Angela Yap, 30, Founder & Director, Akasaa
When her former employer encountered financial difficulties and stopped paying her salary for eight months, she saw how even the most heavily regulated system was not foolproof against unethical practises.
“I saw how human greed could ruin lives, but felt that business still held that great potential to change lives.”
Combining her experience and knowledge as a corporate strategist, she set up Akasaa, a publications, communications and consulting specialist that does business with a difference – it helps companies execute business strategies with a conscience.
“I wanted Akasaa to become the change I wish to see in global business - by managing finances well, putting people before profits and to create strategies that will always be a force for good,” she explains.
Her social consciousness had an early start. Upon graduation, Angela worked with the United Nations Development Programme-TUGI, a regional programme dedicated to pursuing urban governance issues in South & Southeast Asia. At age 22, she became the youngest elected Board of Governor to Amnesty International in Malaysia.
In a short duration of three years, Akasaa has witnessed encouraging results, chalking up big names like Sunway, Astro and Public Mutual as clients. She has also contributed her knowledge to a diverse range of social, historical and economic issues by co-authoring or editing the critically acclaimed books like Answering is an Art, which has been praised by the Western Australian education council as an innovative approach to teaching business issues; Cities, Citizens & Civilizations: FAQ on Good Urban Governance for the United Nations Development Programmes (2004); Be Aware of Yourself C.C.C. (2009).
But like the breed of social entrepreneurs who go against the tide of "business as usual", Angela also likes to highlight lessons we can learn from the ordinary. Expressing her admiration for a popular burger seller, she writes in an editorial, “More than just a great meal, I'd just gained insight into a small business that chose to put people ahead of profits, a focus that many forgo.”
While social entrepreneurship is still a relatively new business model in Malaysia, pay-it-forward moments like this keep Angela motivated:
“After a motivational workshop I ran a session for refugees to help them overcome depression, a participant said the technique had worked so well for her that she taught other women. I'll never forget how that moment because it didn't hit me until then the immensity of what our work meant to others.”
“Every letter, card and thank you note sits on my shelf to remind me that Akasaa doesn't need to be a giant like Coca-Cola. We just need to do great work, with great sincerity and keep the courage to think different.”
“Everyone can choose to stand up and make a difference - to radically change humanity by using our knowledge the right way.”
Ebby Loo, 50, Managing Director, Euro-Atlantic Sdn Bhd
When her husband Eric Goh had difficulty finding the right candidate to steer Euro-Atlantic Sdn Bhd back in 1991, when fresh produce was a nascent industry, she had no qualms taking on the role despite having little experience; her previous job was a banker.
Predictably, the early years were tough going. “As a young company, we had little experience so it was a steep learning curve, getting to know the different types of fresh produce, what seasons, what month they are available, besides fine-tuning our quality and service. While managing the A-Z of the company, I had to juggle being a mother to my two young daughters.”
From a single packing factory, they expanded to three companies with a 150-strong workforce. Come December 2011, EA is starting a new company in Sabah to cater for the growing demand of the locals and the increasing tourist arrivals. Their marine products division, which imports Atlantic cod, live scallop, king crab, etc, has grown so exponentially that it has got an operations centre of its own. EA was awarded the globally esteemed HACCP certification, an internationally recognized system of food safety management. Its distinguished clientele base range from five hotels to airlines, foreign embassies and supermarkets.
Not only driven by profit, the company practices CSR actively through collaborative relationships with Malaysian AEON Foundation and Shangri-La’s Charity annual programme “Embrace Gift of Life”. Fresh produce is donated to Pusat Kebajikan Good Shepherds and the Cheras Myanmar Refugee camps.
In addition to sound management policies and an unrelenting focus on quality and service, she attributes her company’s success to its staff, many of whom have stayed with her for over 16 years. “In a time-sensitive industry like ours, the chances of things going wrong can attain disastrous proportions. Without good & trustworthy staff, it would have been impossible to manage profitably and expand the company.”
She shares, “Many of our important decisions taken are through several rounds of discussion among our key management staff. With their participation, they feel they are a part of the company & contributed whole-heartedly. We encourage all employees to speak up on their area of work without fear. Their feedback has brought about many changes that have benefited the company in the long run.”
Under her leadership, EA sets a high bar with its exemplary welfare benefits. One of the few companies that offer an Education Subsidy programme for tertiary going children of its employees, EA also conducts training for its staff across the board -from research and purchasing officers to the delivery transportation people who deliver goods to the customers’ doorstep.
“You can’t succeed on your own,” she says firmly. “In any successful business, there should always be room and opportunity for its people to develop and grow.”
Mac Chung Lyn, 38, CEO of Nandos Malaysia
When Mac Chung Lynn brought in the international Nando’s chain to Malaysia 13 years ago, many sceptics foretold her business would last no more than a few years in the local dining scene. “I was brought up with the belief that hard work comes first. There was no room for failure and I had to work through to take the business all the way to success. I was determined to push Nando’s to the top of the pecking order,” says Chung Lyn, who was trained as an architect.
She makes no secret of her drive to excel and inspire her staff to excel as well. Today, the brand has plenty to crow about, with 38 restaurants nationwide in Kuala Lumpur, Penang, Malacca, Johor (and counting!), plus two new outlets in Singapore.
Chung Lyn adds, “As people grow increasingly health-conscious, I believe Nando’s will be a preferred name for those seeking healthier dining options. This is because our fresh, quality chicken is flame-grilled, rendering it low in fat and salt, without any MSG or added preservatives.”
As well as nurturing her business, Chung Lyn also engages and supports emerging artists and students to come up with Nando’s inspired art pieces as part of the brand’s global art initiative.
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