Fit & Fab: Annabelle Baker

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 10 June, 2014, 9:43am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 10 June, 2014, 9:43am

Soon after moving to Hong Kong last year, Annabelle Baker fell into the relentless routine of the Hong Kong rat race.

As general manager of Lush Cosmetics for Greater China, 16-hour days became the norm while she developed the business from nothing to more than 100 staff and five stores in less than 18 months.

Stress soon took hold. "My hair started falling out, I was seriously fatigued and felt unhealthy and unhappy," says the 33-year-old Briton.

Despite a fulfilling career with the company spanning 15 years, Baker realised she needed to make a change to sustain her corporate pace - and quickly.

"I'd had a really indulgent weekend and I was sitting on the couch on a Sunday and I said to myself, 'I need a change; I need to do something and change the way I'm operating'."

For Baker, who grew up idolising Steffi Graf and hiking in the Lake District in England with her father, that meant getting fit.

She signed up for Bikini Fit, a women-only boot camp programme that started at 6.30am. Living in Kowloon meant waking up at 5.30am six days a week.

"It was cold and wet in winter, and it was tough knowing I wasn't going to leave the office until 9pm or 10pm before I'd even thought about dinner and bed."

But she persisted and seven months later she now easily dead lifts 100 kilograms, sprints up hills with weights on her back and squats and lunges painlessly. As her muscles have strengthened, so too has her grip on health and happiness.

"For 45 minutes every morning, I don't even have to think. I just turn up and somebody else bosses me around. It's perfect."

Despite her hectic travel schedule, she works out whenever she's in the city.

"Bikini Fit has given me a structure for my day. I come into work feeling energised. I'm super excited for the day and I feel my body is getting so much stronger," she says.

"I love feeling this strong. I didn't realise how addictive that could be."

What has a fitness regime brought to your working life?

I'm getting more done in my day. I'm more awake and more energised. I'm also happier and more relaxed, and that just helps with everybody because the more relaxed I am, the better it is for my team. The psychology is infectious. Since starting the programme I've also begun enforcing a 7.30pm deadline for everyone to leave the office. My philosophy is, if we can't do our work in this time frame we definitely have issues.

What's the first step someone should take to being healthy?

Being happy. I remember feeling the strong link between my happiness and my health, or lack of it. I knew I loved living in Hong Kong, I loved my job, my husband and had some really good friends - but was I happy within myself? I realised I wasn't. To create a great working environment and to have great relationships you've got to be internally good with yourself.

What has your new fitness regime taught you?

It's all about approach. You don't lift a 100 kilogram weight right from the start. You build up to it. I hope I can do that with my team, so they don't look at obstacles in business and their career and think, "I'll never be able to achieve that." To achieve big goals is all about breaking it down and getting to a stage when you can think, "I've done that bit, so the next bit won't be so hard."

If you could single out one thing that has driven your career success, what would it be?

Perseverance; never giving up. If things don't work out how you first envision them, you've got to rejig them, rework them, and go again. I've also learned that I hate to be wrong, and so I have to persevere to make it right. If that means changing things and moving things around, I'm happy to do that. But I'm never one to give up.

What's the most important lesson from your career?

The importance of investing in other people to make them successful. That's what I want to be able to achieve in Hong Kong; I want to make my team successful, regardless of their career path. And it's really nice to now be able to come to work every day with the energy to empower others.