Meet Carmelita (Cat) Tiu

Armed with a BFA, a JD, and a determination to use both sides of her brain, Cat has built a career at the intersections of creativity, media and business.  After several years handling legal and business affairs at The Oprah Winfrey Show and OWN, she shifted into the advertising world and is now corporate counsel for VSA Partners, Inc., an independent design-centric branding and marketing firm with offices in Chicago, Detroit and NYC.  

Passionate about empowering others and giving back, she’s an adjunct professor at Columbia College and serves on the Chicago Artists Coalition board, Lawyers for the Creative Arts associate board, and DanceWorks Chicago mentorship council.  In the fall, she’ll co-lead the newly-created Daisy Girl Scout Troop #285.  

Currently, she’s collaborating with comedy writer Matt Greiner to produce a web-based video series geared towards creatives and the business and legal issues they face.  She lives in Logan Square with her two truly stellar daughters.


Have you ever stolen anything?

Besides hearts?  (hahah…I slay me.)  I’ve never stolen from a 7-11, The Gap or anything like that.  But I will admit to grabbing a few extra food items when available (free for employees) from the kitchens of pretty much every place I’ve worked, and then giving them to people asking for food or money on the street. 

Because really, who needs a banana more – 1) me, 2) my coworkers, or 3) the guys living beneath the underpass?  My inner Robin Hood says #3.  And now you can probably guess which political party I tend to vote for too.

If you had to change careers what would you want to do?

I’ve fantasized about working for the granting arm of a small or midsize foundation (maybe my own?), and funneling funds to worthy nonprofits, social enterprises, and start-ups.  There are so many well-intended organizations with talented and passionate people working their asses off to try and make a positive impact.  

I would love to have a load of cash each year to a) help with general operating costs so they can focus more on doing their work and less on raising funds, and b) fund or create professional development opportunities for key personnel within those organizations – building skills and fundamentals that could take the endeavor to the next level.

Each year, I’d host a gathering of the recipients so I could have my own version of that Oprah moment… “You get a grant!  YOU get a grant!  AND YOU get a grant!  Everybody gets a graaaant!”

Favorite quote?

“A friend hears the song in my heart, and sings it to me when my memory fails.”  - Pioneer Girls Leaders Handbook

I’m pretty good at catching life’s curveballs (a.k.a. “character-building” experiences), but only because when something knocks me down, my friends and family surround me with unfailing fervor.  Their smarts, encouragement, and kindness humble me.  I can be hard on myself, always pushing through and thinking I can solve problems with enough effort.  They help ground me and remind me of what’s right and true.  

Favorite word?

I love words!  Two favorites:

Disarming – my favorite word so far for 2015.  Its relative rarity in everyday parlance + mental picture of knights laying down swords + the actual Oxford Dictionary definition of “having the effect of allaying suspicion or hostility, especially through charm” + synonyms:  winning, charming, irresistible, persuasive, beguiling = kind of perfect.  I want this word on my gravestone.  Tell my kids, OK?

Grace – to me it’s the union in the Venn diagram of resilience and wisdom.  It sings of elegance.  Understated power.  Triumph over adversity, Heart.  Plus it carries mental associations with dance and food.  So much there to love.

What new thing have you learned lately?

To start asking “Does this work?” instead of “Is this right?”

This is especially helpful in situations where there may be more than one right way to do things (like how to resolve conflict, deal with grief, raise kids, co-parent after divorce, assess life choices).  It removes judgment from the equation.  

As a recovering perfectionist, the idea of “right” easily shifts into the notion of “perfect”, which is limiting, unattainable, and often focused more on external than internal cues.  "Right" can also unnecessarily cast someone or something else as “wrong”.   Now I ask “Does this work?” and I know that if the answer is no, at least I’ve learned one way *not* to do things.  Progress…that works.

Want more? Connect with Cat on LinkedIn

Photo Credit: Jamie Kelter Davis Photography