When 30-year-old Jeff Lee isn’t busy working for prestigious law firms or earning his business degree at Stanford, he finds himself halfway around the world judging and coaching some of the most beautiful women imaginable — and that’s just his hobby.
Lee is renowned in Asia for teaching already-beautiful women to be — literally — the best in the world and win the title of Miss Universe, a dream job of his that he’s had, oddly enough, since childhood. He now holds the women he judges up to the same high standards he holds for himself, holding the unofficial title of “Mr. Miss Universe” according to an interview with GQ.
Within just the last five years, Lee has coached Miss Albania, four Miss Chinas and Miss Indonesia, all of whom reached the semifinals or took home a pageant prize.
Lee coaches models on every tiny aspect of the pageant — their poise, personality, finesse, their patience, their walk, their answers to all possible questions and even their strategic placement next to models of other countries.
Lee will discuss models by saying, “her face can be problematic,” her “teeth can be distracting” or telling them straight up, “You need to drop ten pounds. That’s just a statement of fact.”
Lee justifies everything by constantly saying, “This is a beauty pageant, at the end of the day.”
For women looking to win a pageant like Miss Universe, most of the leg work is done in the days before the actual pageant — by the day of the pageant, all semi-finalists and winners have already been negotiated.
According to Lee, in the decade before Donald Trump sold the Miss Universe pageant last year, the billionaire presidential candidate hand-picked up to six predetermined semi-finalists, calling them “Trump cards”.
Trump, who has a history of marrying Eastern European models, would often pick Melania clones” but also “liked India a lot, too,” Lee explains. Knowing this, Lee made Miss China 2013 learn the phrase “Hello, Mr. Trump, I’m Miss China—come to China.”
Lee, whose parents are Taiwanese immigrants, grew up as the stereotypical hard-working Asian kid but developed an ambitious edge.
From an early age he received extra tutoring and SAT prep classes. By the time he was in high school, his parents enrolled him in Corona Del Mar High School in Newport Beach, California where he “would only compete against white kids” who were lazy, according to his parents.
After getting a B on an AP chemistry test, Lee cried believing his life to be over. He explained:
“In my mind that day, I had missed my Olympic trial time. My future was over.”
Because of his hardworking academic lifestyle and peculiar interests, one being Miss Universe and attending local pageants, Lee was bullied and struggled to make close friends. To earn respect and fit in, he campaigned for homecoming king and won.
Having skipped a grade in middle school, Lee was only 16 by the time he was admitted to Stanford University, the only non-Ivy League school deemed acceptable by his parents. Lee explained:
“The way my parents say Berkeley, it’s the dirtiest word. To them it represents Asian failure.”
Lee got his start in advising Miss Universe contestants when, as a freshman in college, he applied for an internship with the organizers of Miss Venezuela, known as the “Harvard of pageants”. Unfortunately they never wrote him back, but without giving up, he built a website to document Venezuela pageants and a year later, the father of Venezuelan-born American model Monica Spear emailed him for advice.
During her run at Miss Venezuela, Lee suggested a light makeup with hair down for a fresh look — Spear went on to win the pageant, bringing Lee along to his first Miss Universe pageant.
Even Yale professor Amy Chua, famous for her “tiger mom” parenting philosophy, was impressed with the how much much Lee excelled:
“He was multitalented, with more energy and drive than almost anybody I’d ever seen.
Lee also jokes, saying, “Actually, my mom scares Amy Chua.”
In college, Lee befriended athletes in the dorms who taught him to eat right and build muscle, forming the high physical standards he now holds himself to.
Lee went on to attend Yale to get a law degree before working in M&A at the prestigious New York firm Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz. Last year, Lee quit to go back and attend Stanford’s business school.
Now he focuses on his rigorous schedule, balancing getting his business degree and coaching the most beautiful women in the world. Lee often survives on less than four hours of sleep and takes naps throughout the day.
At the international law firm Sullivan & Cromwell, Lee vowed to be “the highest-billing motherfucker in here,” and has billed 400 hours in one month at least a couple times, once resulting in a staph infection.
He has worked so late that he developed a rash and collapsed under the office shower at the law firm from working so much.
Lee also competed in a city-wide fitness challenge at Equinox gym, working out three times a day and cutting his body fat from 12% to 3%.
While he was in law school, Lee also began the 15-month process to convert to Judaism, thinking he needed God in his life. Lee even went through the ritualistic circumcision process at the conversion ceremony. Lee explained:
“It’s not like, Oh, I’m gonna convert to Christianity in, like, a day, because I’m having a tough time. Jews make you prove it.”