Having worked in Branding, Marketing & Sales in Events, Hospitality, Property & Real Estate development, Shan Wong has always been drawn to job opportunities that involved executing new ideas and developing a new brand. It is something that has given her great satisfaction to create campaigns or initiatives, and see it through from infancy to eventual revenue generation.

Feeling blessed to have risen to leadership positions in her career, she credits this largely to the people she has had the privilege to work with. Shan believes that she is most successful and effective when her team shares a common goal and operates in an environment of friendship, teamwork, open sharing, and mutual respect.

Making an unconventional move in her career, she quit her job in marketing for Keppel Land in 2016 to take on her family’s business in the construction industry. Shan Wong, currently the Managing Director at Let Hoe Building Materials Pte Ltd is based in Singapore and shared her experiences in this chat with AsiaBizToday.

What is your current line of business?
I manage Let Hoe Building Materials, and we are a distributor of wood panels, timber and veneers imported from America, Europe and Asia. The company was established in 1982 by my late father, and over the years, we have provided our wood veneers to many landmark interior projects for high end hotels, condominiums, boutiques and restaurants in the region.

What was your trigger and motivation to get into this?
With Keppel Land, I was posted to Guangdong as part of a Pre-Opening team to create the brand and positioning of an iconic waterfront lifestyle project. It was a challenging posting with a lot of milestones to achieve in a short amount of time, but surviving the intense experience was life changing for me. Although I returned to a comfortable position within the company 2 years later, to head a Marketing team that manages 7 products within the Hospitality division, I felt unfulfilled.

When I first returned from China, my mother approached me with the intention to retire. I wasn’t ready to change gears then, but I’ve always had a feeling of gratitude towards the family business. Although I had a business that belonged to my family, I have spent my entire career working on other people’s businesses. This realization, accompanied by my mother’s retirement, triggered me to join Let Hoe.

What have been your experiences in this leadership position?
Having been in the market for almost 40 years, Let Hoe was already a mature business with a loyal following when I took over. Our employees, suppliers and clients had been with us for decades. However, although stable, revenue growth was sluggish. The challenge for me was to study the processes of a well-oiled machine, identify potential blind spots and initiate improvements in branding, sales, HR, procurement and operations. The business was stuck in a time before the internet. Our SOPs and business methods were outdated and inefficient. Hence the past 3 years have been spent rebranding, restructuring and going online.

I have been told my strength is in people management, and if that is true, I am surely putting this skill to good use in Let Hoe. The initiatives I have introduced inevitably created discomfort in stakeholders, but I am determined to ensure our culture remains one that is based on friendship, teamwork, open sharing and mutual respect.

Which are the important factors that keep you going?
For the first time in my career, I have the opportunity to grow a company that belongs to me. Knowing that I am in the position to empower and improve the lives of employees who have been with us through generations keeps me motivated.

Have you faced any obstacles in your initiatives? Do you think you have faced specific challenges because of being a woman?
The construction industry is 90% male dominated, and from all walks of life. I have had some uncomfortable things said to me, but I don’t see them as obstacles or challenges. Just for laughs, I will quote remarks that have been made to me by older, and mostly well-meaning business associates.
1. ‘Oh that’s nice you have decided to get into the business. Don’t you have any brothers? No? How about your husband?’
2. ‘You are quite attractive. But this industry is more suited for men. You will soon understand.’ Throughout my career I have experienced varying degrees of gender bias in the workplace. But I have learnt to navigate my way through and excel regardless. On the contrary, I credit a lot of my successes to being a woman. Sometimes in business negotiations, being underestimated gives us the upper hand.

Where do you usually find inspiration from?
I have a strong support system of resilient girlfriends who own successful businesses in tech, e- commerce and manufacturing. I draw inspiration from their stories.

What’s your proudest moment so far?
My proudest moment happened in 2019 when the business saw a 20% growth in revenue. When all is said and done, all successful initiatives should have a positive impact on revenue.

How would you define success?
I would measure success with happiness. For me, happiness follows the peace that comes with finding your purpose in life and walking in it.

What Advice do you have for other aspiring entrepreneurs, especially women?
Be fierce. Surround yourself with other fearless women, as courage is contagious.