Jane and Rachel Leong from Mah Sing Group belong to a new generation of women playing leading roles in corporations, and spearheading positive changes.
Jane, 33, Director of Group Strategy and Operations, and Rachel 27, Senior General Manager of Group Strategy and Operations, are making their mark in the property development industry, and also keen to build an enabling work environment that is an equal playing field for all.
As the second generation of leaders at Mah Sing, what do you think are your most important roles and contributions?
Jane: It is important for us to drive change, to provide a more conducive and efficient working environment.
We want to promote work-life integration for our workforce of more than 900 people; they are our biggest asset.
This is why we embarked on a transformation process in 2015. We recently unveiled our new Employee Value Proposition (EVP) and renovated our headquarters to promote open communication.
We also believe in staying relevant by identifying the latest trends and business practices to reach out to newer and younger buyers, as well as to attract talents to work in our organisation.
Rachel: If the people who run our business are representative of both genders, we end up with strategy and policies that will address the realities of our Malaysian employees. Support for women leadership is not about benchmarking the competency of one gender over the other, but simply appreciating the benefits that diversity can bring.
As business innovation is bred from a company’s work culture, we put great thought into transforming that culture into one that is honest, transparent, dedicated and constructive.
What are the most significant influences in your life?
Rachel: From my father – equal treatment. From the moment we were born, he did not differentiate between his son and his daughters.
His unwavering capacity for hard work never fails to amaze me. At 61 – when most men are planning their retirement – he still exhibits the entreprenuerial enthusiasm he had at 21, driving the heart and soul of the business. I admire his determination to survive and succeed.
From my education – the power of analysis and interpretation. It really built the foundation for the policies and decision making I brought to Mah Sing’s business transformation.
From my first job – I was with Credit Suisse Group AG in London where I had my first glimpse of the extent of the rigour and discipline in financial business systems and monitoring to ensure consistent high quality work.
What are the innovations that you bring to the business?
Rachel: We try to inculcate a mindset that pushes boundaries. As illustrated in our new tagline, we aim to “reinvent spaces” but importantly now, we want to firstly “enhance life”.
I encourage employees to provide fresh perspectives. More and more, managers are making data-driven decisions and utlising insights derived from digital marketing.
To assist our buyers’ house buying decisions, we have reinvented our online assets (with a new corporate website), our offline presence (re-designed sales galleries and roadshow booths) and incorporated the use of technology. We have also reinvented our on-the-ground brand activation campaigns.
In our group campaigns, we choose to tell a story that is relevant and that engages the everyday Malaysian as opposed to another template-prescribed advertising push.
Our aim is to humanise the corporate brand and to simplify the seemingly daunting task of buying your first home.
What are the challenges that you face as young corporate women leaders? How do you overcome them?
Jane: There is still a stigma that women are more suited for certain roles at work.
Every individual, regardless of their gender, have their own strengths and will be able to excel in any industry.
In fact, the head of our IT department is a woman and she is very active in driving change within the company. What is important is to lead by example.
We are proud that 48% of Mah Sing’s workforce is women. In fact, 50% of our head of departments are also women.
What do you envision ahead, as corporate women leaders and in the wider business world?
Jane: I am confident that more women will be placed in top management positions and given more leadership roles.
I hope to lead by example and work with my team to make sure everyone is given equal opportunity and rewards, based on merit.
The World Bank shared that 500,000 to 2.3 million women have yet to join the workforce in Malaysia. I encourage these women to do so and Mah Sing is ready to provide them work opportunities.
Both men and women can bring something to the table. There is no longer a dominant gender in the business world. Mah Sing is a firm advocate of equality and empowering women to take up leadership roles. The property landscape has also changed with more women having big spending power.
Rachel: The way we decide, live, challenge and put pressure on leadership have impact beyond our imagination. It is our privilege and responsibility.
If we choose to use our position and influence to raise our voice on behalf of those who have no voice; if we choose to imagine ourselves in the lives of those who do not have our advantages, then we have the opportunity to change the realities of thousands and millions of people in Malaysia, and perhaps the world.
What are the important lessons you have learnt?
Jane: I have learned that it is important to be collaborative and to have strong teamwork.
The success of Mah Sing is due to the hard work and dedication of our strong team of men and women. it is also important to value creative ideas. Everyone in Mah Sing is given a chance to contribute their ideas, unrestricted by their functional roles.
Rachel: As inspired by J. K. Rowling’s 2008 Harvard graduation speech, I have grown to appreciate the power of imagination.
It is the power that enables us to empathise with humans whose experiences we may never share.
In leadership, the ability to empathise can be transformative. It is also the catalyst of all invention and innovation at Mah Sing.
The power of human empathy, leading to collective action by leaders, can transform lives.