Tag: Women in Leadership

Women and Sustainability

In recent years, the theme of sustainability has emerged as an issue that needs urgent attention. As a result, there have been an increasing number of initiatives that have been introduced to reverse the damage that we have inflicted on nature. One of the positives of this is that in recent years there have been a growing number of women who have taken an active role in promoting taking the sustainable path.

In line with this, Prestige Malaysia and Volvo Malaysia recently came together to host a session highlighting the role women can play in pushing forward the sustainability agenda and the positive impact it can have on the position of women in society.

The session, themed Women Empowerment & Sustainability, saw perspectives shared by Sasibai Kimis, founder of Earth Heir, Jesrina Arshad, CEO and co-founder of PurelyB and Jenny Gu, the director of China Product and Revenue as well as director of Volvo Car, Asia Pacific.

Throughout the session, the speakers shared the necessary steps taken by their respective organisations in developing sustainable practices, while also talking about the importance of sustainable and ethical business practices, focusing in particular on how these practices can impact women positively.

Sustainability and ethical practices have been synonymous with the Volvo brand. “Safety is in the genes of Volvo,” explained Gu. At the heart of the automotive company is the philosophy that cars are made for people. And as a result, the concept of safety has been broadened to include allowing people “the freedom to move in a personal, safe and sustainable way. Personal is about protecting livings, sustainable is about protecting life and safety is about protecting lives. That is the new vision for Volvo.”

Jenny Gu, China Director of Product and Revenue
and Director of Volvo, Asia Pacific

Earth Heir, meanwhile, was founded to serve traditional artisans in underserved communities and in doing so, facilitate economic development for those communities. The hope for the social enterprise is that the artisans grow to be independent, be upskilled and develop sustainable livelihoods. 

At Purely B, the mission is clear. It is to promote healthy, sustainable living through education.

“That’s why we created Purely B,” said Jesrina. “There was a lack of education from an objective standpoint. We cover a lot of these topics like clean eating and a zero waste lifestyle in ways that are relevant and easy to adapt. A lot of people think it is not easy to make such changes but our content is created to let people know that it can be done.” Through adopting these practices, she added, sustainable living is something that can be achieved.

While a lot of companies are looking at developing sustainable right now, Sasibai that it is a commitment for companies, particularly, big corporations to review all aspects of their operations from “top to bottom” if they are truly committed to taking a sustainable approach.

“It requires looking at your impact as a company and looking at your business model,” she says. “You need to ask how you make money and what happens to the products after its useful life. You need to think about the circularity. That is key at Earth Heir and key to how we think about our work.”

Sasibai Kamis, Founder and CEO of Earth Heir

This is something Volvo is striving to achieve. The carmaker is targeting to become a circular business by 2040. “The circular economy,” explained Gu, “requires a loop of all materials. It is something that has to be consideredfrom the beginning when we design the vehicle.” 

Adopting a circular approach means that more bio-based and recycled materials will be used in future Volvo cars. Other targets set for 2040 include becoming climate neutral and to be an ethical and responsible business. As part of its climate neutral goals, the company targets to reduce carbon emissions per car by 40% by 2025 and to be 100% electric by 2030. With regards to becoming an ethical and responsible business, Volvo has already started putting in various policies to ensure that this objective is met. Already, the company has introduced parental leave to encourage employees to spend more time with the family. 

“This is us becoming a responsible business,” she said.

Policies like these, said Sasibai, are examples of compassionate leadership. As we move forward, she added, it is important to think about compassion and emphatic leadership, while also reminding that leadership is something that should be looked at from a “genderless” perspective. This is the approach at Earth Heir, where each member is looked at as a whole, without necessarily having to distinguish between the personal and the professional.

“If there is a problem, we will work on it and figure it out together,” she said. “For me, that’s what compassionate leadership is about.”

Particularly, with regards to women in the workforce, Women, she said, do carry a lot of load in society and we hope that more leaders and corporates will realise that and become more supportive of the family unit. 

It is a point that Jesrina agreed with. It is important she said that companies create a culture that is able to foster loyalty and bonds with the team. People, she stressed, are everything to do with a company’s success. In addition, she added, that strong leadership can also be built when there is strong purpose.

“If you don’t have a strong why about wanting to start or lead a business, you have to ask if you will have what it takes because it is not an easy journey. It is the why that makes you rise above them. It is purpose with perseverance.”

During the session, Jesrina shared that during the pandemic, she discovered another “why” for PurelyB, which was to support women who had been negatively impacted by the pandemic.

“There were more job losses,” she said. “Single mothers were also trying to make ends meet. I had to ask what we could do. You have to get over the mindset that you can’t do much. You just have to look at yourself and see what skills you have. For me, digital marketing are part of my skills set. There are lot of women who don’t how to get started in business and so we set out to create a programme to help women upskill.”

Mentoring, added Sasibai, can be an effective way to achieve equality in the workplace. But she stressed that it is also important to look at it from a genderless lens. 

“We don’t live in a vacuum,” she said. “You cannot have women reaching up and growing on their own. You need men who support and believe that women have a place in leadership and that they have same rights that men have.”

It is a point that Jesrina agreed with. It is important to reflect and see what you can give back. 

The webinar explores how sustainable practices can impact the position of women positively

“You got there because people helped you and it is important to see what you can do to pay it forward.”

That is what PurelyB has been trying to do. The company which produces its own line of traditional health food products works with traditional healers and herbalists from the villages. 

“We work with a lot of women from villages,” she explained. “This is an area where we can help train and create jobs for marginalised women.”

For Gu, her current position at Volvo is one that allows to marry the commercial and industrial side. Her role has enabled her to not only be aware of advanced technology but to also think about how these technologies can presented to the customers in a way they can understand.

“That’s why I volunteered for this sustainability focus area,” she said. “I have seen great effort made by engineers over the past year and I feel empowered to work on these things that are aimed at protecting lives.”

Women, Empowerment and Sustainability, a webinar by Prestige Malaysia and Volvo Malaysia is available here

CEO of Hong Leong Investment Bank Lee Jim Leng on leadership and diversity

Lee Jim Leng CEO Hong Leong Investment Bank

Lee Jim Leng knows what she wants in life. During her early adolescent years, she told her parents she did not want to enrol in a Chinese school for fear of having to cut her hair short. When the time came for her to pursue her tertiary education, she settled on Canada. “Why so far?” her father asked. “It’s the cheapest place to study!” she replied candidly. 

Though banking was never on the cards, Jim Leng graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree in Business Administration from Acadia University and a Master’s Degree in Business Administration from Dalhousie University. It was then that she discovered she was actually good at accounting and finance, hence settling on banking as a profession. “Funnily, being a banker was not even something we would ascribe to be when we were in our primary years. When the teacher asked us to list down our top three professions, I filled in nurse, air stewardess and pilot,” says the CEO of Hong Leong Investment Bank, who has made banking her world for more than three decades now. 

“The truth is, during the initial stage of my career, I had no idea that banking was going to be my one and only career. I only know I was very excited with the learning environment and that I was actually quite good at it!” The formidable CEO and managing director who currently leads the investment banking arm of Hong Leong Capital first dabbled in commercial banking at Ban Hin Lee Bank Bhd in 1989 before moving to corporate finance. 

In 1993, she joined Schroders Malaysia and fell in love with the fast-paced world of investment banking where the stakes are high and fortunes are made. But success does not come without hardships and Jim Leng has had her fair share of rejection during her initial years at Schroders. How does she retain a sense of optimism when the going gets tough? “Most people often quit when times are bad. But when you love what you’re doing, everything has a purpose. I have always embraced the attitude of giving my best and focusing on improving every day. It’s the culmination of the little steps that we take that will make us stronger by the day. And I believe in perseverance, humility and sincerity,” she says. 

Lee Jim Leng fashions Off-white Leather Dress with Fringe Detailing from Bottega Veneta

Her unwavering spirit and perseverance stems from a challenging childhood as Jim Leng, who hails from Penang, recalls sharing the same room with her family of six until they could afford their first low-cost flat. “My dad was born in China and only came to Malaysia at the age of 12. He runs a trading business and was only able to afford schooling up to primary six. But he worked so hard and I was ever so proud that he made it on his own and enough to send me and my siblings abroad,” she shares. Thus, Jim Leng has always embraced setbacks as part of her life.

We learn to accept that we can’t have everything. We work around it, try to overcome them and accept that once we’ve tried our best, limitations must be embraced.

Lee Jim Leng

Jim Leng’s steadfast resolution and ability to adapt in any situation has also contributed to her success, leading her team to achieve a few firsts, including ushering in a new era of capital repayment and working with the Securities Commission Malaysia on the first private debt securities during her time at UOB. “For an investment bank, the biggest asset is our talent pool. Each year, we invest heavily in talent building to drive innovation. This helps us find better solutions to meet our clients’ needs,” she says.

However, a good team falls back on a true leader and Jim Leng believes in transformational leadership by leading through inspiration, empowerment and stimulating her employees to exceed normal levels of performance. “I believe in direct sponsorship and accounting of results, rewarding for performance and recognition for innovation. If you are good at what you do, the results should follow,” she remarks.

In today’s digital era, she acknowledges that knowledge is almost a given and the rise of Alipay and Wechat has surfaced as a new threat to banks. But Jim Leng has always believed in the key value of applying sincerity in looking after her clients’ long-term interests instead of chasing after profits for the bank. She notes that profits made from short-term strategies without taking into consideration of the client’s interest will often result in a loss of long-term brand reputation and sustainability of the bank.

It’s easy to see why Jim Leng’s clients trust her enough to build a close rapport as she is able to strike up a conversation with anyone at any given time. This winning personality has carried her through and she believes that being outspoken is a quality that, when used with skill and wisdom, can set you apart from the crowd. “The key is to be selectively outspoken and applied effectively to get your thought process and idea through,” she says.

Armed with an equally bold sense of dressing which may sometimes be seen as unconventional in the traditional world of banking, Jim Leng is unabashedly unapologetic as she cites Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg and Richard Branson as other unconventional CEOs who no longer abide by conservative dark suits dress codes. “What I am sure is that when I feel good in what I wear, I exude confidence. I’m hoping to send across the message that my abilities are not judged by what I wear but rather how I conduct my conversations and presentations professionally and competently to my clients.”

As the only girl in her family, gender was never an issue in her household as her parents never interfered with her career plans. As for whether she believes in the notion that women have to prove themselves a lot more in order to reach leadership positions, she wholeheartedly disagrees. “Most employers and institutions today practise and embrace diversity and equality. Women who did not move towards substantial leadership positions were often forced to leave the industry halfway to care for their children or ageing parents,” she remarks.

After being in a banking career spanning almost 30 years, Jim Leng fuels her thirst for success and life’s indulgent pleasures through her inherent passion for her job. “Success is liking yourself, liking what you do and liking how you do it,” she says, quoting Maya Angelou before strapping on her blue Prada heels and strutting out the door. 

Soo Shea Pin on the changing role of women in society

There is an almost Thatcher-like quality to Soo Shea Pin. That she displays a similar fortitude in the way she presents herself is perhaps unsurprising. After all Shea Pin was a young law student in the UK during the rise of Thatcherism. Incidentally, the former British prime minister, was also a strong influence on Anya Hindmarch, the witty accessories line that the former lawyer turned entrepreneur introduced into Malaysia 10 years ago. 

Like Thatcher who displayed ambition even as a child, Shea Pin, at a young age, also knew what she wanted to become. At just nine, she informs without hesitation, she knew that she wanted to be a lawyer. It was a profession, she believed, that would give her a voice that seemed to be absent among women during the era of her childhood.

“I came from a background where women had very little power and very little independence,” she says. “It was always the men making money and the women were housewives with no say. I believed that there must be a way to do something to see that you don’t become one of those women.”

Shea Pin knew that she wanted to be “someone strong” and being a lawyer, she says, encapsulated that. There was a certain stature that came with being in the law, where one would be heard simply by virtue of one’s occupation. It, however, seemed a distant goal. Women lawyers, at the time, were rare. The late Tan Sri P.G. Lim was one of the few women who belonged to the profession.

There weren’t many people to inspire you and there was no CNN or anything like that. You had to quietly create your own ambition and work on it.

Soo Shea Pin
Soo Shea Pin is the true definition of a power women.

Making it all the more challenging was that Shea Pin who studied in a Chinese language school was not very proficient in English as a child. Reader’s Digest, she says, was her “English teacher” and she used to underline all the unfamiliar words. That meant almost every word, she adds in jest. 

But she was aware that education, particularly for women, would be the means through which one could gain standing in society and excel in life. Thus, even when as a pre-university student, she struggled with English Literature, constrained by language, raising doubts among her lecturers about her ability to pursue Law, Shea Pin knew that it was something that she had to do, “by hook or by crook.”  

The struggle continued as a student in the UK. English, she stresses, was everywhere. As an undergraduate, it was just about understanding the basics and achieving a higher grade was something that didn’t even factor into the equation. But it was while pursuing the Bar that everything just “clicked”.

“I could speak well and understand the intricacies of being a lawyer,” she says. “I realised that if I wanted to be a barrister, I would have to think and be like one.”

Thus, when she passed the Bar, an exam that had a 75 percent failure rate, Shea Pin returned to Malaysia with greater confidence. As a young lawyer, she had found her voice. People listened when she spoke. Nonetheless, she was also aware that as a young woman, constantly coming into contact with men who were bankers, developers and in business, that there were many things that she couldn’t do, simply because she was a woman.

“You couldn’t just go for a meeting and exercise your voice,” she says. “I had a lot to prove and show that I was capable. I learnt to communicate.”

When attending meetings, Shea Pin would arrive earlier to ensure that she could choose a strategic seat that would allow her to address everyone in the room. She would arrange her files in a certain way to ensure that she would not struggle with papers during the meeting.

Life as a lawyer was demanding. Shea Pin worked eight days a week. Two hours a day from your sleep every day, she says, will make eight days in a week. 

“I felt very good about it. I felt I could do more,” she says. “You begin to feel the power in you that you never discovered. You can get carried away with that energy and power because you keep stretching yourself until you can’t take it anymore. Then you realise you have more!” 

I felt very good about it. I felt I could do more. You begin to feel the power in you that you never discovered. You can get carried away with that energy and power because you keep stretching yourself until you can’t take it anymore. Then you realise you have more!

Soo Shea Pin

Along the way, Shea Pin discovered that she had mastered the ability to communicate with these lawyers and bankers. She also came into contact with other women attempting to make their way in the world.

“I admired these women who I worked with because I knew how difficult the environment was to be independent, to have a voice,” she says. “After a while, it became not difficult anymore. I think when people find that you do your job, that you are responsible, they will respect for what you do and what you say.”

Having come from a traditional upbringing, Shea Pin believed that education was the path to achieving a higher level of economic independence. The world is different now, she acknowledges. 

“You don’t have to go through the typical way of achieving things in life.” 

It is, perhaps, that which led to Shea Pin embarking on a different profession after practising as a lawyer for 20 years. It wasn’t that she was approaching 40 – age doesn’t bother her – but following changes that were starting to plague the legal profession, Shea Pin began searching for more.  

“I felt I needed more meaning in life,” she says. “Being a lawyer gave me meaning but having gone through many years of it. Then there was the constitutional crisis, the Bar Council problems with the arrests of lawyers, things were not the way that I felt it should be. I felt that lawyers should be more independent, efficient and respectable. All the answers were not positive. I felt it was time to move on to a new point in life.”

Having come into contact with many successful men in business, Shea Pin was inspired to discover if she too was skilled in business. 

“I wasn’t sure I had,” she says. “It was an instinctive move to do something different in life and pursue my passion for business.” 

The opportunity came when at 40, Shea Pin received a call from a friend who suggested the possibility to venture into the fashion industry. 

“I was instantly attracted to the idea and started venturing into that, again not knowing how but somehow the confidence grew and the direction became clearer as I became more decisive to leave the legal practice and move bravely into the luxury fashion retail business.”

Now having successfully introduced the Anya Hindmarch and French Sole brands into Malaysia, Shea Pin celebrates 10 years as an entrepreneur in 2018. Despite both brands having to shutter due to unforeseen circumstances, Shea Pin continues to established her presence in the fashion retail industry with the opening of British royal heritage brand Halcyon Days and later on with Feith, a multi-label shoe company she founded together with her daughter Wen Fei. 

“Women somehow have become so strong, maybe not by choice but by circumstances that if you are not, you will just be a traditional woman and is that what you want?” she asks. “If that is what you want, fine but if not, then you have to find your way.”