7 Powerful Businesswomen in Asia Inspiring Women to take on Leadership Roles

Opinion13.10.2016
Business People Walking

Throughout Southeast and East Asia, we see women playing more active roles in leading businesses both big and small. With quite a few gender barriers still existing in the business world for female leadership, it is worth noting that when it comes to leading industries and big business empires, women can get the job done just as well as men.

These are seven of the most powerful businesswomen in Asia, leading their companies through economically challenging times, and also inspiring young women to pursue their business goals and dreams despite the obstacles they face:

Somruedee Chaimongkol (CEO, Banpu: Thailand)

Nicknamed “Asia’s First Lady of Coal”, Somruedee heads one of Southeast Asia’s biggest energy companies, Banpu. With her entire career dedicated to the company, she has taken on various leadership roles within the energy giant, pushing the company to become a “partner of choice”. Banpu’s assets currently stand at around $6.7 billion.

Sabrina Chao (Chairman, Wah Kwong Maritime Transport Holdings: Hong Kong)

In 2015 she was appointed chairman of the Hong Kong Shipowners Association, becoming the very first women in the association’s 59-year history to take up that position. Breaking both gender and age barriers in her family business empire, she navigated the industry’s worst recession by adding 9 dry-bulk carriers and diversifying fund sources.

Yuwadee Chirathivat (CEO, Central Department Store Group: Thailand)

Yuwadee heads Thailand’s leading shopping center company and lead the company’s expansion with the group’s sales totaling $2.75 billion in 2015, an increase of 10% from 2014. In encouraging women to pursue their business dreams, she pointed out that “It is true that we are rarely one person in any given profession. We are usually business executive, wife, mother and daughter all rolled into one.”

Robina Gokongwei-Pe (President & COO, Robinsons Retail Holdings: The Philippines)

Heading the second-largest multi-format retailer in the Philippines, the company has around 900 outlets, 8,500 employees and an annual sales of $1.72 billion. She has attributed her determination to succeed as a business woman to her father’s belief that women can be just as good in business as men.

Shinta Widjaja Kamdani (CEO, Sintesa Group: Indonesia)

Shinta leads her family business empire along with its 17 businesses that range from consumer products and property to manufacturing and energy with an annual revenue of $1.2 billion and around 6,000 employees. She also helped set up Angel Investment Network Indonesia, to fund startups in her country.

Cao Thi Ngoc Dung (Chairman & CEO, Phu Nhuan Jewelry: Vietnam)

Phu Nhuan Jewelry is Vietnam’s biggest jewelry brand. Cao founded the company in 1998 with just one store and it has grown into an empire of around 200 stores and over 3,000 employees. Owning 17% of the company, PNJ earned $350 million in 2015 out of which $23 million was profit.

Lee Boo-jin (President & CEO, Hotel Shilla: South Korea)

An heiress to the Samsung Group, she heads the empire’s Hotel Shilla divison which has an estimated net worth of $2.6 billion. Lee Boon-jin has had to battle a highly publicized personal life crisis along with tackling business woes from MERS virus outbreak and fewer Chinese tourists that impacted the division’s profit in the third quarter of 2015. Despite this, with their new outlet establishment in Singapore’s Changi Airport, sales and the division’s business has been picking up.

While some highly talented businesswomen were born into already established businesses in the region, it is worth noting that traditionally in Asia such leadership roles were generally passed on to male individuals within the family structure. It is definitely refreshing to see that even traditional family business models are steering away from this practice and moving towards supporting female leadership roles in family businesses. Something worth celebrating and encouraging in helping our regional economic growth.