Cissy Bullock is a multifaceted, passionate rainmaker at the intersection of business, sustainability and social responsibility. She founded Wholesome Works, a strategic advisory for social businesses, after successfully exiting from her startup the BOX by Lohasia. A force of nature that also happens to love extreme trail running, she talks to us just before she uproots from Asia after ten years to return to Europe.
You have roots in Sweden, China, the United Kingdom and Singapore, also speaking the languages of all these places. How has that influenced your outlook on life and where you want to be?
I was really lucky to grow up in a home with two languages and two cultures (my mum is Swedish and my dad is English), and with parents who are enthusiastic and curious about everything and everywhere. That had a huge influence on me; it is probably the root of my incurable wanderlust, which led me to study Mandarin and then head to China when I was 20.
It also taught me the importance of being wide open to new cultures, different perspectives and alternative ways of approaching things. This in turn has opened the world up to me and broadened my horizons in terms of where I want to be and the life I want to lead. For me, it’s all about adventure, connecting with people and trying to make a positive impact on the places you go and the people you meet.
You’ve straddled managing massive portfolios as well as your own startup and other small businesses. Could you share a few key lessons for success that apply across the board?
In a world of constant communication, noise and wanting to be heard, we often forget the value of simply listening. It’s so important to listen to what your colleagues, clients, customers, partners, whoever they may be, say. Perhaps more importantly, listen to what they don’t say… I think this links to what I said before about being open to other perspectives and ways of doing things.
One of the best pieces of advice my dad ever gave me was ‘just smile’. It sounds simple, but it’s so effective… When you smile, people want to work with you, not against you. When you have a difficult call to make, people can hear the smile in your voice. And a smile always helps to keep things in perspective.
Two other important ones would be the quote “what would you do if you weren’t afraid?” and lists. I love a good list.
Your tenacity, passion and humour are quite legendary. What’s the hardest thing you’ve ever had to do and what got you through it?
Being completely open, the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do is fall pregnant. Which is ironic considering I spent my entire 20s doing every thing in my power to avoid it.
It’s a bit of a taboo subject that people don’t talk about enough, and yet so many couples go through. With a personality like mine, which likes to charge head first at any challenge and find a solution, the hardest thing was coming to terms with the fact that I had to sit back, and, in some respects, ‘do nothing’. I was definitely the one in the metaphorical canoe paddling furiously against the current, and it took me a while to realize that sometimes in life it’s best just to pull the oars in and go with the flow for a while.
Having an amazing husband and a strong network of friends and family to lean on when the waters were a bit choppy has been so important over the last few years. Happily we got there in the end, and are expecting twins in September.
Not many people understand the rewards of extreme trail running. It’s grueling to say the least. Why do you do it?
Haha, yeah, it’s definitely a sport that people either get or don’t at all… I love it. There is something magical, and humbling, about taking yourself into remote corners of the world on nothing more than your own two feet.
Part of it is about chasing that moment that comes on a long run, when you feel like you’re teetering on the brink of bliss and the abyss, and everything just falls away into perfect clarity… It’s also about being completely connected to nature, and feeling the scale of it, which helps put everything into perspective.
Plus, you don’t actually have to run! It can often be like a fast hike – you just run the flat and downhill sections, and walk uphill (I can see a couple of my friends rolling their eyes at this!).
You’re expecting a small family soon… Having lived in so many places and being an avid explorer nomad of the world, what’s one place (that is not home) that you want your children to see and why?
That’s tough… there’s so much in the world to see! But if I had to choose one, I’m really excited about moving back to Europe so that my kids can experience summers in Sweden like I did growing up. Never-ending daylight, swimming in lakes, foraging for berries and just being outside all day…
In a perfect world you would be….
Exactly where I am. Except teleporters would have been invented, so that I can get everywhere and anywhere in the blink of an eye.
Cissy has just moved to Edinburgh after ten years in Asia and a background in strategy and sustainability, and although sad to leave behind the sights and smells of this part of the world, is eager to get her gardening boots on and help Scottish businesses delve into China. Alongside bringing up her twin kids, of course.
We are inspired by her huge love for life and people, infectious sense of humour and razor sharp insights, and are proud to have her as a Fieldtester, a group of inspiring friends who regularly test MATTER products in their workplace and travels. Cissy wears the Modern Monpe + All Eye Teal, Size 1, and the Easy Dhoti + Cave 17, Size 1.