Image: Madly Gems

For the better part of the decade, Maddy Barber co-hosted the KISS92 FM morning show.

I was one of those who went into the industry because of my love for music, not so much the sound of my own voice,” she laughs. “I remember I was in my last year of polytechnic when I heard the call on radio looking for a female presenter. I was offered the job six months before graduation, after an audition.”

The 47-year-old didn’t just cut her teeth in the local radio industry – she has also worked as a radio consultant in Mumbai, and served as a programme director of Virgin Radio in Bangkok.

But she also didn’t put all her eggs in one basket. In 2014, she started her own business, Madly Gems, which specialises in bespoke jewellery. She finally closed the chapter on her career in radio in June to focus on it.

A twist of fate

Maddy will gladly admit that she’s one of the lucky few who not only managed to secure one dream job, but two.

“Growing up, I’d always displayed an affinity for two things: a mic and jewellery. Whenever I saw something that remotely resembled a mic, I’d feel an intense need to pick it up and speak or sing into it,” she says. “I also learnt to appreciate coloured gemstones and jewellery by watching my mum wear them. Still, I never thought I’d become a jeweller.”

In 2018, Madly Gems was growing at such an exponential rate that Maddy felt she couldn’t keep up, especially since she was holding down two jobs. So, she tried selling her share of the business to her then-partner.

Madly Gems is known for pieces with bold colours and innovative shapes.
Credit: Madly Gems

“But in a twist of fate, the business ended up fully in my care instead. That was the most stressful period of my life, as I also lost my dad during that time. And in the midst of grieving, I still had to put up a brave front for my staff and take things forward.”

Good thing she didn’t though – she would have sold the business for a tenth of what it is worth today. Plus, the brand has gone from strength to strength: It currently employs 15 full-time staff, including seven in-house designers. The company prides itself on “designing around a gem, not the other way around”, and steering away from the traditional notions of luxury, which can be “stuffy and intimidating”.

So why did she give up her job in radio? The answer couldn’t be simpler: She’s ready to take the next leap. “Focusing on one vocation instead of spreading myself too thin has always been the goal. There is only so long one can straddle the fence for, and work the hours I did, without sacrificing health and family life,” she explains.

That said, she’s an advocate of trying out two things at the same time, so one has options. “I highly recommend juggling your day job and start-up for as long as you can. That way, you are less likely to make decisions out of fear or desperation.

The jeweller is the only one in Singapore that’s a member of the International Coloured Stone Association’s Ethical Accreditation programme, which means its gemstones are mined responsibly and traded sustainably.
Credit: Madly Gems

“Taking your work seriously doesn’t mean not having fun along the way. Over-prepare, and go with the flow. Businesses, like stories, have a life of their own. So, do the work, get your hands dirty, remember to breathe, laugh whenever you can, and don’t sweat the small stuff.”

And if you’re planning to go into business with a partner, here’s what she offers: “It’s not enough to be ‘good’ and ‘honest’. Consider both your world views, values towards people and money, where you guys are in life. If you are a glass half-full kind of person and your partner is the opposite, it can take a toll on both of you.”

This story first appeared in the September 2021 issue of Her World.