All our Great Women of our Time awards alumnae have taken a leap into the unknown at one point in their careers and for them it made the difference between being on top of their game or struggling at the bottom of the career ladder.
If you need a refresher, The Singapore Women’s Weekly shines the spotlight on 18 outstanding, high-achieving working women every year in six respective categories as part of the awards.
Our previous nominees include a media savant who founded Singapore’s first YouTube channel to reach 1 million subscribers, a dating-service entrepreneur who targets high-net worth individuals and lifestyle revolutionary Elim Chew. This year, they are joined by the following nominees in the Finance & Commerce category:
Our nominees might be at the height of their careers now, but each told us how their radical actions set them on the path to success early on in their work lives. Read on to find out their advice:
Karen took the unconventional route towards success in 2002 when she founded her company, ScienTech Consulting, a recruitment agency specialising in the life sciences industry.
A series of setbacks from young, which includes a delay in completing her primary school studies and two consecutive job retrenchments, actually set the stage.
She started ScienTec Consulting with a working capital of $10,000 and the sole knowledge that the sector had been singled out by the government as one of the nation’s growth pillars in early 2000.
“Life Sciences was a virtually non-existent industry in Singapore when I started out. Though we had the first mover advantage, looking back I feel we were a little too ahead of our time.” The credit to this success goes to Karen’s perseverance and resourcefulness.
Working 16 to 18 hours a day and often resorting to sleeping in the office, the gutsy entrepreneurs refined her business to come up with a global search methodology that would become the company’s winning formula in recruitment.
It was acquired in recent years at a valuation of $10 million to Will Group Inc., a manpower outsourcing company listed on the Tokyo Stock Exchange. It was under Karen’s leadership, however, that the company won over 20 industry awards including Recruitment Agency of the Year and Best Client Servicing.
It couldn’t be more of a fairytale ending for someone who came from a modest background: Her father was a taxi driver and mum a night-shift worker.
“Growing up, it seems like there was just enough to feed us and pay for our school fees. I didn’t have much toys compared to other kids I knew, but I was okay with it, I could always come up with something to play with,” she says, exposing her resourcefulness even at a young age.
“Though I understood the importance of money, I was never driven to be rich. I was, however, driven to be successful, perhaps thanks to my academic failures. I think my story’s really come full circle.”
The number of women finding success in real estate financing and property management is growing. But making a break into the development eludes many.
Jaelle, the director of Thai-based real estate business, Country Group Development (CGD), is looking to change that with her latest venture: An ambitious waterfront development near Bangkok’s Chao Phraya River, which will include a Four Seasons Hotel, Asia’s first Four Seasons Private Residences and a Capella Hotel.
“It’s currently the largest scale development project in Thailand for the next decade but like anything worth doing, there were challenges along the way,” Jaelle reveals. For one, the plot of land, which she chanced upon in 2009, was messy – it had a fish market and 300 rickety houses on it.
But Jaelle, a trained architect, saw great potential. Convincing the client (Four Seasons) of the same, however, wasn’t going to be easy.
“It took a lot of persistence and stubbornness on my part because I had to convince these huge brands to come in and believe in my vision. Imagine bringing in the president of Four Seasons to the area and telling him that this smelly, fish market was where his next resort was going to be located.”
Clearly, she succeeded in making a convincing case because the US-based luxry hotel hotel brand signed on to be part of her long-term legacy project.
Jaelle is also the CEO and Co-Founder of The Great Room Offices, a sprawling co-working space at One George Street. It has sister properties in Bangkok and Hong Kong, with more properties in the works.
“The Great Room Offices was very much inspired by the dynamics that can be found in luxe hotel lobbies around the world. We worked with hotel designers to create a magical space rather than with office designers who create just functional space,” explains Jaelle.
Jaelle’s success can be attributed largely to her go-getting life motto: “Whatever effort you think is required to achieve something, you have to multiply that by 10. So that if you reach for the stars, when you fall you won’t fall too low.”
Like snacking? Then you’ve surely heard of San SeSan Global. It’s responsible for stocking up our supermarket shelves with some of the most binge-worthy nibbles. And Christine is the woman behind this global food marketer and importer.
“My partners and I acquired the business in 2003 for $30,000. I leapt at the chance even though I had no entrepreneurial experience because I’ve always been inspired by stories of business owners who strike out on their own to create something from nothing,” reveals Christine.
But she soon found herself pursuing her dream alone. Unable to handle the capital-intensive initial years of the business, and the mounting losses, her partners wanted out.
But the eternally optimistic Christine refused to quit. “I simply decided that San SeSan had to succeed, so I bit the bullet and pushed through, and even though I kept falling down, I was always hungry to do better,” she says.
“That setback actually gave me the chance to understand the business better because I suddenly got the chance to do a little bit of sales, and a little bit of marketing. I learnt to manage every aspect of the business from accounts to design and packaging. In the end, I could manage everything myself.”
Christine’s persistence paid off. San SeSan Global has had a turnover of $12 million annually since 2016. It also has 100 per cent coverage in all supermarkets, hypermarkets and convenience stores in Singapore. And she has plans to expand its global presence from 19 to 30 countries within the next three years.