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Cover Story: The New Frontier Women

New Straits Times, 23 August, 2002

Aug 23: The road leading to a better world for womankind may still be rough, but nevertheless well travelled. To mark National Woman's Day tomorrow, Life & Times spoke to some of the country's young and fearless who are leaders in their own fields. Fired up and filled with courage in bringing Malaysia to new frontiers, they speak of their hopes, direction and achievements.

WHAT are the chances of meeting a female CEO? Multiply that with the chances of meeting a young female CEO under the age of 30. According to Fortune 500, only 90 out of the 500 companies have women corporate officers. Women at the top of the corporate ladder are few and far between. There is much to be admired in a male leader for his temerity in business strategies. However, there is more to be lauded in a woman leader who also has to face gender bigotry - simply for being the "weaker sex." One day on a golfing green, an American businessman floated this theory on what constitutes a leader. "Leaders are driven by demons: the best guys have them - implacable, subterranean demons that are the source of greatness." His implication is that a great leader is focused with an extraordinary driving ambition to achieve success despite obstacles and limitations. One would have to say that this deliberation is genderless. Fione Tan knows what it means to be discriminated against for being initially inexperienced (she had no formal qualifications nor work experience in IT), her age and above all else, gender.

As the CEO, president and founder of eOnenet, a leading eBusiness and eMarketing enabler, she is an inspiration to young women in Malaysia. At 1.6 metres tall, with her hair pulled back neatly and hardly a scrap of make-up, this 25-year-old was warm, chatty and very comfortable sitting in her CEO chair. Her company eOnenet provides a service to businesses that want to convert to e-businesses. The areas of expertise range from e-business consultancy, website development, e-commerce and e-payment, web hosting, database modules development, Internet and e-business training, website management, e-mail marketing, e-mail database acquisition, multimedia presentation, website and product launch, marketing and PR campaign, and domain name management.

Tan founded eOnenet two years ago, acknowledging the demand for such a company in Malaysia especially with the construction of the Multimedia Super Corridor and global success in the Internet industry. "I was always fascinated with the Internet and browsing through websites and shopping on-line," explained Tan. "Despite the fact that I don't have an IT degree and that I was working in an insurance company previously, I was not fazed with what could be considered a setback in terms of inexperience." Tan threw herself headlong into the technology world and recognition followed. She was the Malaysian representative to the Board of IT Committee for the Confederation of Asia-Pacific Chambers of Commerce and Industry (CACCI), a speaker for - the Asean Women Leaders Convention 2001, International Internet Marketing Conference 2001, e-Business Conference 2000 in Malaysia, Malaysian Association of Tours and Travel Agents (MATTA) e-Business Conference 2000, Young Entrepreneurs Association, Business Networking Club, Singapore Association of Small & Medium Enterprises, Rotary Club, and various other conferences and seminars in Malaysia and Singapore.

Despite her glittering resume of achievements, Tan was quick to point out her struggles. Not a stranger to threatening e-mails and prank calls because of her success, Tan is remarkably self-assured. "Imagine that these are obviously people who I know and are threatened by my achievements! I would get calls late at night from men scarily whispering my name until I had to change the phone number," said Tan, shaking her head in disbelief.

"I also remember how often I would feel frustrated for being treated so disrespectfully. It seemed that my age, height and gender were a hindrance to being taken seriously," she said. It's unimaginable that such chauvinistic behaviour is still the norm in the boardroom today, yet all this has not dampened Tan's passion for her field. "Being in a male-dominated industry is not unusual for me," said Tan. "When I worked in PanGlobal Insurance, I was the only girl in my department. But I did not let that intimidate me because I believe that business is performance-based, so I had to prove that I was just as good as them or even better." In fact her positive and cheerful outlook in her professional career drew the attention and recognition of others.

Tan has received awards including the "Salute the Women of Tomorrow" Award from Marie Claire magazine in 2000 and a nomination for "Malaysia CEO Awards 2001" organised by Business Times and American Express. She is also a contributor to Internet-related articles in the Jaring Internet Magazine. "My advice to budding women entrepreneurs is: Don't wait for the right time because there is no such thing. You just have to go ahead and do it. And if the project doesn't work out, then just believe that you are one step nearer to success for it is valuable experience." British business analysts have predicted that women are the future in the corporate world. In truth, women are already taking over in terms of start-ups for this is partly due to the restricting conditions in larger companies. One day, we might see men in charge of the Old Economy and women leading the way in the New Economy.

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