Mei Xu is a Chinese American entrepreneur, woman business leader, and the founder and CEO of two global lifestyle brands, Chesapeake Bay Candle and Blissliving Home.
Xu established Chesapeake Bay Candle in 1994, and grew it into a global designer, marketer and manufacturer of home fragrance products sold through major U.S. retailers on Amazon.com including Target, Kohl’s, and Bed, Bath & Beyond, and enjoyed by millions of people around the globe. In 2011, Xu expanded her manufacturing facilities and opened a U.S. factory in Maryland, reshoring more than 100 jobs. In September 2017, Xu sold the company to Newell Brands, adding Chesapeake Bay Candle to the consumer products company’s portfolio of other iconic brands (Rubbermaid, Sharpie Markers, Elmer’s Glue) that have been household mainstays for generations.
Xu has an inspirational personal story and journey to entrepreneurship. Born in Hangzhou, China in 1967, Xu came of age during China’s transformation to a more open, market-oriented economy following Chairman Mao’s death. At age 12, Xu was selected to attend a language immersion boarding school set up by the Chinese government to train diplomats for Foreign Service. She continued her education at Beijing Foreign Studies, but her goal of entering the diplomatic corps was never realized, as she, like all college graduates of 1989, the year of the Tiananmen Square Uprising, was sent for “re-education” to a work assignment in the countryside. After one year, in a bold and definite move, Xu quit to move to the U.S. to begin graduate school at the University of Maryland College Park. After completing her master’s degree, Xu moved to New York to work for a high-tech, medical company that exported equipment to China. Her “aha moment” happened as she was shopping one day in Bloomingdales and noticed the abundance of sophisticated, contemporary ready-to-wear apparel compared to the scarcity of modern, home décor offerings. Inspired, she returned to rejoin her then husband in their home in Annapolis, near the Chesapeake Bay, and began her candle-making venture, using Campbell’s soup cans as molds. Her lucky mistake was forgetting to add a key ingredient to create the “normal” satin wax candle finish, but this omission led to Xu’s breakthrough and signature design – a unique, mottled texture.
Xu’s entrepreneurial success story has been reported on by major news organizations, including the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, NPR, the Baltimore Sun, CNBC and MSNBC. Read more here.
She is frequently invited to speak at universities including the Wharton Business School, the Robert S. Smith School of Business at the University of Maryland, Georgetown University, Tsinghua University in Beijing and by business groups and government agencies. In 2012, she was invited by the White House to participate in the “Insourcing American Jobs” forum hosted by President Obama. Xu’s presentation topics and areas of expertise include: women’s business leadership, entrepreneurship, Made in America/re-shoring initiatives, minority-owned businesses, consumer lifestyle trends, the importance of a global education and business development in China. Most recently in 2017, Xu was invited to speak on NPR’s “How I Built This” segment on her incredible story of entrepreneurship and business growth, as well as at the Fortune Most Powerful Women’s International Summit in Hong Kong on the issues of women leadership, empowerment and entrepreneurship.
Xu’s business achievements have repeatedly been recognized by prominent organizations. She has been honored by, amongst others, Smart CEO with the Brava Award; the World Trade Center Institute with the Maryland International Business Leadership Award; the Asian American Chamber of Commerce with the Business Leader of the Year Award; the Asian Women in Business Organization with the Entrepreneurial Leadership Award; the Washington Business Journal with the Women Who Mean Business Award; the Maryland Daily Record with the Most Admired CEO Award; and the University of Maryland with the Philip Merrill College of Journalism Distinguished Alumnus Award. Xu was also inducted into the Enterprising Women Hall of Fame by Enterprising Women magazine.
Xu serves on the boards of many organizations and is active in the community. She is a member of the Committee of 200 (C200), an invitation-only organization of the world’s most successful women entrepreneurs and corporate innovators. She is a board member of the World Affairs Council; a Fellow at the Aspen Institute; a member of the U.S. China Business Council; a delegate to Fortune’s Most Powerful Women Summit; a mentor with the Fortune/U.S. State Department
Global Women’s Mentoring Partnership; and a WEConnect Founding International Ambassador. Xu also serves on two boards dedicated to furthering education and development, the “Imagine the Future of Teaching” Committee at Sidwell Friends School in Washington, DC, and the Board of Trustees at the McLean School in Potomac, MD.
Xu and her family live in Bethesda, Maryland.