Chiang went on to be inspired by Shirin Fozdar, Singapore’s first feminist.
“Born in 1905 in Bombay, India, she was one of the founders of the Singapore Council of Women in 1952, well known in Singapore and abroad for her work in the cause of women’s emancipation. I met her when she was already 81 years old, in Bangkok some 20 years ago. Knowing that we planned to build a hotel brand, she brought triangular pillows made by the Yasothon villagers. From that exchange, Banyan Tree Gallery, selling handicrafts by village communities was born,” shares the industry maven.
When asked about the characteristics of a good entrepreneur, Chiang said,
“Being creative and visionary are necessary qualities. That spirit of wanting to make a difference is the cutting edge quality. Entrepreneurship is a long process of risk taking and overcoming failure, exercising perseverance and resilience to never give up. Success, on the other hand, is a feeling of being proud of how I value add to life experiences. Personal competences, family bonding, community engagement, national duties and the peacemaking are success pillars I work on.”
She believes that being authentic and down-to-earth has endeared her to people she has come into contact with. “I have made many friends who have supported and grown with me in my career. Gender can work against you in some business sectors dominated by men. However, with enabling technology and new economy competences which have enhanced women’s competitiveness and academic achievements, women are getting a growing share of the economic pie. As long as you are good in what you do and you deliver the results, women today can have the opportunity to shine. However, there is a long process for improvement.”
Quizzed on work-life balance, and how she splits her time between business, home, family and her three children, she says frankly that women executives tend to have a harder time. “We have to multi-task and aim to be the best in all our different roles at work as supervisors and at home as daughter, wife, mother and even as a grandmother. Women still do have a harder time in the labour force due to our overwhelmingly male-skewed norms and traditions. This translates to personal and family time as well for professional women when studies still show that female executives are still paid 75cents to every dollar paid to male executives for the same job. Gender stereotypes continue to be significantly unequal. It is therefore important for women to stay on course, find the ‘fit’ between life and work goals, and try to make ‘daily wins’ at home and at work to get what she wants. She can have it all, maybe not at once but in a longer timeframe. On that journey, she has to be committed to realising her aspirations by integrating the resources around her to achieve the targets.”
As to what advice she would you give a young woman wanting to start her own business, Chiang counsels, “Just do it, and do it on your own terms by first sharpening your abilities and building an inner resilience to fight all odds. By embracing an attitude of self-agency, taking responsibility in your efforts, you will do and improve.”
Describing her average work day as being from 8am to 1 am, she says,
“Every day is an opportunity, there is always another tomorrow. Business has its ups and downs, the good and bad times. What we need is to hold firm, review and re-charter to take the next leap. This volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous business environment (VUCA) requires leadership qualities of versatility, unwavering commitment, connectivity skills and an attitude to overcome and find solutions – ‘VUCA Responsiveness'”.