the lens, rather than at its focal point. Friends have to remind her that people would always be curious about her because she belongs to one of the most wealthy families in the Philippines and is considered "very good material" for her own sake.
If someone with a pedigree as patrician as hers would accompany Vivienne to an event, for example, the fact would be relayed speedily by a society magazine or periodical. Only lately has she used this overt - some would even say oppressive - interest in her life to the advantage of her most fervent cause: innovations in education.
COMING INTO HER OWN
In 2002, Vivienne co-founded the Entrepreneurs School of Asia (ESA), which she has headed since. To date, it is her foremost concern and occupation. With ESA, Vivienne and her business partner Joel Santos successfully launched the pioneering B.S. Entrepreneurship degree program and formalized entrepreneurship learning in the Philippines. Prior to this move, she had already introduced the maverick concept of enabling Filipino students to obtain foreign degrees through a unique "twinning concept" under the former Thames International Business School.
Vivienne is committed to making a difference by revitalizing the education industry. Her primary aim is to give young Filipinos a global mindset and competitiveness. With ESA, she has opened up opportunities for collaborative study abroad. The college has undertaken studies like the Youth Study and the Family Business Survey, recently as a partner for the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor of London Business School. Last year, it also became the first Philippine college to establish a satellite campus in China.
As a founding trustee of the Philippine Center for Entrepreneurship, Vivienne has also promoted the GoNegosyo communities all over the country. For her efforts in this and her achievements in the field of entrepreneur-education, Vivienne was awarded as one of The Outstanding Young Men (TOYM) 2006 Awardees in the field of Business Education and Entrepreneurship.
Most recently, she has striven to develop the inter-high school competition called "Teenpreneur Challenge," which is an incubation program for winning ideas and inputs to improve the business performance of livelihood projects of indigent Filipino communities.
"The youth programs of the GoNegosyo Movement have reached the young professionals and college students but there is still a gap in the high school level. This is what the Teenpreneur Program seeks to address. If we inculcate entrepreneurial values early on to the next generation, then we have bigger chances of finally creating a country of entrepreneurs," she said in an interview with BusinessWorld.
If theres anything that characterizes Vivienne, it is her ability to find her passion and consistently strive to excel in it. She genuinely cares about her students, and would often be found in the thick of the action, her camera poised to document yet another moment that they can laugh about or remember with poignancy later on. Her proudest moment was when all her friends and students showed up for her birthday, to thank her for everything shes done for them. All the smiles shes captured in her photographs are a testament to all the lives shes touched.
Photos taken by Vivienne Tan show her fascination with people.