How to be an outstanding woman entrepreneur

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Women leaders from Asean get recognized.—ROMY HOMILLADA

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) recently celebrated women entrepreneurs. One of the events was the awarding at the PICC of the Outstanding Asean Woman Entrepreneur.

“The award was conceived by Asean Women Entrepreneurs Network (Awen) to honor outstanding entrepreneurs from micro, small and medium enterprises who, through their commitment, vision and leadership, have made a remarkable impact in their field and society; or have built social enterprises and companies that are gender-sensitive and promote fair labor practices for women,” said Chit Juan, chair of Awen.

There were 70 awardees coming from all Asean members: Brunei, Cambodia Indonesia, Malaysia, Laos, Myanmar, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam and the Philippines.

Juan says all are “living examples of how innovative businesses can make a significant difference and contribution to society and the economy as a whole.”

One of the awardees is a dear friend of the Asian food community and strong supporter of Filipino food and restaurants for at least ten years now: Su-Lyn Tan, founder of The Ate Group.

Tan’s company was responsible for, among other great achievements, the Miele Guide, the revered guidebook to Asia’s best restaurants that ranked Asia’s top 10 before the Asia’s 50 Best list was introduced in 2013. The Miele Guide bolstered international confidence in Filipino chefs like Tonyboy Escalante, who was repeatedly ranked in the top 10; and became the platform through which Pinoy chefs Roberto Antonio Abello III and Karen Liz Obero got Miele Guide scholarships at the prestigious At-Sunrice Global Chef Academy.

The Ate Group

The Ate Group has evolved since Su-Lyn co-founded it with her husband over a decade ago. “In 2006, my husband, Aun Koh, and I founded Ate with one staff member,” Su-Lyn recalls. “In those early years, our work was very much personality driven. By that, I mean that the work was led either by my husband or myself. We worked with a clear philosophy and method.”

Their client list back then was short but impressive, including Singapore celebrity chef Justin Quek, boutique luxury Alila Hotels & Resorts and TWG Tea—brands Su-Lyn describes as “Singapore brands or Singapore-headquartered brands we were so very proud to introduce to Singapore and the rest of the world.”

Today, they have over 60 clients in luxury lifestyle, hospitality, travel, F&B, including standalone restaurants, and even FMCG (fast moving consumer goods) brands. You might recognize luxury brands Hermes, Bulgari and Lexus; or food giant Unilever Food Solutions; or Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants.

As for restaurants, they are responsible for handling and maintaining the image of Singapore’s best such as Odette, a leading fine dining destination located in Singapore’s National Gallery and the avant-garde Tippling Club.

Staying relevant

Su-Lyn has taken over the corporation as CEO, and has kept the company attuned with the times by developing an integrated approach to providing companies with innovative lifestyle solutions for their communications and marketing needs.

“We watched media houses, brands and agencies, both large and small, struggle adapting to a marketplace where traditional gatekeepers of information were waning in influence and relevance,” Su-Lyn recalls. “We foresaw that the siloed integrated approach where each team member specialized in one core component of the communications toolkit (where a public relations practitioner, for example, needed a digital specialist to execute the social media component of her clients campaign) was not only financially unsound, but increasingly irrelevant.”

Realizing that “the capacity to communicate and tell a story is now placed in the hands of any individual on the street who has access to technology and data connectivity,” Su-Lyn and her team adjusted. “While it is a debilitating reality for entities and individuals incapable or unwilling to adapt to a new world/economy/way of living, it is also incredibly powerful for those who can and will.”

Integrated communications

So Ate evolved. First, they hired effective multidisciplinary communicators instead of public relations or digital marketing or events specialists. “Today … we look at brands and build communications strategies that are consistent across all platforms. We cultivate fluency in telling engaging stories in text, imagery and experience,” she shares.

Then she nurtures these communicators to become even better communicators. “We cultivate fluency in telling engaging stories in text, imagery and experience. Because today, more so than on any other, quality content is king. To remain relevant, we treat our methodology as one that needs to constantly evolve to enable us to better manage brand and personality communications,” she explains.

The result: In the past decade, the Ate Group has evolved dramatically while always remaining true to its roots.

“We see ourselves as being in the business of helping businesses. We have the capacity to make equal difference (or have the same impact) whether it be in the way an artisan in the luxury space enters a new market, or the manner in which an established corporate entity launches a new product or initiative,” Su-Lyn proudly shares.

Pretty impressive for a company that started with just a three-man team.

Mompreneur

The mompreneur—yes, she is doing all this while being a supermom to two toddlers—is a prime example of the kind of role model that Awen seeks to promote.

Su-Lyn is quick, though, to share the glory with her family and team. “The award is not in recognition of me as an individual. It recognizes many, many teams that have come together to make this all work: our team at The Ate Group, first and foremost, but also the innumerable circles of support, be they my husband and our families or friends; business partners, colleagues, fellow entrepreneurs; fellow working moms, fellow industry professionals, or fellow communicators,” the humble awardee says.

Su-Lyn also highlights the challenges of woman entrepreneurs everywhere, especially the challenge of juggling home and work life.

“My life, my struggles, reflect to some extent the challenges that every woman grapples with,” she reflects. “If receiving an award such as this gives me an opportunity to reach out to an audience beyond my immediate own, it is to speak with truth about the difficulties of trying to simultaneously juggle the many facets of being a female entrepreneur, wife, mother, sister, daughter and friend. It is not necessarily a greater challenge than that of the male entrepreneur. But what we grapple with as women is different. And how we deal with it, can be quite different. The key message is that it is possible to juggle… because I am an ordinary woman with the same 24 hours that we are all blessed with.”

And how is this juggling done?

“I make compromises. I make painful sacrifices,” she confesses. “And I rely on the help and generosity of others to make it all work… I think this frees us to own our fallibility and our failures. And to legitimately acknowledge our small achievements as achievements made as part of a greater collective. We can only try our very best. That, in itself, is an achievement.”

Congratulations to all the awardees of the third Outstanding Women Entrepreneur Awards!

Info on Awen at awenasean.org.

Info on The Ate Group at ate.bz.

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