In an economy that favors a male-orientated driven narrative, women entrepreneurs have been on low supply, especially in Asia. But in recent years, a select few have been changing the game, and giving rise to more female-led businesses that are driving the idea that women have a place in the boardroom.
In Malaysia alone, we have our share of women in business who have made a name for themselves, dominating their respective industries. In this feature, we take a look at some of these notable movers and shakers who are continuing to pave the way for the future of female leaders.
Lee Jim Leng
CEO and Group Managing Director of Hong Leong Investment Bank
The CEO and group managing director of Hong Leong Investment Bank, Lee Jim Leng Jim has more than 20 years of experience in the financial industry, specialising mainly in investment banking. A business administration graduate from Acadia University and Dalhousie University in Canada, Ms. Lee discovered that she had a knack for accounting and finance and proceeded to pursue a professional career in banking.
In 1993, Ms. Lee joined the investment banking division at UOB and Hwang-DBS Investment Bank, Schroders Malaysia, where she was truly able to shine. Before joining Hong Leong Bank, she was also the managing director of a local investment bank where she spearheaded the overall development of the bank's investment business in Malaysia and finding success in a primarily male-dominated environment.
In her eclectic career, she has been appointed a non-independent and non-executive director of Hong Leong Capital Bhd and is currently the chairman of Malaysian investment banking Association (MIBA), council member AICB, board director of Asian Banking school.
Datin Vivy Yusof
Co-founder of Fashion Valet & dUCk Group
Photo Credit: Fashion Valet
An entrepreneur, influencer and accomplished fashionista, Datin Vivy Yusof is most famously known as the Founder and Group Creative Director of fashion e-commerce platform, FashionValet, which she co-founded with her then boyfriend Dato' Fadzarudin Shah Anuar, also known as Fadza, in 2010 when the pair were only 23 years old.
A law graduate from the London School of Economics, she harboured an entrepreneurial spirit from a young age. After a stint at her father's property development company, it inspired her to have a business of her own.
Now, FashionValet has grown into one of Southeast Asia's largest fashion sites and a multi-million dollar company with offices and warehouses in Malaysia, Jakarta, and Singapore, showcasing products from up-and-coming designers across the region. Vivy is also the co-founder of The dUCk Group, one of the fastest-growing local brands selling scarves, bags and cosmetics under the label, DUCk.
Apart from being one of the most influential female entrepreneurs in the country, Vivy's achievements have also gained her recognition by internationally renowned brands. She was selected to be a part the 2018 #DiorSaddle campaign and was the first Hijabi woman to be named a Friend of Louis Vuitton. When she's not living the dream life of every fashion entrepreneur, you can find her making waves on her social media, displaying the ins-and-outs of her busy life to her millions of followers.
Founder and Managing Director of Wanderlust + Co
Photo Credit: Wanderlust + Co
What started as a passion project for Jenn Low to make up for the market's lack of affordable, designer-like accessories has now become an internationally sought-after brand. The brand has its humble beginnings in Jenn's bedroom in Melbourne, Australia when she was still in the midst of studying accounting and communications.
Back then, Jenn started her business with only approximately RM10,000 of start-up capital and a whole lot of dreams. The business got its footing in Australia before Jenn made the major decision to move back home to Malaysia, bringing the business with her. Though a hefty risk for a new company, she made it work, packing and shipping orders from her family home.
11 years on and now a mom of two, she continues to be at the forefront of Wanderlust + Co's exceptional growth, pushing her once small business to an international brand with 70% of its business coming from the USA and products stocked in more than 400 stores worldwide. The brand's pieces have also been seen on a slew of international stars such as Jessica Alba, Kendall Jenner, Vanessa Hudgens, Gigi Hadid and Selena Gomez.
Goh Ai Ching
CEO and Co-founder of Piktochart
Photo Credit: Piktochart
An accidental entrepreneur of sorts, Goh Ai Ching founded Piktochart, a web application that makes use of infographics, presentations and printables as a visual tool for businesses to communicate, shortly after graduating with a degree in Experimental Psychology from the University of Bristol.
After suffering a serious case of burnout from working a year and half at Procter & Gamble (P&G), she was forced her into a doctor-prescribed bed rest that made her re-evaluate her life choices. With no prior experience in the industry, she set out to start her company with her husband Andrea Zaggia in 2011.
With their base of operations working out of Penang, the company has focused their efforts beyond what it was initially set out to do, engaging in content generation, hiring, talent management and culture “shaping.” Recently, Ai Ching's accomplishments were recognised at the prestigious 2020 British Council Alumni Awards, where she came out victorious in the entrepreneurial category.
Datin Winnie Loo
Founder, CEO and Creative Director of A Cut Above
Photo Credit: Wikimedia
A pioneer in the hair beauty industry, Datin Winnie Loo has taken the Malaysian salon market to new heights with her claim to fame as the founder, chief executive officer and creative director of the A Cut Above Group and Academy. A renowned household name, Winnie and her husband Dato’ Richard Teo started A Cut Above back in 1979 when it was but a 428 square feet salon that has now grown to be one of the top hair salons in the country, with the inclusion of sister brands, X-Cut and Restyle+.
An Ipoh native, Datin Winnie knew hair design was her calling, opting out of the family business and packing her bags to head off to London, where she trained at Morris Masterclass under the tutelage of celebrity stylist, the late Vidal Sassoon.
Her many years shaping the future the industry has seen her honoured for her dedication to the profession. She is an Honorary President of Malaysian Hairdressing Association, President of Asia Hair designer Association and the World Master of the Craft by the Art & Fashion Group in New York, as the only Malaysian to hold the title. Datin Winnie has also taken to breaking conventional ideals and proving that it is never too late to get your education, enrolling in a 12-month executive masters Business Administration programme in 2020.
CEO of Thomson Hospital Kota Damansara & Group CEO of TMC Life Sciences
Photo Credit: Forbes Asia
Nadiah Wan's name and accomplishments have led her to becoming a familiar name in the media and female-led business community. Well-known for being the youngest person appointed to the Chief Executive Officer position at Thomson Hospital Kota Damansara in 2017 at the age 32, this is just but one esteemed position Nadiah holds.
She also served as the Executive Director and Group Chief Executive Officer of TMC Life Sciences Berhad and the Chief Operating Officer for Clinical Services at Sunway Medical Centre following a two-year stint at Boston Consulting Group.
Dedicated to making a difference from a young age, Nadiah is a MSc Public Health Nutrition degree holder from the London School of Hygiene and Medicine, UK, and an AB cum Laude in Biochemical Sciences from Harvard College. As a proud alum, she now serves as an Interviewer for the Harvard College admissions and is currently the Vice-President of the Harvard Club of Malaysia.
Recently, was appointed Director of the Institute of Corporate Directors Malaysia and was honoured for her leadership roles by being listed on Forbes’ Asia's Power Businesswomen 2021 list, joining other powerhouse women from the Asia-Pacific region, as the only Malaysian named on the list.
Founder and CEO of ChristyNg.com
Photo Credit: Christy Ng
Heralded as the next Jimmy Choo, Christy Ng is the founder and CEO behind the self-titled shoe retailer and manufacturing brand, Christy Ng that specialises in creating comfortable yet affordable custom-made and ready-to-wear women's fashion footwear.
Growing up in a poor family, Christy was taught to always strive for the top, helping her parents make ends meet whether it be selling straw flowers with her mom or entering a multitude of contests to clinch first place. This was not for nothing though, as these trying moments instilled the Johor-born entrepreneur with strong principles and a thick skin to never let uncertainty hold her back.
A hard worker at heart, the idea to create her own shoe line came after one-too-many long shifts and more comfortable (leather) options were too pricey for the then 17-year-old to consider. Even after pursuing a career in a Swiss pharmaceutical company, she continued to design her own shoes, which she shared on social media to favourable feedback.
Through sheer perseverance and passion, Christy Ng has now grown to twice the size it once was and features an array of uniquely designed shoes, all making use of the business’ ingenuity to use 3D technology to offer a more interactive design and shopping experience.
Co-founder and CEO of Dropee
Photo Credit: Dropee
Lennise Ng is the CEO of Dropee, a B2B e-commerce platform that connects wholesale suppliers with retailers which she co-founded with business partner Aizat Rahim in 2017. As a 3rd generation entrepreneur of a family rubber manufacturer and distribution business, she's worked in tech venture capital accelerators to multinational companies from the age of 19.
Prior to the founding of Dropee, Lennise was a student of music at an international college in Kuala Lumpur with no plans to delve in the tech industry, contrary to what we know of her now. She later decided to study management and accounting in Melbourne before returning to Malaysia, where she was involved in the launch of Yelp and continued to work there for a year and a half.
Her motivation to establish Dropee came when she decided to leave the tech space for a stint at her family business. There she identified a significant gap in the wholesale food distribution market and the need for innovation in the B2B sector. Using what she's harnessed, Lennise has grown Dropee to a well-known name in the industry, with a multitude of products and services offered to enhance customer experience.