Drawing Strength from Love
Three accomplished alumnae share their secrets to achieving success as a woman — while highlighting the value of a strong marriage and support given to them by the men in their lives.
A PILLAR OF STRENGTH THROUGH THE years
MS CHONG SIAK CHING
(Real Estate ’81), Chief Executive Officer,
National Gallery Singapore
MR SEAH CHENG SAN
(Engineering ’82), Chairman of Alumni Student Advancement Committee
and NUS Alumni Advisory Board Member
Ms Chong’s career has brought her into the worlds of real estate, manufacturing, fast food and IT. Through it all, she has demonstrated a keen sense of professionalism and a can-do work ethic, which has helped her climb the ranks in all those sectors. Today, she continues to help other women realise their professional potential.
Her words of wisdom to women:
- Believe in yourself and be yourself!
- Be clear about your priorities in life and accept that these will differ at each phase of our lives. It is okay to adjust your career pathways to accommodate these priorities.
- Success in raising kids or being a good daughter to our parents is no less an achievement than success in our careers.
- Reach out for help, guidance, advice and mentorship when needed.
We are increasingly seeing more women rise to the top of large organisations, yourself included. What do you think has contributed to this trend?
We should be asking why this did not happen earlier! I believe it’s happening now because there’s growing advocacy for equal and greater recognition of the contributions women make to the workforce. This has put pressure on companies, as well as the male-dominated leadership, to focus on ensuring gender equality and representation. We also have to thank the increasing number of women-to-women support groups that coach, mentor and open doors of opportunity for women.
Have you faced discrimination at the workplace because of your gender? How did this affect you?
If I did, I was probably oblivious to it or chose to ignore it altogether. It could be because I didn’t focus on this at work. I was focused on doing my best and letting outcomes speak for themselves. I had very supportive bosses in all my different career steps, who were gender-blind and rewarded their staff according to their contributions and potential. I learnt a lot from these male bosses. The lady bosses that I had were very nurturing and demonstrated that if there were any gender biases, it didn’t affect them.
Tell us about your marriage and the role it has played in your success.
My husband and I met in Dunearn Road Hostels; so we were one of many “campus couples”. Through the years, he has been my loyal supporter and cheerleader. He even schedules his meetings or golf games around my calendar. I was able to travel for work without having to worry about home, knowing that he was there for our daughter when she was growing up and in school. He also inspires me with his passion for giving to the underprivileged in society, especially students, through setting up bursary funds to support their education.
BUILDING ON a SHARED LEGACY
MS JOCELYN CHNG
(Arts and Social Sciences ’89),
Co-Founder and CEO of JR Group
MR RICHARD WONG
(Arts and Social Sciences ’89),
Co-Founder, JR Group
Her husband’s sudden passing in 2004 plunged Ms Chng’s world into darkness. As a mother of three young boys and a business owner, she faced a tough road ahead of her. But she relied on her inner strength and faith to become a trailblazer in Singapore’s F&B scene.
Her words of wisdom to women:
As women, we need to be strong for our family and the people around us. We are filled with determination, perseverance and grit. Never forget this inner strength of yours so go forth and make your dreams come true.
How did you overcome the challenge of being a single mother as well as a working woman?
I found my support pillars, which were faith and my family. My in-laws moved in to help care for my three boys. My mother and sisters visited me often so that I would never feel alone. Their support and encouragement helped me realise that I had to move forward with my life and care for my sons. And I did just that: In the early days, I remember I would sleep less just so I could wake up early and send my kids to school. The days were long — I would work late into the night almost every day. But seeing how everything has turned out, it was all worth it.
What have been the most challenging parts of the experience?
As a woman, it took longer for people to build their trust in my abilities, especially to lead such a big organisation. And it was always a work-in-progress; it wasn’t enough that I built my reputation in Singapore. I also had to build it in every new market we entered, and this was challenging in some markets, where views on women are different. But thankfully, my perseverance paid off: it took longer to convince them of my abilities, but once I did, we had a strong and fruitful partnership.
What have the years taught you?
That leaders have to make tough decisions! When I took over, I was keen to embrace challenges while also fostering a sense of community and compassion for others. So I was drawn to help people who needed a job and was always willing to give people, especially ex-offenders, a second chance through my company. But sometimes, you have to make difficult decisions. I remember there was an ex-offender who I hired fresh out of prison and he was exemplary… very talented and driven. So naturally we promoted him, but I was crushed when I found out that he had re-offended. This experience goes to show that some things are not in your control and that we don’t ever know what the future holds.
You have achieved much on your own, but have often paid tribute to your late husband as well. How was he instrumental to your success?
Women have great innate strength. But in my case, I owe a debt of gratitude to my husband Richard. We had a shared vision for the future of F&B. Together, we came up with the idea of providing hot ready-to-eat meals from vending machines, and that has grown into a viable and exciting venture for us called Chef-In-Box. Looking back, I wish I had spent more time with Richard, to have an intimate meal or talk about something besides work. But I cherish him greatly and I am proud that in my own way, I am bringing his vision to life.
LESSONS FROM A LIFE PARTNER
MS CHERYL WEE
(Arts and Social Sciences ’10),
Founder, Cheryl W
MR ROY FONG
(Design and Environment ’13),
Architect and Entrepreneur
A brush with fame left Ms Wee suffering from an eating disorder. But with the help of her loved ones, she regained her self-worth and remains committed to helping other women realise theirs.
Her words of wisdom to women:
Don’t have the wrong concept of beauty standards. I know it’s easier said than done in today’s social media age, but if it helps, talk about your insecurities with your girlfriends and loved ones. You’ll realise that everyone has such insecurities and when you talk about them, you take away their power.
How did you end up struggling with an eating disorder?
I used to be an actress and went to Taiwan to further pursue my career. The celebrity world there is obsessed with how much you weigh, so that rubbed off on me. As a new artiste, I felt like I needed to conform to certain beauty standards and so I began obsessing over my weight and diet. I would always feel the need to detox, and started abusing laxatives. I deprived myself of nutritious food, but thankfully, was able to come out of that dark space with the help of my family and a therapist.
How do you hope your experience will help others facing a similar situation?
I know there are those who only allow themselves to eat one protein shake and a sweet potato every day. When I hear things like this, I am motivated to help change their mindset and make a difference. But when I look back on my own experience, I realise that at that time, nothing anyone said would have changed my perception of myself. So me telling these women that ‘they look fine’ is not going to be effective. What I hope to do is start a conversation so that they may at least become aware that their feelings about their bodies are not healthy. I hope that with this awareness, they will be able to seek help and come out stronger. I’m very grateful to have a platform to spread this awareness, as I feel a real connection with other women suffering from low self-esteem.
You are a working mum with three kids under the age of three. Tell us about that.
It’s definitely a new challenge and I think like most working mothers, I’m itching to get back into the swing of things after giving birth. As a working mum, I think it’s important that we carve out space and time for ourselves, as well. Having my parents with me has been instrumental to that. But that also brings its challenges: you have to manage the dynamics well, because there may be some friction sometimes. But what helps is to remember that everybody is trying their best and that the well-being of the child is the foremost priority.
How has marriage changed your life?
We’ve known each other since we were 17. From being friends to dating to getting married, Roy has been there, supporting me in every way. Back when I was busy with pageants and being an artiste, he would send and fetch me from those Chinese New Year and New Year show performances. In my absence, he’d have dinner with my parents, and often ended up counting down in the car alone! He was there for me during the years that I was struggling with an eating disorder and crying after every meal. These days, he helps with my business venture, Cheryl W — I’m so bad at math but he’s great at it. And helps me so much in every other way, too.
If you and your spouse are an NUS Campus Couple, we invite you to join NUS Campus Couples Alumni Group by emailing Ms Akanksha Batura at firstname.lastname@example.org