Keeping Ahead Of The Times

In an ever-evolving world, change is the only constant. We speak with three go-getting women on how they stay at the top of their game BY ELIZABETH LIEW

Portrait of Tammy Strobel

In an ever-evolving world, change is the only constant. We speak with three go-getting women on how they stay at the top of their game BY ELIZABETH LIEW

"Innovation doesn’t happen in silos; you need the right community and the right environment"

Grace Sai, 34, CEO & Co-founder, Found (formerly known as The Hub)

Grace’s entrepreneurial journey started exactly 10 years ago. Her pioneering spirit eventually led her to establish Found, an ecosystem of entrepreneurs and creative thinkers working together to create a better world, from solving homelessness to food wastage. But it wasn’t all smooth-sailing. In order to generate funding, Grace had to resort to selling her mum’s famous fruitcakes at $100 a pop to friends. This is how she continues to stay at the forefront:


Being tuned in to your industry’s ecosystem is vital, especially when factors can change in mere months. “While basic values like resilience, humility and hard work are evergreen, the landscape has changed in the sense that you have to be much more plugged into what’s going on in the world because of today’s increased rate of information exchange. A lot of corporates struggle because past innovation strategies may not be relevant anymore.”

Staying connected also means working in harmony with co-workers. “Innovation doesn’t happen in silos; you need to be in the right community and the right environment. I believe in entrenching yourself in a community that pushes each other to innovate, create and achieve – that’s what Found is. Our members tend to achieve their goals faster with the right partners, as it’s more effective and efficient.” 


“The ability to reflect on successes or failures, mistakes and achievements will be the key in your success. It was a skill I had to learn.” Her secret to bouncing back from mistakes and self-doubt? “I just have to ask my customers one question: Why does Found need to exist? If they can give me an answer then that’s exactly the reason for existence.”


“I go for events where everyone is smarter than me and make sure that I’m the dumbest person in the room. I learn from Nobel Prize laureates, and I read up on quantum physicists and scientists from the past and present.”

Grace believes wisdom transcends time and industries. One of her greatest inspirations is Richard Feynman, the 1965 Nobel Prize winner for quantum physics. “He learnt from nature and was not bound by existing rules of maths and physics. I like that as it summarises the entrepreneur’s journey: You don’t succumb to the current rules because you want to create a new set of rules.”

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"It’s only when you go outside of what’s familiar do you gain fresh perspectives"

Elim Chew, 51, Founder, 77th Street, I’m KIM Korean BBQ & GoroGoro Steamboat restaurants, FASTFAST app

With over 30 years’ experience, Elim is no stranger to having to keep up with a fast-changing economy. When her streetwear fashion chain folded, the unyielding entrepreneur turned to other industries, opening a slew of successful Korean restaurants and developing a delivery app, FASTFAST. And at the time of writing, the intrepid businesswoman has been preparing to climb the Ong Teng Cheong Mountain in Kazakhstan in August, despite not having prior experience. Here, she shares ways to thrive in an ever-changing world:


“Knowing how to adapt to the times becomes natural instinct when I’ve been in business for this long, but it’s become even more important now, especially with the current digital transformation,” she shares. Beyond reacting with your senses, Elim stresses the importance of soft skills, or the sensitivity quotient (SQ): “This means being sensitive to problems out there (whether in your family or work life), being able to provide a solution, and taking action to improve or change things.”

“We can leverage on technology and artificial intelligence to improve things, but it takes the person to know how to respond.”

F&B was something completely unfamiliar to Elim and her team, who had spent more than 20 years in the fashion industry. “We had to transfer what we know from fashion to the food business.” “And back then, everything was by word of mouth, but today we communicate with customers through social media, so we had to learn how to go digital. With FASTFAST, I had to learn about the tech business too.”


“I’m the last person who would be climbing a mountain – I used to be totally unfit. I only began training seriously in June when I decided to commit to climbing the Ong Teng Cheong Mountain. It’s something completely new to me, and I’ve been training by climbing 40 floors five times every other day. The thing is, you can be as prepared as you want to be – just like in business – but the only thing you can’t control is whether your body is able to adapt to the altitude. But I’ll just prepare the best I can.”

Elim also encourages volunteer work. “It’s only when you go outside of what’s familiar or comfortable do you gain fresh perspectives and learn from different angles.”


“My car is my little university. When I drive, I’ll always be listening to something, whether it’s a podcast or YouTube video. I easily spend two to three hours driving a day, so can you imagine how much I can learn in a month, or a year? Then of course, being out there and learning from other people. When you hear what others have done, you gain confidence to implement change in your own life too.”

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"Change isn’t always easy, but you need to be very openminded"

Jenny Teo, 50, Chief Financial Advisory Officer, Manulife Singapore

When Jenny started as a marketing executive, she never thought she would invest the next 25 years in the insurance industry. After growing from strength to strength in various leadership roles in different companies, the hardworking mum-oftwo is now a driving force in Manulife. This is how she remains adaptable:


“Change isn’t always easy, but you need to be very open-minded,” Jenny says. “In my job, regulation requirements are always changing. People may whine about it, but why spend time on what you cannot change? Instead, ask yourself: How can I perform well within these guidelines?”

As an introvert by nature, Jenny found it stressful to meet both new people and her sales targets when she first started. As her career progressed, each new role meant having to work with different people, but she believes that in any job, it’s important to be accountable to your role, personal preferences aside.

“We need to find common platforms of understanding. In a previous company, I experienced working with five different bosses within a span of six years, so I had to be highly adaptable to different working styles and personalities. I could do it because I had the right attitude. I still consider myself an introvert, but engaging with business partners and meeting people are part of my role, so I must embrace it.”


When challenges arise, Jenny believes that the right mentality coupled with the willingness to boldly step forward is key. “Whenever I take on a new role, I tell myself it’s a learning experience. I need to learn fast and I may not know enough, but challenges can pose as opportunities to grow. If you always do the same thing, you won’t grow.”


Having a good rapport with your boss is infinitely valuable. “If you feel stuck in a situation where you don’t see yourself growing, have a conversation with those who can make a difference, like your supervisor, and you can both work out an individual development plan. Approach your manager if you feel that you want to be more involved in certain areas where there are learning opportunities that you feel your current role doesn’t allow. A lot of times change can happen where you are, but it should start from you.”