Edited by Rana Wehbe
Forbes Asia’s Power Businesswomen list reboots this year, highlighting 25 accomplished women who are playing a significant role in shaping Asia’s business landscape in the next few decades. Selected for their achievements and track records of success, the women on this list represent the diversity within Asia’s business landscape by highlighting entrepreneurs, investors, high level executives as well as those transforming their family enterprises. Regardless of their backgrounds, these women are defying stereotypes and breaking down barriers across industries.
One of the highest ranking women on the Forbes 2019 Midas List, venture capitalist Lee is known for identifying promising entrepreneurs. Her portfolio at U.S. and China-based GGV Capital includes 11 unicorns, with some valued as high as $56 billion. A former fighter jet engineer with Singapore’s ST Aerospace, Singaporean Lee joined GGV in 2005 and opened the firm’s first China office, in Shanghai. In April, she reopened the Southeast Asia office in Singapore that GGV shut in 2000. Last October, Lee led a $1.9 billion fundraising that brought GGV’s total capital under management to $6.2 billion. Lee has taken 11 of her portfolio companies public, including three IPOs in 2018. Her 2012 investment in Chinese social network operator YY netted GGV a 15-fold return. Now Lee is mulling opportunities in machine learning and robotics. “The sci-fi stuff,” she says.
When it comes to early-stage venture capital in China, it’s difficult to overestimate the influence of Fang, CEO of Chinese VC firm ZhenFund. ZhenFund has backed more than 700 startups, including unicorns such as AI firm Yitu Technology, online education company VIPKid and social e-commerce app Xiaohongshu. A graduate of both Columbia University and Stanford University, Fang started her career in New York at JPMorgan as an investment banker to consumer and retail companies. Her success in overseeing one of China’s largest early-stage funds also earned her a spot on this year’s Forbes Midas List, where she joins Sequoia Capital China’s Neil Shen, Benchmark’s Bill Gurley and ZhenFund founder Bob Xu as one the world’s most successful venture capitalists.
Siswarini is the first woman to run a big publicly listed Indonesian telecommunications company, XL Axiata, a role she obtained in 2015 after 20 years of climbing the ladder in a male-dominated industry. One of her earliest steps required literally climbing cell towers up to 50m high while working as a network engineer. She then worked on expanding her skill set, mastering how to manage a digital business. She calls her strategy 3R: revamping, rise and reinvent XL Axiata’s core business. Under Siswarini’s leadership, XL Axiata sold noncore telco units, and offered wider access and affordable data services, thereby increasing its market share to almost 18% last year, from 10% in 2016 and boosting Ebitda 5% to $601 million over the same period. The mother of three says education policies should change to encourage more women to pursue tech careers.
Kim—who goes by Sophie—left a career as a management consultant to tap South Korea’s growing e-commerce market. Since launching her grocery delivery platform Market Kurly in 2015, sales at the Seoul-based company have grown more than 50 times to 156 billion won ($140 million). Touted in local media as a must-have app for upwardly mobile moms, Market Kurly now has more than 2 million subscribers, equivalent to a fifth of Seoul’s population. One of its most popular features is a dawn delivery service, in which orders placed before 11 p.m. are delivered before 7 a.m. the next day. Demand has climbed so fast the company now sees as much as 30,000 to 40,000 orders per day. Kim earned a bachelor’s degree in political science from Wellesley College in Massachusetts before stints at Goldman Sachs, McKinsey, Temasek and Bain. Her advice for women business leaders: “Dream big, act small!”
The founder of The Coffee Academïcs is on a roll. In the seven years since founding her coffee chain, Liu has opened 20 outlets in four cities in Asia and will open three more in Bangkok, Manila and Shenzhen by year-end. Last month, she signed an agreement with a China partner to open 50 outlets in and around Guangzhou in the next five years. Talks are also underway with potential partners in Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, South Korea and the UAE. Liu is a serial entrepreneur who sold a property website and has been running café chain Habitu Group since 2003 before setting up The Coffee Academïcs in 2012. Last year, Liu also started online catering platform Caterierge, whose clients include Google, LinkedIn and UBS. She is also vice chairman for her family’s property investment firm, Gale Well Group, led by her billionaire mother Rita Liu Tong.
Yamazaki has led the company to record revenue in the past three years, bolstered by the popularity of its cosmetics, body massagers and other beauty products, especially among China’s consumers. In the year ended April 30, Ya-Man’s net profit rose 4% to 3.5 billion yen ($33 million) on an 18% increase in revenue, to 27 billion yen. Founded in 1978 by a relative, Yukiteru, now honorary chairman, Ya-Man has developed many groundbreaking products, including Japan’s first high-frequency epilator, which pulls hair from the roots. Yamazaki took over as president of Tokyo-listed Ya-Man (her family still owns 50%) in 1999, and continues to try to develop new products to boost demand.
Kamonwan heads One Origin, a subsidiary of Thai developer Origin Property. One Origin plans to invest about $650 million, largely into hotels and serviced apartments, between 2018 and 2022. Kamonwan also sits on the board of another publicly listed company, telecom firm Total Access Communications. Kamonwan says her parents—a policeman and a teacher—expected her to work for the government. She spent her first two years after business school as an analyst at then-state-owned carrier Thai Airways before becoming an analyst at French bank Crédit Lyonnais. She switched to investment banking and moved to French bank Crédit Agricole, then in 2002 became chief financial officer for TPT Petrochemicals. She then landed a job at hotel company Erawan, where she was president and later CEO, leading the company’s expansion into the Philippines and its launch of budget chain Hop Inn. At 55, she moved to Origin Property.
Qian founded Luckin in 2017 and has already expanded the chain to 3,000 stores. Now Luckin is closing in on rival Starbucks—the largest coffee chain in the country—which first opened in 1999 and now operates 3,600 stores there. Xiamen-based Luckin wants to go even further, opening as many as 10,000 stores across China by 2021. That rapid expansion has come with big losses—Luckin lost $475 million last year—but its growth is attracting investors. The company in May raised $695 million in an IPO on Nasdaq, and now has a market capitalization of roughly $5.3 billion. Luckin is also venturing abroad, partnering with Kuwait-based The Americana Group to open coffee shops in the Middle East and India. Qian was chief operating officer of Beijing-based car-rental and ride-hailing firm UCAR before she started Luckin.
After 30 years in top management positions in Asia, Australia and North America for big international banks such as ANZ and Citigroup, Aguas last year took over as executive chairman of the Philippines’ first local life insurance company. Her top challenge is to popularize life insurance in a country where only 4% of the population has it. “A life insurance policy is one of the most prized gifts one can give one’s family and loved ones,” says Aguas. Under her leadership, the 109-year-old company saw premium income in 2018 rise 18% to 14 billion pesos ($267 million). In March, Aguas, in partnership with the World Bank, spearheaded a program called InLife Sheroes to educate Filipino women on issues such as financial literacy and health. She also helped transform the company’s digital capabilities to provide better access to insurance and investment products.
Ang is cofounder and CEO of premium coworking operator The Great Room, which in August opened its sixth location at Singapore’s Raffles Hotel, after having expanded to Bangkok last year and Hong Kong earlier this year. Rather than lease her spaces as do most coworking firms, she uses a revenue-sharing model with landlords, including the one in Raffles with the hotel’s owner, Qatar-based Katara Hospitality. After first self-funding her company, Ang has raised S$40 million ($29 million), including S$5.5 million from a group led by C31 Ventures, CapitaLand’s corporate venture arm. The banker-turned-property developer also sits on the Bangkok-listed Country Group Development board.
When MobiKwik cofounder Taku returned to India in 2008 from Silicon Valley—leaving behind a green card and a job at PayPal—she had one goal in mind: financial inclusion for all Indians. She spent almost a year working with an NGO in rural India to understand the financial needs of India’s rural population and in 2009 launched MobiKwik with cofounder and now-husband Bipin Preet Singh. Today, privately held MobiKwik offers digital wallet solutions and a payments gateway that has Uber and Zomato as clients. With more than 100 million registered users and more than a million transactions a day, it is one of India’s largest fintech players. “There’s still a lot of headroom to grow,” says Taku.
Leonita’s career took off in 2011 when she was put in charge of the investment portfolio at Indonesian life insurer Avrist Assurance. Five years later she was named director of the insurer’s asset management unit, where she built her own investment team. Within a year, assets under management soared 169% to 2.2 trillion rupiah ($161 million) and Avrist’s number of customers nearly tripled, to just under 1,000. In 2018, Leonita became the only woman on the company’s board. Last year net profits rose 47% to 249 billion rupiah from a year earlier, on the back of fresh promotion campaigns and new bonus schemes for sales agents. In May, she became the first female president director in Avrist’s 44-year history. She aims to put Avrist, now Indonesia’s 24th largest insurer by premiums, into the top 10 by 2023.
A self-declared “foodie,” Wat worked part-time at a Chinese restaurant in Hong Kong for three years before college, then after 10 years at health and beauty retailer Watsons in the UK. She joined Yum Brands in 2014 as president of KFC China. Two years later, Yum China was spun off with a New York listing, and in 2018 Wat took the helm of the firm. The company opened 819 outlets last year, bringing its total to 8,600. It also beefed up delivery services and its digital presence as well as increased membership in KFC and Pizza Hut loyalty programs. That helped Yum China boost 2018 net profit 78% to $708 million on an 8% increase in revenue.
Roongchat started working in 2011 at her family’s fruit juice and canned fruit company and in 2016 was appointed chief operating officer. Last year, she took over as CEO from her father Chatchai during a challenging year for Malee: with demand for fruit juice falling and the baht rising, the 41-year-old listed company reported its first loss in a decade. Since she joined the business, Roongchat has worked to increase the company’s offerings, venturing into cold-pressed juice, hair and beauty products, and toothpaste. She also cemented joint ventures that took Malee into new markets in Indonesia and the Philippines. Malee also paid $11 million for a majority stake in Vietnam’s Long Quan Safe Food, which is slated to almost double Malee’s production capacity.
Wibowo has two words for aspiring young businesswomen yearning to break through glass ceilings: “Aim high.” Coworkers know Wibowo as the “chief of many things” at Ruparupa, an online retailer of home and living products, a play on the Indonesian word rupa-rupa, which means “many things.” Ruparupa is an important digital initiative for her family’s Kawan Lama group, a 60-year-old collection of companies controlled by her father Kuncoro Wibowo. The group is one of the country’s largest retailers in categories such as furniture, toys and hardware supplies. Among its outlets, the group operates the world’s largest Ace Hardware store by size, at about 15,000 square meters, opened in 2016. The same year, she helped launch Ruparupa, which was meant to transform the group’s focus from brick-and-mortar retail to include e-commerce. Her success in this role is critical as Kawan Lama is increasingly facing pressure from online rivals such as Tokopedia and JD.com.
Dongre started her eponymous fashion empire in 1995 with her sister, Meena Sehra, with just two sewing machines in her Mumbai apartment. Today, House of Anita Dongre has 272 stores from Mauritius to Manhattan, with an array of labels that runs the gamut from bridal couture (Anita Dongre) to sustainable ready-to-wear (Grassroot). Dongre has attracted a celebrity clientele that includes the Duchess of Cambridge Kate Middleton and Canadian first lady Sophie Gregoire Trudeau. Dongre has also lured a big-name investor: New York-based PE firm General Atlantic has a roughly 40% stake.
Park is known in South Korea as the “queen of mergers and acquisitions” after buying 10 companies with 300 billion won ($270 million) in combined sales. She made headlines last year when she bought publisher Singongsa from the eldest son of former South Korean president, Chun Doo-hwan. Another company, Omnisystem, saw sales jump more than fivefold in the two years since her purchase in 2009. Park’s affinity for business came early: at 24 she borrowed money from her father to buy her first company, a tiremaker. BioSmart, Park’s de facto holding company, makes magnetic-stripe cards used by banks, credit-card companies, department stores and security firms. She also has interests in pharmaceuticals and cosmetics. “I hope we can measure our success as an entrepreneur, not as a female entrepreneur,” says Park.
Since 2013, when they became majority shareholders of a sleepy firm called the Nutrition Food Joint Stock Co., Le and her husband Tran Thanh Hai have turned NutiFood into Vietnam’s leading dairy nutrition products producer, more than tripling sales, to 9.5 trillion dong ($408 million) last year, and quintupling pretax profits to 828 billion dong. NutiFood operates four factories in Vietnam that produce mostly dairy products for baby formula and health supplements. Le is CEO while her husband is chairman. Together, they aim to expand NutiFood beyond Vietnam by investing overseas through joint ventures, mergers and acquisitions. NutiFood recently established a joint venture with Japan’s Asahi to provide food supplements and baby products in Vietnam under the Wakodo NutiFood brand.
Zhang has been pushing Huazhu, which was founded in 2005 as a budget hotel chain, into more upscale territory with the acquisition in the past two years of two Chinese-themed boutique hotels and the launch in 2017 of CitiGo, which targets millennials. A veteran financier with a Harvard MBA, Zhang joined Nasdaq-listed Huazhu in 2008 as chief financial officer and served in various senior executive positions before becoming CEO in 2015. Huazhu now operates 4,000 hotels across 18 brands, including five franchised from Accor, its French partner, since 2014. A markdown of its Accor investment last year led a 42% decline in net profit, to 716 million yuan ($100 million). Revenue, however, climbed 22% to 10 billion yuan as the company attracted independent hotel operators with its more flexible standards on room designs and its online booking platform, which boasts 130 million members.
Jatia, a staunch vegetarian, has for the past decade been running McDonald’s fast-growing franchise operator in western and southern India, Hardcastle Restaurants, a unit of her family’s listed Westlife Development. The company’s net profit more than tripled to $5.6 million in the year ended March 31 as sales rose 23% to $196 million. Since it entered India in 1996, McDonald’s has targeted the country’s rising middle-class. Half of the menu at its 300 stores is vegetarian, such as the McAloo Tikki burger, a spicy concoction of potato and peas. Jatia, who plans to open another 100 stores by 2022, says, “The market is constantly moving forward, so if you don’t reinvent yourself, you’ll get left behind.”
Chow has been transforming her family’s 58-year-old textile business Aussco by expanding into home furnishings and lifestyle, and upgrading its technology. Soon after taking over the business nearly a decade ago, Chow and her brother, CEO Jackson Chow, established an R&D and consulting arm focused on textile innovation called InDHouse. “We were dedicated to growing a manufacturing business despite the fact that manufacturing was in decline,” she says. The unit advises clients on research, design and sampling. Chow says InDHouse has clients such as Adidas and Ted Baker. Chow also heads Aussco’s retail and distribution arm, A Matter of Design, which owns the franchise for retailers BoConcept in Hong Kong and Tom Dixon in Greater China. It also advises on sales, marketing and logistics for interior designers, architects and property developers.