Eli Meir Kaplan
In keeping with Maryland Life’s tradition of honoring women whose contributions—both famous and little-known—have shaped the Free State for the better, this year’s list of “legendary ladies” includes entrepreneurs, IT pioneers, a green guru, and Charm City’s mayor.
While many would call them trailblazers, these women humbly decline that label. At the core, each woman has chosen her path out of a need to follow her passion and a desire to improve her community.
They are leaders, mothers, wives, daughters, neighbors, friends, and, above all else, role models. They give of themselves. They make positive ripples in the local ponds of their lives. Here are their stories.
When Mei Xu emigrated from China 20 years ago, she never expected to find herself seated next to President Obama, representing the international candle company that was born from a soup-can experiment in her basement. But those who truly know Xu have learned to constantly expect the unexpected.
“I have always chosen the unbeaten path,” she says.
Xu worked for the World Bank in China when she was in her 20s. Despite her stable, coveted job, she quit to attend graduate school at the University of Maryland, with hopes of a career in journalism. But when she couldn’t find a job after graduation, she took a leap of faith and decided to make candles instead.
“I would have had a wonderful life working for the bank—a chance to travel the world—but I would not have had the opportunity to be creative,” she says.
Although Xu’s ingenuity is at the heart of many choices over the years, it was her parents, through their example, who inspired her to have the courage and confidence to chase her passions.
“My mom loved teaching, and that taught me how to do what I loved,” says Xu. “My mom is the one person who will always tell me the truth.”
When Xu and her husband, David Wang, first started the Chesapeake Bay Candle Company, her parents came to the United States for a year to help out, working alongside other employees in the warehouse.
“At the end of the day,” reflects Xu, “they were there when we needed them.”
As if launching a home fragrance line weren’t creative enough, Xu also has a second company, Blissliving Home (an interior lifestyle brand), and she established the Mei Xu Cultural Exchange Foundation to support cross-cultural learning between the U.S. and China.
How does the 45-year-old mother of two do it?
Xu credits Attention Deficit Disorder.
“ADD is a challenge when you’re a child, but as an adult, it’s a gift,” she says. “You can juggle being a mother, running two businesses, sitting on boards of directors.”
However, for the sake of those who work closely with her, she admits, “I need to do a better job of slowing down.”
Not just yet, though.
In June 2011, Xu opened her first U.S. factory, in Glen Burnie, to complement her other three in Asia. Being on the forefront of a movement to bring jobs back to the United States landed her an invitation to share her insights and experiences at the White House “Insourcing American Jobs” forum alongside the leaders of companies like DuPont, Intel, and Rolls Royce.
“It is a tremendous honor and privilege to share our journey with President Obama and Vice President Biden,” says Xu.
Despite her success, Xu keeps her parents’ example in mind. For her sons, Michael and Alex, “I want them to do what they want,” she says.
Xu and her family currently live in Bethesda. And no matter where her adventures eventually take her, she’s proud to call the Free State home.