After leaving behind a career in finance to follow her passion for fitness, Estelle Neve hasn’t looked back since setting up her own boutique studio!
Estelle’s varied career has taken her from competing at a national level in gymnastics back in her native France, to holding down investment banking roles in both Paris and Hong Kong, to running her own business. She’s now a fully certified personal trainer and Pilates instructor, and the founder of Anhao Wellness (which specialises in reformer Pilates, mat Pilates, yoga and personal training). She shares some advice about how busy mums can find time to fit in a workout, as well as how to run a business without compromising on family life.
Tell us how long you have been in Hong Kong and how you ended up here?
I’ve been in Hong Kong for 12 years now, after first arriving in 2007 to work for the investment bank I was employed by in Paris. But I’d already fallen in love with Asia in 2005 after doing an internship in Shanghai. Then in 2006 I completed a Business Masters at UIBE School in Beijing.
Initially, my plan was just to stay in Hong Kong for two years, but life is full of surprises. I ended up meeting my husband and also starting my business here. Now we have two lovely kids, who are two and four years old.
At what point did you decide that investment banking wasn’t for you, and to start your own business?
I had always wanted to work in the sports industry since I was very young. I was a national gymnast back in France, so for 12 years I was training 18 hours per week and taking part in competitions every weekend. I also competed in the French Championship and French Cup every year. Once my own competing days were over, I went on to teach other kids at my old club.
So, in the end, my love for the fitness industry drew me away from my finance career. I established Anhao Wellness in 2012 and gave myself one year to see how things went. At that stage, I had no kids and no husband, so I had fewer responsibilities to take into account. I always told myself that if it didn’t work out, I could return to the world of finance. But thankfully it was a success and still runs very well today!
What advice do you have for other Mums who might want to change careers, but are a bit hesitant?
Follow the saying “Do not put off until tomorrow what you can do today.” Kids grow up so fast and time flies. You really have no time to lose if you want to change careers. Don’t put your own dreams on hold until your children leave home, because then it might be too late.
If you do want to set up your own business, I would advise making sure you have an accurate business plan with a clear image of how you want your company to look in the future. Nothing happens by chance!
How do you balance running a successful small business that’s open seven days a week, with being a Mum of two young kids?
I am not alone. I have got a beautiful and helpful team (my husband and my helper at home, plus a team of 10 teachers and a part time administration assistant at work). Thanks to all of them, I can focus on developing my business. I try to make sure I spread my style to the other teachers so that you will always find a part of me at the studio. I know for many years my business was running well because people liked my style of teaching. But it was impossible for me to teach 100 hours a week to keep up with demand, so I had to learn to delegate.
It’s very important to trust the people you work with. I only hire people I think will fit in well at Anhao. It’s all about meeting the right people at the right time. Now I teach less so that I can see my kids during the day and even participate in some of their school activities. You do end up having to compromise at times, for example, I always have to work on a Saturday.
Is it hard to keep up your own fitness regime, in between teaching numerous group classes and training others one-on-one?
Yes, it is really hard because sometimes I get very tired after teaching. I am always demonstrating workouts and standing up for most of the day (plus I talk a lot). I wake up early and finish late, so I try to set aside one hour per day to workout, except on Sundays. I try to keep my workouts varied. I switch between cardio, reformer Pilates, fitness functional workouts, abs sessions and swimming sessions. Twice a month I also organise what I call “teacher training hour,” where one of my teachers instructs the whole team. That means we can workout together and exchange new ideas.
Do you have any advice for busy mums who are also struggling to find time to exercise?
I advise everybody to plan a workout session in advance and block out that time in your diary or agenda (even if it’s only a ten-minute session). I find if you say “I’ll workout when I have time,” it never happens! So my advice is:
- Book a slot in your agenda
- Set up a reminder
- Do the workout
If it’s factored into your plan properly, you’re more likely to do it.
After a long day, what’s your favourite way to unwind?
I love turning off my mobile phone, giving my kids a bath and just playing in their bedroom with them for an hour or so, without thinking about anything else. It is my form of meditation. And sometimes I go for a massage, which I think is a real Hong Kong ritual.
What do you love most about Hong Kong?
The energy. I think it is the most incredible city in the world! Every day I am fascinated by something or someone new, even after 12 years here. Hong Kong has given me a lot of opportunities and sometimes I’m just not able to take it all in.
Where are your favourite things to do with your kids in this city?
We love to unwind at the beach and eat dim sum on a Sunday.
What would you say the most rewarding thing about being a Mum is?
When I’m with my kids, every moment seems magical and I feel full of unconditional love. When I get back from work and they jump into my arms, I don’t ever want my life to change. To sound more down-to-earth, I feel very proud as I watch them grow up and naturally develop!