10 Women Who Are Shaping Singapore
March 27, 2018 | BY Karishma Tulsidas and Terence Lim
The upcoming April issue of Singapore Tatler pays tribute to the region's power women. To kick off that initiative, here are Singapore's female leaders whose impressive work has put our nation on the map.
This prominent politician has pioneered several firsts in Singapore: she was the first female speaker of parliament and is the first female Malay president of the country, a position she currently holds following an election walk-over last October. The mother of five grew up in poverty and has been working since she was 10-years-old. She is well-regarded for being down-to-earth and a “champion for the underdogs”, famously refusing to move into the presidential office, Istana, following the elections. She preferred to stay in her public housing flat but gave in due to security concerns from the authorities. A women’s activist, she has actively pushed for the awareness of mental health issues and issues plaguing senior citizens.
The group CEO for Singhealth is the one leading the charge to make Singapore’s healthcare sector one of the best in the world. A medical veteran who transformed KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital (KKH) from being ob-gyn-focused to a holistic healthcare centre during her term as CEO, Ivy is now in charge of Singapore General Hospital (SGH), Changi General Hospital, KKH, Sengkang General Hospital, five national speciality centres, a community hospital and a network of eight polyclinics. She also spearheaded the partnership between Singapore General Hospital and Duke-NUS Medical School to make the healthcare system here more academically inclined. The mother of four, who is married to defence minister Ng Eng Hen, believes in work-life balance and ensures that her family gets together for a meal at least four times a week.
When Claire Chiang was a child, she wanted to be a nurse. Her parents dissuaded her, and instead, she went on to become a co-founder of one of Singapore's largest luxury resort brands, Banyan Tree Holdings. As its senior vice-president, she is currently overseeing the development of the resort's first-ever outpost in Mandai, Singapore. The chairperson of Banyan Tree Global Foundation also regularly participates in inspirational discourses for women.
On the most significant barrier to female leadership, she says: "Our numbers are not large enough to become a tipping point to create a forceful impact. We have to continually raise the visibility of women by supporting each other in a strategic intentional way. The millennial generation of women who aspire to be their own bosses will be the rising force of change. A silent revolution has begun."
Out of the five major architecture firms in Singapore, only one is led by a woman. Angelene Chan, CEO of DP Architects, has helmed several high-profile international projects, including the Dubai Mall and Resorts World Sentosa. The award-winning architect says that her greatest support is her family but juggling both family and work is a great challenge.
She says, “Raising a family while pursuing a high-stress profession like architecture is tough. Both motherhood and design are 24/7 undertakings; both require full-time commitment.” She attributes her success to a combination of “courage, pragmatism and hard work.” “Courage to trust your instincts, ignore the naysayers, to venture forth and do what others have not tried. Pragmatism to set realistic goals, to make calculated moves in the long-term interest of your team," she says, adding, "And hard work; you have to work harder and smarter than everyone else. As a leader, I am only as good as my team. In other words, my success is dependent on the success of my team. I care about the people I work with."
The current minister for Culture, Community and Youth started her career as an auditor in the banking sector before joining PSA Corporation in 1995. There, she moved up the ranks steadily and was appointed as the CEO of PSA Southeast Asia and Japan in 2004. She entered politics ahead of the 2006 General Elections and was appointed minister of state for the Ministry for National Development the same year.
The National University of Singapore alumnus helmed various positions in different ministries before becoming a full minister in 2012. Grace is a vocal supporter of having more female representation on the boards of listed companies and the equality of gender roles in Singapore.
A veteran in the real estate industry, she joined M+S, a company set up to develop Marina One and Duo, in 2012. Kemmy then assumed the position of CEO in 2016. Prior to joining M+S, she helmed YTL Land and Development, the international luxury property portfolio arm of the Malaysia-based group. One of the highlights of her real estate career was during her time at Sentosa Cove, where she was lauded for being the brains behind its success, achieving some $5b turnover within three years.
Kemmy says, “What is most important is having the passion and drive for every endeavour I embark on. To love what I do and to do what I love has always been my credo in work and in life. This makes the fact that my job is a job secondary. My passion has made me constantly challenge the status quo and muster the courage to do things differently.”
In 1989, the Malaysian-born chemist quit her well-paying job at Glaxo Pharmaceuticals to start Hydrochem with $20,000 capital. What started off as a three-man company selling water treatment systems in Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia has grown into Hyflux, a global environmental solutions behemoth listed on the Singapore Exchange mainboard. Olivia, who is now Hyflux’s group CEO, is a champion for entrepreneurship and has this piece of advice to dispense to budding entrepreneurs.
She shares: “My advice can be summarised in 7 ‘P’s: You must have the passion to pursue your dreams and the right people who share your vision to help you build a successful business. You must also persevere and be patient because there will be difficult times. Performance is critical to winning the trust of your customers as well as future orders. And do not be afraid to acknowledge that you need help because you cannot be good at everything. Seek partnerships to complement each other and to tap on your partners’ strengths. You must be able to identify the plus factor in your business to differentiate yourself from your competitors and have that competitive edge over them.”
(Related: 5 Of Singapore's Leading Female Moguls)
Chew Gek Khim
According to Forbes last year, Chew Gek Khim’s family is among the richest in Singapore with a net worth estimated to be around $1.85b. The executive chairman of Straits Trading Company assumed the control of her family business in 2008 and transformed it from a tin smelter to modern firm that delves into real estate, hospitality and tin smelting. The lawyer-by-training also heads Tecity Group, which was founded by her late grandfather and one of Singapore’s pioneer banker Tan Chin Tuan. (The Group comprises Straits Trading, Tecity Management and Tan Chin Tuan Foundation, and owns the Tan Chin Tuan Mansion.) The mother of two will celebrate Straits Trading Company's 130th anniversary this year.
Chua Sock Koong
Widely known as one of Asia’s most powerful and influential businesswomen, Sock Koong heads Singtel, the largest telco and one of the largest listed companies in Singapore. She is credited with keeping the telco highly profitable even during difficult economic times. In fact, it was reported that her annual remuneration package increased from 2016 to 2017—an indication of the company’s financial health and profit margins. A long-serving employee, Sock Koong joined Singtel as treasurer in 1989, working her way up to CFO and eventually group CEO, a position she has held since 2007. The mother of two holds a Bachelor of Accountancy from the University of Singapore and is a fellow member of the Institute of Singapore Chartered Accountants and a CFA charterholder.
The wife of prime minister Lee Hsien Loong is arguably Singapore’s most powerful woman—she was listed number 28 on the 2017 Forbes’ list of most powerful women in the world, far ahead of Hillary Clinton who was ranked 65. Despite being in the global limelight, she is known for being the reclusive CEO of Temasek Holdings and is widely credited for expanding its horizons to Asia and beyond. Under her leadership, Temasek posted an impressive 2017, reporting a net portfolio value of $275 billion.
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