Bold, unconventional and successful. These qualities best describe the three visionary female leaders in the following pages and the new Audemars Piguet Royal Oak 2021 female novelties that they are sporting. The Peak spends an afternoon with each of them to find out what makes them tick.
MS OH’S PLASTIC WONDER MACHINE
Oh Chu Xian, co-founder of Magorium, reckons that it’s time we stop putting ourselves into boxes and save the planet at the same time.
Oh Chu Xian is prepared for failure. “If we look at the historical statistics of green tech start-ups, the probability of failing is higher than success,” she says. But she took the risk anyway, knowing how much was at stake. The young Oh is the co-founder and CEO of Magorium, a deep tech start- up focused on solving the plastic waste problem plaguing the world.
Her solution: a chemical process, developed with researchers, that breaks plastic down until it is no longer a polymer. She calls the end product NEWBitumen. It’s currently in its third generation and is ready to be commercialised. The new material will primarily be used in road construction, but its uses are limitless, she says.
Oh has already poured over $1 million into this start-up and admits that she puts a lot of pressure on herself to succeed. “I knew that the success of this technology was on the line. There is an excellent chance that it will solve this huge problem of plastic pollution that affects our planet in every corner, and save animals affected by it, too,” she says.
Magorium adopted a progressive funding system to limit financial ruin. To receive money, the company had to reach certain milestones, such as completing successful prototypes.
Oh is also guided by the mantra of not having regrets in life. It’s not so much about throwing caution to the wind as it is about thinking what could have been.
“I always think thrice if my fears stop me from doing something. While I accept mistakes and failures, I make sure that I learn from them and don’t repeat them. I don’t just do what I want without considering the consequences.”
The young entrepreneur is a workaholic, but she does admit to still indulging her inner child once in a while. Once, she spent five minutes tossing a balled-up piece of tissue to her mum, who would then throw it back. Oh says they would have continued this spontaneous match except for a wayward throw that caused the tissue to land in her drink.
She credits her parents and grandparents for giving her the courage to pursue her dreams. Living during a time when women are empowered more than ever has also made her take stock of what success means. “I think it’s ironic that as society progresses with fewer gender stereotypes, women are no longer viewed as superior caregivers like they once were,” Oh reflects.
“Because of the residual impression that women are perceived as being more caring, the freedom they enjoy in today’s society, and the living examples of extraordinary women who have done it all, it is clear that a woman needs to excel both at home and at work to be considered successful.”
Oh believes we need a mindset shift. We should not tie success to career or personal milestones. Instead, she feels everyone should just follow their heart’s desire and be unafraid of living their lives outside of preset categories.
She elaborates, “You can be a strong, independent career woman or a caring full- time homemaker raising kids. Who is to say which is the modern or traditional role that leads to success as long as it is what you truly desire.”
As for Oh, her vision is simple. She wants to build a world where consumerism and infrastructure growth are not at the expense of the planet or other animals, although more balled up tissues might find themselves in her future drinks.
THE POWER OF THE HUMAN SPIRIT
Lynn Dang, HR leader of Microsoft Singapore, believes that diversity and differences are keys to a better world.
Most four-year-olds usually dream of being a police officer, a firefighter or even a superhero. Lynn Dang just wanted to survive. The former Vietnamese refugee fled Saigon with her family after the city fell in 1975. During her childhood, she played in the muddy fields of the Pulau Bidong Malaysia United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) camp before her family received humanitarian visas to resettle in Australia.
“Starting life as a refugee taking a perilous boat journey, living in a camp and rebuilding life in an unfamiliar country was not easy. It has, however, made me the person I am today. Early on, I learnt the struggle to survive and the perseverance and courage required to have hope for a brighter future,” Dang shares.
She’s now building that future with Microsoft Singapore. As its human resource leader and a member of the senior executive team, she is building an inclusive and diverse team. She also encourages her staff to embrace their differences. “All of us have lived unique experiences because there is only one of you in the world. Be courageous. Your difference is your superpower.”
Dang is also a non-executive board director for UNHCR in Australia. These responsibilities leave her with little time for herself, particularly since she’s also raising two daughters. But Dang would not have it any other way. She’s thankful for a supportive partner who cooks meals, picks the kids up from school and lets her visit refugee camps in Uganda. She’s also grateful for a career that gives her the flexibility to “be there for school assemblies”.
She says, “We ask women to lean in at work. We also need to ask men to lean in at home.”
Being at the forefront of talent acquisition has also given her an excellent perspective on the ever-shifting debate of work-life balance, especially for the working woman struggling to juggle all the balls in her life. “The rhetoric around achieving work balance can make women feel out of balance,” Dang says. “There are a lot of expectations placed on women to do it all, so my only advice is to follow what I say to myself: the only person you need to answer to is you. And you should always be kind to yourself and give yourself the grace to be out of balance.”
Dang views the modern woman as empowered, empathetic and driven by purpose. She admits it can occasionally be a struggle, even for herself, which is why she’s a strong proponent of work-life integration instead. It’s a new approach that’s gaining traction. The idea is to create synergies between your different life areas. Dang prioritises her well-being because of this.
“Recovery is essential to sustaining high performance. Taking care of my mental, physical, and emotional health is important to me. It makes me a better leader, mother and partner. I run regularly, sleep eight hours a night, and practise mindfulness regularly for this reason.”
In the long run, she hopes to be an example of compassion, peace, and inclusiveness for her daughters.
Dang says: “Being a refugee taught me the extraordinary resilience of the human spirit and that we are capable of so much more than we think. Every day, I live with this quiet strength and optimism. You deserve the chance to live out your potential, no matter what circumstances you were born into. Every action I take in both my professional and personal life is towards advancing this vision.”
FINDING YOUR IKIGAI
Wildtype Media’s publisher and CEO Juliana Chan believes the modern woman should stay true to herself.
Four years ago, Juliana Chan had an academic career that kept her busy. She was doing research, applying for grants, writing papers and lecturing. At home, raising her two young children took up most of her spare time. Whatever she had left, she devoted to her hobby magazine that fed her spirit when work wore her down to the point where she questioned her life’s purpose. “I wasn’t living my best potential life in 2017. I had to make a choice, and I’m glad I followed my heart rather than my head,” Chan recalls.
Wildtype Media now has almost 25 full-time employees working on STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) communication and outreach. In addition to Asian Scientist and Supercomputing Asia, it publishes several other titles. Additionally, Chan’s team produces in-house magazines for many institutions.
Yet, despite her success in a challenging field, Chan confesses that she still feels like an imposter sometimes.
“I am pretty late to the game. I had been an academic scientist without any training in the private sector for 15 years. Today, I have to worry about making payroll and keeping the lights on. I never had to worry about those things before,” she says.
The relentless pressure of society doesn’t help either. Chan is aware of the sometimes unrealistic cultural expectations society and the media put on women and admits that she sometimes falls victim to them. When she was younger, Chan remembers being “many things to different people while still performing at the highest levels” expected of her.
It was exhausting. Chan is kinder to herself now and has embraced her strength and her flaws. “Women are equally capable of being career women or homemakers. We are happy, married or single. And it is fine if we don’t have any kids or if we do. We don’t need to defend our choices or feel obliged to live out somebody else’s vision for us,” she opines.
For Chan, the modern woman cannot, and should not, be defined by a singular adjective. She’s multidimensional – “proud and vulnerable, bold and gentle, determined and free-spirited”. And while she is still finding her identity, she’s no longer feeling lost.
She’s also grateful to her husband, a set of parents and “an amazing domestic helper” for helping with childcare and propping up her science communication aspirations. Chan has also adopted a scientifically-based routine for optimal productivity in her life. She completes all her deep work in the morning, when her concentration is at its peak, and schedules all her virtual and face-to-face meetings in the afternoon. She also makes it a point to stay active, especially during stressful periods.
But the most important lesson she has learned in the past four years is the power of rejection. “I have learnt that only by saying no to opportunities that don’t serve me well can I say yes to my colleagues, family and friends whom I would have otherwise neglected,” Chan explains.
She’s still keeping herself busy. But Chan is far happier today than she was four years ago. She has found her ikigai, a Japanese concept for a life with purpose, and is happily serving her community while staying true to herself.