It’s that time of the year when we raise a toast to strong and bold women everywhere, to their accomplishments and the value of their contributions to nation building. International Women’s Day is also an important occasion to raise awareness on women’s rights, diversity, equality and inclusion.
Many a times, we’re reluctant to even acknowledge our achievements because we’ve been conditioned from young to never speak openly about our talents, successes and potential. Times are changing, we need to own our success. But how does one measure it beyond the scale?
We asked 30 women on how they define success and what drives them. Bookmark this page to find inspiration when you need it the most.
Nurlin Mohd Salleh
Managing Director & Partner, and Head of BCG Malaysia
For me, success is finding that optimal balance between professional ambition and personal happiness. The most important ingredient to achieve this is a strong support system: family, friends, colleagues. Working with the right colleagues gives you the motivation and ambition to achieve greater heights in your career. A good, stable base of friends can guide and support you through difficult choices. Most importantly, family is the foundation. They keep you centred, grounded, and focused. Family step in to help when things get too overwhelming with home responsibilities and work. They pick you up when you’re at your lowest, and are your biggest cheerleaders when you succeed.
Founder of 8sian
I think it’s important to set goals, be focused and committed. A recent quote I saw online sums it up best: 80% of success is showing up while the other 20% is following up.
Executive director of Powerwell Holdings Bhd
True success in life comes not from chasing after wealth or fame, but from achieving a harmonious balance between work and personal life, treating everyone with equal fairness, and being open to discussing both the good and the bad. Only then can we truly thrive as individuals and as a society.
Founder and CEO of Rentwise Sdn Bhd
Grit, hard work and determination. Being open to continuously unlearning and relearning, having strong faith, giving and building trust, and putting family first — in return they give me a lot of support and understanding.
Nurul A'in Abdul Latif
Deputy executive chair and Assurance Partner at PwC Malaysia
My answer will probably disappoint many but there’s really no secret. It’s the stuff you hear about all the time — hard work, compromise, communication, time management and at times, even luck. I believe that we can all be better as a person, in whatever role we play, when we take the time to nurture a relationship and connect. It has helped me understand others, seek out opportunities, have tough conversations and offer solutions from a place of authenticity because there’s trust at its core.
Natasha Mohd Hishamudin
Founder of Retno Batik
Have a big invested interest in life. Know what you want and how to be a part of it, then go for it. Say yes more than you say no. Carpe diem!
Managing director of structured financing, China Construction Bank
I value long term relationship with my clients, stakeholders, and friends, hence being the trusted partner is extremely important. Giving constructive feedback, be the best at what I do, giving 100%, take pride in my professionalism, learn and continuous learning — these are key enablers to being the trusted partner.
Being competent and technically sound, and truly caring for others are the overarching principles. The above, coupled with continuos learning and application of best practices and my wealth of experience will enable me to provide the right input and feedback to clients and stakeholders. I also love the challenge of creating solutions which have never been thought of to best serve and address my clients needs, i.e. cost efficiency, investments, and optimising returns. Ultimately, I take pride in being the trusted partner to my clients. On the personal aspect, I spend quality time with my three boys doing activities together, like baking, running and adventure-seeking (the latest being a trip to Komodo Island). I hope to motivate and inspire my boys to be kind, industrious, adventurous, and ultimately be the best at what they choose when they're adults.
Co-founder of Fairmonde
When it comes to success, I believe that resilience is one of the most important traits to have. It allows you to bounce back from setbacks and remain determined in the face of challenges. It also helps you navigate your attitude and outlook towards difficulties and reduce fear of the unknown, which in turn will open up new possibilities outside of your comfort zone.
Co-founder of Fairmonde
Be willing to step outside your comfort zone and take the risks in life that seem worth taking. The ride may not be as predictable if you’d just planted your feet and stayed put, but it will certainly be interesting.
Success was when I began to work on things that I truly cared about, and the work had a purpose bigger than myself. It came when I was authentic to myself, had an audacious dream, and worked hard for the music, the art, and the stories which gave me so much life. Success is many things, but it’s definitely not a one-woman show. My other secret and probably the biggest, is to work with people who share that same vision. We go far when we go together. It’s also recognising that success looks different for everybody and if your version of it is different from the other person, wonderful! We’re all meant to be different people with different purposes.
Karina Robles Bahrin
To me, it's most important to firstly determine what your yardstick for success is, because it does not mean the same to everyone. Don’t measure your achievements and failures by someone else’s standards. Be clear what yours are, and your motivations for striving towards your goals. Only then will you be happy once you fulfil them. Otherwise, you run the risk of winning Pyrrhic victories that are perceived as success by the outside world but yet do not fulfil you. And what’s the point of that?
Beh Gaik Lean
Chef of Auntie Gaik Lean’s
Success? Work hard lah, that’s it. The harder you work, the more successful you will become. My passion and love for cooking is immense and when I was younger, I dreamt of working in a five-star hotel but all outright rejected me, saying “no women in the main kitchens”. Times have changed and I am very happy to be the first woman chef in Malaysia with a Michelin star. So, if you have passion for something, just do it and work hard. Success will definitely come.
Tan Sri Datuk Dr Rebecca Fatima Sta Maria
Executive director of the APEC Secretariat based in Singapore
It can be framed in this way: what, why, how: what do I want, why it matters, and how to get there. “What” and “Why” provided me clarity. It’s the “How” that got me there. I am true to myself, determined and a hard worker ( status quo is not an option, always focus on improvement). I also have a good work ethic and a strong moral compass.
But I couldn’t have gotten where I am by myself. First, there’s the support of family, especially my husband and daughter who have had to share me with my career. For my part, it’s not so much about work-family balance but about managing priorities, accepting help and assistance from family and friends at key points in my career. And when my daughter was younger, being blessed with a wonderful babysitter.
Secondly, the supervisors who early in my career recognised my skills and talent, and provided me the opportunity to express myself, grow and contribute to the organisation.
Thirdly, knowing that you are only as good as your team, and therefore it is important to build the team and appreciate the strengths they bring to the organisation.
HE Datuk Chitra Devi Ramiah
Ambassador of Malaysia to Poland and Lithuania
If you want to ensure women are also heard in creating a better world, become a diplomat and represent your country. My traditional background and upbringing did not restrict my desire to pursue a career in public service. Women empowerment is one of the key agendas under the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) 2030 number five — Gender Equality — so the future perspective may change in diplomacy, thrusting women taking the lead. Women diplomats are also contributing positively and effectively with variable approaches and perspectives to international relations, human rights, humanitarian issues, mediation, conflict resolution and more, all in pursuit of the same goals in foreign relations and diplomacy at this current changing geopolitical situation and environment. As Malaysian ambassador to Poland, I'm also greatly learning about issues in relation to security, weapons, military, aircraft and more due to the ongoing war in Ukraine, bordering Poland. I strongly encourage more women to join the Foreign Service, serving and representing your country abroad.
Red Hong Yi
My secret to success? Belief. It’s the belief in myself that I can do it, and the belief from family and friends around me in the form of support and encouragement. Combine this with hard work and determination, and surely you will get somewhere!
Principal dancer of Sutra Foundation
You need passion, commitment and consistency to succeed in whatever you do. Stay true to your passion and work hard. Commitment and consistency is what will enable you to grow and reach higher heights. Personally, guru bhakti — the devotion to one's guru — is also an important component. I have utmost gratitude for Datuk Ramli Ibrahim who shaped me and generously gave me so much in my 21-year journey so far with Sutra and, of course, my mother, Guru Sudha Thamothiran who in fact started me off in dance 25 years ago by teaching me Bharatanatyam. These are the two people who have made me who I am today. So now, I like to always give back in whatever little way I can.
Chian Siew Poon
Founder of Chafyst Malaysia
What I believe to be the secret of success is simple: Never doubt yourself and never give up. The PR industry is very challenging so you need a good learning attitude and be open to new ideas. Change is a constant so versatility and flexibility are paramount. People also need to realise PR is more than dressing up, swanning around and drinking martinis. It's hard work but the clients who work with the right people know how powerful it is. Also, never fear seeking advice while on the job as this is how you hone your skill sets.
Dato Anne Eu
Chairman of Eu Yan Sang Malaysia
Confidence is key! Be confident of your abilities. Be confident of yourself as a person. Be confident that you have learnt from your past mistakes and are better than ever before.
The secret to my success is discipline, routine, and consistency. I consider myself extremely blessed for all the opportunities I’ve had from the time my coach picked me to join the diving team at the age of eight. My family, school teachers, coaches, my teammates, and many others have all helped me achieve success.
Founder and CEO of Earth Heir
I suppose I think of it as approaching things with humility, authenticity and integrity while doing what you love! There is a natural fire in your belly when you pursue your passions and beliefs. And most of all, trusting in God.
Dr Mahaletchumy Arujanan
Global coordinator of BioTrust-ISAAA and executive director of Malaysian Biotechnology Information Centre
I walk the path less travelled to address the gaps that have not been addressed in my field. I do this both at national and international level. The impact of my work inspires me to do more. I am a person who gets excited with new ideas easily and I am impatient to explore them. All these make me take risks and challenges. As a person who has multiple professional and family roles, I never procrastinate any tasks. This helps me to stick to my commitments diligently as I get things started as they arrive on my plate.
Lim May Shen
Founder and CEO of The Nail Parlour
I’d say success for any business lies in the strength of its people and I am proud to work with a terrific team of people who enthusiastically create great service experiences for our customers every day.
Lim Pui Yen
Regional marketing manager of King Living
My advice, at the risk of sounding a little clichéd, is to believe in yourself — you can do and be anything you want if you believe it strongly enough. And of course, with some determination and persistence to achieve it. Everyone is going to have a different journey, so enjoy every step of the process and be sure to always be open to learning. Life is all about learning. Our mistakes contribute just as much to our own stories as our victories, as long as we learn from them and continue to improve ourselves. Most importantly: Be yourself. Follow your dreams and be a cup that overflows with love, happiness, and self-acceptance!
Lee Sze Suen
CEO of SUEN Jewellers
Personal success to me is about staying authentic, humble and genuine. In business, hard work, a clear sense of purpose or ambition and integrity are the key values I adhere to because ultimately, one’s reputation will always precede that of the business.
Joint group CEO and executive director of Berjaya Corporation
Be confident. It may sound simple but being confident is one of the biggest ways women can advance themselves. And show initiative. When the opportunity arises to lead, always take it! It also helps to have a mentor or role model. A strong female mentor or role model shows you nothing is impossible and helps you strive for greater professional as well as personal development.
Datuk Dr Faridah Merican
Co-founder of the Actors Studio and the klpac
What is your secret to success? Never take no for an answer. You will be surprised what you can get if you open your mouth to ask. And trust people who are partial towards animals and our furry friends.
Li Li Ho
Vice president of marketing at Hamadaya
One of the most important pieces of advice I can share with young women is to have confidence in themselves and their abilities. It is crucial to believe in your own potential and never let self-doubt hold you back. But also stay focused and work hard as achieving goals requires dedication and perseverance. Networking is also essential in today's world. Make connections, build relationships and seek out mentors who can provide guidance and support along the way. For me personally, I would attribute what I have today to a combination of hard work, creativity and the ability to build and lead effective teams. With the right mindset and approach, young women can really achieve great things and make a positive impact.
Soo Shea Pin
Founder of FEITH London
Stay true to your strong passion and fundamental values, listen to your heart what you wish to achieve in life that will bring you the ultimate contentment and achievement. It’s not about what others want you to achieve, only you know your ultimate aim in life …so go for it and shine through!
Dr Andrea Lim
Director of Peak Fitness
I think defining success is an important start! It’s easy to feel unsatisfied or inadequate by falling into a never-ending chase of attaining one goal after another, endlessly comparing one’s own self to others, or by giving in to societal pressures. Success is very personal and very different for every individual. What is it? For someone battling illness, getting out of bed that day is a huge success. So I would say that my secret is making sure that I’m clear what success means for me personally, and reminding myself of that from time to time.
Co-founder and director of RogueArt
I don’t think in terms of personal success or failure in some larger scale of ambition. I’ve always worked as part of a partnership and with others and every project has its own story in which I have some kind of function. I try to understand what I can’t do and don’t have, and am not afraid to ask for help and try to be helpful in turn. The greatest satisfaction is when people and things come together, the greatest fear is in letting the people I work and live with down. I think in setting out to do anything, I try to be ready to embrace what comes from it. A why is always important but a sense of adventure is what gives you wings.
Read the inspiring stories and ventures of Nurlin Mohd Salleh, Nicole Yap, Catherine Wong, Leanne Ooi, Nurul A'in Abdul Latif, Natasha Mohd Hishamudin, Eusnie Arshad, Joanne Chin and Jacqueline Lau in this week's Options (Mar 6).