Get up at 5am? This CEO wakes up when she wants to

FSusie Ma, 35, director and CEO of Tropic Skincare, was born in China and moved to Australia at the age of six. At the age of 13, she moved to London with her mother. To help pay the bills, she spent her weekends selling homemade body scrub – her grandmother’s recipe – at Greenwich Market, and Tropic Skincare was born. After studying economics at UCL, she started her career at Citigroup, where she worked in currency trading. Realizing that finances weren’t for her, she emerged in 2011 The intern, finished third but secured a £200,000 investment from Lord Sugar in return for 50 percent of her company. She bought the shares in 2023 and now owns 100 percent. She lives in London with her partner, Matt, a cameraman.

Every time I read an interview with a CEO, I feel embarrassed. They get up at 5 a.m., run marathons, and host four Zoom meetings for breakfast at the same time. I used to be like this, but I’m better at my job when I’ve had enough sleep, so I wake up when my body tells me to – usually around 8am.

This is doubly important now as I am halfway through my first pregnancy. It made me feel quite vulnerable, which I am not used to. Exercise is just walking the dog and some light yoga, but I have to be careful: I’m hypermobile, so it’s easy for me to dislocate an arm or leg.

Matt loves sports and competes in Ironman triathlons in his spare time. We met six years ago when he filmed me and fourteen other CEOs – including Richard Branson – taking part in a charity bike ride through Sardinia and France. After we started dating, he organized a 100 mile bike ride because he thought that was how I liked spending my weekends. Sorry, Matt, that was misleading marketing.

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Breakfast is a bowl of porridge while I plan the day, then I do a bit of product testing. Most people have bookcases; I have a set of shelves with 400 products that I can try out. Some are ours, some are from competitors. I could use one body wash on this arm and another on that arm; one sunscreen on this cheek, another on that cheek. I wonder: what does it smell like? How does it feel? Making a beauty product is a lot like cooking: too much of this or that ingredient and the dish is ruined.

Our office is in South London and I like to think of it as a kind of Willy Wonka factory. Part of it is filled with tropical plants, flowers, trees and walls of greenery. In the lab we have huge machines and bubbling vats, with this huge mixer mixing face masks instead of cake batter. And the smell! Everything from coffee beans and frangipani to avocado and fresh vanilla. The best beauty products offer much more than functionality: they take you somewhere, they make that moment special.

Matt used to be a chef, so I often take leftovers for my lunch, but we have a staff canteen where everyone can gather. As any CEO will tell you: the team makes the difference. I surround myself with people who can do their job much better than me. Obviously I’m involved in all the big things, but most of the decisions made at Tropic are not made by me.

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In the afternoon I give myself some leeway. If I need a nap, I’ll take one, and once I’ve finished all my meetings, I might go home or visit my mom. She only lives 20 minutes from our house, but she complains – like all mothers! – that we are too far away. I was born in Shanghai in 1988 during the one-child policy, so I have no brothers or sisters. Now it is of course different. Asia is desperate for people.

I’m usually home at six o’clock and, as an expert delegator, I leave the cooking to Matt. We do watch TV in the evenings, but it has to be something that broadens my mind. If I give an hour of my life to a program, it should give something back to me. I’ll make a few phone calls, send a few emails, and be in bed by 11 p.m. There was a time when I dreamed about products and wrote down ideas about a certain scent for our new cleanser. But now? Being five months pregnant, my dreams usually involve chips and chocolate.

Words of wisdom

The best advice I received
Always go back to your ‘why’ when making difficult decisions

Advice I would give
The best investment you can ever make is in yourself

What I wish I had known
No one has it all figured out

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