Perhaps this is not your typical “rags to riches” story because in Olivia’s case, even her “rags.” were quite interesting. What was in her story includes the escape from Communist China, adventures in a few foreign countries, and a life steeped in the Asian tradition of hard work and respect for knowledge. As the eldest child of 5 in her family, she overcame extreme poverty by working part-time jobs, reading hundreds of books, writing articles for newspapers, and signing opera arias during her 16 school years. She imagined herself in Russia, France, Spain, and Italy when she read War and Peace, Le Comte de Monte Cristo, The Sun Also Rises and singing the Italia Operas. She took classes as a writer and a soprano.Olivia was born in Shanghai into a family that was a descendant of the Ming Dynasty and lost all their wealth when the Communist government took over. She escaped China with her mother and her sister with their nanny on a refugee ship that brought them out to Taiwan, and she spent her earlier years in Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Japan. Olivia speaks so eloquently that it’s hard to believe that English is her fifth language. She knows three dialects of Chinese: Mandarin, Taiwanese, and Cantonese, along with speaking Japanese. Becoming a journalist was always one of Olivia’s dreams, but her life followed a different path, which included being a sidekick on a TV comedy show called “Night Punch” in Japan.
“I developed a great love for jokes working on that show. I can tell hundreds of jokes all from the top of my head. This is a good ice-breaker when my client is up-tight about signing a purchase agreement!” Olivia shares with a childlike grin.
Olivia immigrated to San Francisco in 1975 from Tokyo. Knowing no one, but speaking many languages, she worked as assistant manager at Grand Hyatt Union Square before launching her career in luxury real estate in 1979. Olivia said that the reason she chose real estate was that Bay Area properties were less expensive than Tokyo’s high prices. Olivia is naturally curious, and her love for beautiful homes and interior design made real estate the perfect path for her. A few short years after selling real estate, she rose to #1 sales agent in the United States at Merrill Lynch Realty in the mid 1980s. Olivia’s success was even more powerful since she is a single woman, Chinese, and English is not her native tongue. Because of this confluence of amazing traits, she made the front page of SF Examiner, the cover of Pacific Magazine, a 1988 half-page Wall Street Journal story about her departure from Merrill Lynch. Her clients are quoted saying: “If you have a very expensive home to sell, her name comes to mind before anyone else’s name does.” San Francisco Chronicle crowned Olivia as, “Perhaps the most well-known residential real estate broker in the nation.” Throughout the industry, she is known as the “Queen of Luxury Homes” and “Countess of Marin”, the title of her cover story on Pacific Magazine.
Various buyers included Michael Jackson, and the wealthiest French Bernard Arnaut of LVMH came to visit, but all decided not to buy it. Olivia was fearless and dived into the restoration project with monthly trips to Paris in 1999 while she sold $100 million of properties back in San Francisco that same year. People thought she was crazy with two 350 + years old chateaux in France and a thriving real estate business in the Bay Area. But the hard work and writing a lot of French checks to workers paid off, Chateau Villette had it’s grand opening in April 2000 with beautiful grand salons, 20 renovated bedrooms, 20 brand new bathrooms (there were only 5 bathrooms in the entire chateau before her renovation), three new kitchens, restored chapel, all new heating system, electrical, plumbing and wifi. For 15 years, she operated the two chateaux as locations for luxury charity events, weddings, culinary retreats, luxury vacations, filming, and fashion shoots. Her customers included Spice Girls, Sharon Stone, Pamela Anderson, Lenny Kravitz, John Travolta, Tom Hanks, a Russian Prime Minister, Vogue magazines shoots, many TV commercials, and Dan Brown who wrote part of Da Vinci Code at the Villette and Sony Pictures filmed the movie at Chateau Villette. Dozens of French movies filmed at Villette too, including Le Comte de Monte Cristo starring Gerald Depardieu.
Olivia is no stranger to the magazine world, she wrote articles for magazines and newspapers in college, and she has been an advertiser in various magazines including the Haute Living magazines in New York, Miami, Los Angeles, and San Francisco and an ambassador for Haute Living San Francisco since 2009, she has been writing ambassador column every issue and blogger for nine years. Writing has been one of her passions since a teenager. Although she said, “Someone needs to check my grammar as English is my fifth language.” Olivia calls the new Haute Living San Francisco magazine venture her night job. But don’t worry, she won’t drop the ball falling to sleep on the job. Her nights are long as she works daily until 2-3 am. Her new plans for the magazine include a new tag line, “Luxury Lifestyle with Purpose.” She will feature more philanthropy events and inspiring stories of individuals who overcame the odds and now inspire others. She will cover the unique Bay Area lifestyle, which compliments her luxury home business. She is an active philanthropist and has been on the San Francisco Opera Guild Board of Directors since 1995. Her community involvement includes: BUILD, SF Opera Guild, USCF Benioff Children’s Hospitals, ARTSmart music education, Belvedere-Tiburon Library, and Festival Napa Valley in which she is one of the board of directors.Because of the life experiences she has gone through—both the good and the sad—she is the perfect person to head up Haute Living San Francisco. She has a depth to her that will be beautifully translated in the pages of the magazine. Her goal is for readers of Haute Living San Francisco to be empowered by what they read, educated by timely articles about important issues, and inspired by the feature stories of incredible people accomplishing amazing feats and deeds in San Francisco and beyond.