Although women who are in business are still facing many challenges that are not commonly shared with men such as discrimination, things are slowly changing. In 2018, only 4.8% of Fortune 500 Companies are led by female CEOs. In 2019, the percentage saw an increase with a new number of 6.6%. In this list, we are bringing you 11 Leading Female CEOs in Southeast Asia, from Forbes's Asia's Power Businesswomen 2020. These powerful female entrepreneurs are changing the business world, one step at a time. Get ready to be inspired!
Kong is the fifth president of Singapore Management University and the first woman to lead one of the island-state’s top universities. A geography professor who in 2011 helped set up the Yale-NUS College between Yale University and the National University of Singapore, Kong took the helm of SMU in January 2019. Since then, she has continued to expand SMU’s entrepreneurship capacity for students. In February, SMU opened a new building that includes 700sqm of incubation space designed to foster innovation and entrepreneurship among students, alumni and local businesses.
Russell is the third generation to lead Malaysia’s largest tea producer by output, BOH Plantations, founded by her grandfather in 1929 (BOH stands for “best of highlands,” a reference to Malaysia’s tea-growing highlands). The family-owned business has four plantations spread over 1,200ha that annually produce about 4.5 million kilograms of tea—about 70% of Malaysia’s tea output. Russell joined BOH’s marketing department in 1988 after getting a commerce degree with honors from University of Edinburgh. Taking the helm as CEO in 2003, Russell has expanded BOH’s range of teas and international sales. She also focuses on sustainable growth, including biodegradable products, recyclable packaging and partnering with environmental NGOs.
Over the past two decades, Preeyanart has grown the power unit of Thai conglomerate B.Grimm into a $3.7 billion company that operates 47 power plants in Thailand, Laos and Vietnam, with five more in development; and oversaw its IPO in 2017. B.Grimm Power has been unfazed by Covid-19, with net profit surging more than 60% in the second quarter ending in June year-on-year, on increases in production capacity and industrial customers. Its portfolio combines conventional and renewable projects, including gas, solar, hydro and wind power generation. Preeyanart started at B.Grimm 28 years ago as chief financial officer, and was named to lead B.Grimm Power when it was established in 1996.
Over the past 23 years, Khanh has built her listed company into Vietnam’s largest seafood firm by market capitalization. Last year the firm was also the best performer in the country’s seafood industry, with $50 million net profit on $340 million revenue. Khanh spent a decade working at state-owned companies before launching Vinh Hoan in 1997. Today she has more than 6,000 employees and six processing plants. As most sales are international, Khanh says the global downturn in the F&B industry will cause a 20% revenue drop this year.
Muliaty was studying for a pharmacist’s license when her professor, Andi Wijaya, cofounder of Indonesia’s largest (sales) clinical laboratory operator, hired her in 1988 as assistant manager. Two decades later she became President Director and led a national expansion that boosted the number of clinics from 107 in 2010 to 285 today. She also ramped up testing for autoimmune disorders and other diseases, which made up nearly a fifth of last year’s revenue. After a drop-off in demand pushed first-half sales down 18% to 657 billion rupiah ($44 million), Muliaty switched gears to offer rapid Covid-19 testing that can be administered in a drive-through, clinic or at home, with results posted online.
Nualphan became president and CEO of Muang Thai Insurance in 2014, and became the literal face of the company last year in its ad campaign, “Trust Pang.” Muang Thai Insurance is countering pandemic-pinched profits by offering flexible “mini” insurance plans. Nualphan hails from one of Thailand’s wealthiest families. Her cousin Banthoon Lamsam ran Kasikornbank, Thailand’s largest (assets) commercial bank for 28 years before stepping down earlier this year. Her brother Sara Lamsam heads Muang Thai Life Assurance.
Eng is a trailblazer in Singapore’s traditionally male-dominated legal profession. In 2010, she became the first woman to lead one of the largest law firms (by number of lawyers) in Singapore, WongPartnership. And in 2018, Eng shook the city-state’s conservative legal circles when she jumped to global professional services firm PwC, becoming the highest-profile lawyer in Asia to leave a traditional firm to join the increasing number of integrated legal services that combine legal services with related advice in areas such as cybersecurity and regulatory issues. Less than a year after joining, she was appointed to PwC’s global legal leadership team—the only woman in the nine-member team—helping oversee the network’s 3,600 lawyers across roughly 100 countries. Eng now heads PwC’s Singapore member firm, which now bears her name, Eng and Co.
Limpe-Aw is the fifth-generation head of the Philippines’ oldest distiller, which her great-great granduncle founded in 1852. An immigrant from China, he brought with him a family recipe for herbal wine sold as “Vino de Chino.” Since taking the helm in 2004, she has added new products and focused on growing overseas. The company now sells more than 40 spirits, wines and liqueurs, including tropical-fruit blends, and exports within Asia and to the U.S. When some cities in the Philippines earlier this year banned booze amid quarantine restrictions, Destileria Limtuaco switched to making hand sanitizer and disinfectants.
Jareeporn and her husband Somyos Anantaprayoon started the WHA Group in 2003, growing it into Thailand’s leading industrial estate developer and services provider. After Somyos died in 2018, Jareeporn took the reins and pursued expansion across Southeast Asia and at home, including developing commercial districts for high-tech industries under Thailand’s Eastern Economic Corridor initiative. Normalized net profit fell 35% to 715 million baht ($23 million) in the first half from a year earlier, but Jareeporn is confident WHA will rebound from the pandemic-led downturn. She remains focused on an ambitious 52-billion-baht, five-year plan that sees the group adding its 11th industrial estate this year to its Thai portfolio and diversifying its power and utilities businesses.
In 2005, when Alsagoff started a website with Bali’s tourism board, she noticed local banks couldn’t process the online payments it attracted. So she and two friends cofounded Jakarta-based Nusa Satu Inti Artha, best known by its brand name Doku (local slang for “wallet”). Doku pioneered cashless transactions in Indonesia, leapfrogging domestic banks to offer e-wallet services. In 2016, Indonesia media group Elang Mahkota Teknologi bought a majority stake in Nusa Satu for an undisclosed sum, but Alsagoff remains Doku’s chief operating officer. Last year, Doku handled 63 trillion rupiah ($4.3 billion) in payments, 50% more than in 2018 and making it Indonesia’s leading e-payments service.
Since joining FPT Retail eight years ago and becoming chairwoman in 2017, Nguyen Bach Diep has helped build the company into Vietnam’s second-largest electronics retailer by number of outlets, with more than 630 stores nationwide. In 2017, she added pharmaceutical retailing with the purchase of a majority stake in the Long Chau drugstore chain, and expanded it from four stores to roughly 160. To capture rising demand during the pandemic, FPT Retail plans to open 60 more drugstores by the end of the year. In 1997, Diep started at FPT Retail’s parent company FPT, a leading IT provider, after getting a business administration degree from Ho Chi Minh City Open University.