Titan Management co-owner, community leader, and philanthropist Mandy Kao was born in Hong Kong. A self-described mischievous prankster, she snuck out of her parents' condo to meet friends on the buildings rooftop where she soon started her first business. "I mixed water, flour, and food coloring and created figurines," she recalls, doing whatever it took to sell them. With the earnings, the six-year-old bought a pet turtle and carried it in a purse fashioned from a red and gold tin can. "This turtle represented my first profits, and I was very proud because I bought him myself," she says, adding with a laugh, "My mom didn't know I even took baths with that turtle."According to Mandy, she inherited the best of both of her parents' personal characteristics. "My mom taught me about giving back to the community."
As a youngster, Mandy helped her mother with fundraisers and regularly visited senior citizens homes where she entertained residents with karaoke. Her mother's volunteerism continued when the family immigrated to Vancouver, Canada, prior to the 1997 handover of Hong Kong by China. And today she still runs a soup kitchen for Vancouver's homeless as a volunteer and continues to visit homes for the elderly on a weekly basis.
The entrepreneur gene came from her father, a self-made international businessman. Her mother wasn't interested in business, so Mandy, at nine, accompanied her father to meetings. "I remember sitting with my father and five or six men in suits at the Hong Kong Country Club, just listening," she says. In short order, the prankster transformed into a poised young woman with good people skills. Mandy became her father's date for business luncheons and dinners. Whenever wives or daughters accompanied his visiting out-of-town partners, Kao served as a local hostess, often showing them around town.
As a 20-year-old university student in home economics, she got the idea to create and manufacture figure-enhancing women's undergarments and tried to talk her father into buying her a factory or finding someone with whom she could set up a joint venture. But three car accidents in the year following graduation prompted serious soul-searching. She enrolled in an MBA program, focusing on marketing and the entrepreneur gene surfaced again. With a grad school friend, she set up a real estate investment company. At that time, you could buy very inexpensive apartments and get a good rate of return in the US, compared to Canada, she points out. Still living at home in Vancouver, she met William Kao, a real estate developer who, likewise, was looking for additional business opportunities. Thus, a perfect partnership - personal and entrepreneurial - was born.
After their marriage, they formed Titan Management, a privately held real estate investment, management and development firm. Her approach to leading from the heart has proven to be a formula for success. Over the past ten years, Titan has expanded its investments' focus to include shopping and office centers, and they've diversified into ventures unrelated to real estate. The company now operates primarily in Houston since the Kao's three young sons have started school.
As a legacy for her children and to share the blessings she has received, she created the Mandy Kao Foundation both to serve the local community and to teach her sons that they can make a difference. She's particularly interested in assisting refugees, the homeless and in providing education scholarships for at-risk kids. The Foundation awards matching grants to several new refugee projects, including a venture to support refugee women artisans in developing a microenterprise to support their families, and a workforce literacy initiative that will enable refugees a greater chance at succeeding in Americas workplace.
As an early investor, the Foundation's modest grants will have a great impact on the success of these projects by increasing the chances of attracting larger grants and more supporters "I want to give a helping hand, not a hand-out," Kao stresses, adding that she'll work with local service organizations to target other worthy grant recipients. A recent award went to Skills for Living, which provides financial literacy programs for at-risk high school students and low-income adults. The family foundation's assistance isn't limited to people. "My oldest son loves pandas. He is very concerned they are becoming extinct." I told him, "You're on my board. Maybe we could donate some money", she recalls with a smile. She encouraged him to do online research, which led to his decision to donate to the World Wildlife Fund. Her sons' support is key to the foundation's success. Money that would go toward Christmas gifts will also now be put in the fund. "I told them that we are going to use it for something better, and they are okay with this," she says.
"I really want to make an effort to show my kids what the real world is like. Giving back to others is the key to true happiness." Mandy Kao's passion is to lend a helping hand to the deserving by acting as a bridge to new and better opportunities and resources. This could mean connecting the underserved with resources or to agencies they would otherwise not know about, as well as facilitating opportunities to help people find jobs, create non-profit agencies, as well as participate in grant opportunities. Ms. Kao also assists emerging leaders in this population with personal and business development so that they can in turn better serve their own communities.