November 30, 2020

Successful male entrepreneurs tend to be feted in the media and placed on a pedestal, but what about female trailblazers who are part of this cadre of self-made multi-millionaires? According to a Mastercard Index of Women Entrepreneurs, women own 23.9 per cent of all businesses in China. In a country where women make up 45 per cent of the population, this number is particularly significant, given the fact that sons are favoured over daughters. 

In Singapore, 26.3 per cent of businesses are owned by women, while in Vietnam, that figure is slightly higher at 31.3 per cent. A parochial and archaic misconception people have is that women are inferior to men in business. However, this could not be further from the truth. Here are five indomitable powerhouses who prove that women are just as capable (or even better) than their male counterparts.

Akiko Naka, Founder and CEO, Wantedly

In a country rooted deeply in a traditional patriarchal system, with less than eight per cent of women in managerial positions, 36-year-old Akiko Naka is an outlier. In February 2012, the intrepid entrepreneur founded Wantedly, a social recruiting platform that connects companies and employees , and has since grown the site to 2.4  million monthly active users and 30,000 corporates. By the end of 2017, the company was listed on the Tokyo Stock Exchange. In 2019, the company’s share price tripled, giving Wantedly a market value of 29 billion yen.

Now hailed as the largest professional networking site in Tokyo, many have been raving about how Wantedly has positively changed their lives. Naka’s number one advice for entrepreneurs looking to start a company in Japan? Make sure your product has the same appeal in international markets too.

Anni Chen, Founder, Kuaikan Manhua

This 28-year-old, who goes by the handle @greatanny, made inroads into the Chinese market when she posted her own anime comic series The 1% Life, in 2014, on Kuaikan Manhua, a comic-reading platform she had founded. In a short span of two months, Kuaikan Manhua became the leading free app in China, and has since amassed over 170 million users, 3,000 authors/artists and 3,000 original comics, making it China’s largest online comic platform. Last August, tech giant Tencent invested US$125 million in the company,  bringing their total funding raised to a total of US$354.2 million. Other former investors also include Sequoia Capital China and Bytedance. The plucky entrepreneur is a firm believer in gender equality and ensures that all opportunities for promotion and growth should be determined by performance, not gender.

Lillian Wu, Chairman, Hakim Unique Internet

The sophisticated and stylish chairperson of Hangzhou-based Hakim Unique Internet has both beauty and brains and is reported to have a net worth of US$1.3 billion, making the 38-year-old entrepreneur one of the most successful and richest self-made billionaires in China. Even when she was doing her master’s degree in Zhejiang University, Wu had already made her first million selling fibre optic transceivers to telecommunications companies with her current husband Jack Wang Qicheng. A year later, the couple founded Hakim Unique Internet Company in 2002, after the telecommunications companies shifted their business internally. Wu grew the business by attending countless networking events and diligently contacting many real estate companies. Eventually, her industriousness paid off and she managed to procure three massive deals, which eventually led to others. But her fortune was made due to the sharp decline in prices of electronic products (for each project) resulting in high profit margins. Ten years later, Hakim was listed on the Shenzhen Stock Exchange with a market capitalisation of nearly 400 million yuan (US$57.8 million).

Melanie Perkins, Co-Founder and CEO, Canva

Perkins started her first business in 2013 in the most unlikely of places—her mother’s living room. The 32-year-old Australian who is the co-founder and CEO of Canva, a free online design platform, created the company because she wanted to make design accessible to the masses. Five years later, she became known as one of tech’s youngest female CEOs. Presently, the company is worth US$3.2 billion, giving Perkins an estimated personal fortune of US$900 million. The entrepreneur came up with the idea in 2006 during her university days in Perth. Back then, she earned some side income by teaching students how to use design programmes like Adobe, but her students would often lament that the process was too technical and difficult to learn. After taking their feedback into consideration she, together with her partner Cliff Obrecht, started an online school yearbook design business, Fusion Books, to see if their idea of “simplifying” the designing process was feasible. The seminal moment in her career came during a conference in 2010, where eminent investor Bill Tai saw potential in her idea and asked her to pitch in Silicon Valley and linked her up with his network. The couple managed to win over several major investors and they hit pay dirt. Last October, a US$85 million funding round headed by Bond Capital valued the company at US$3.2 billion. Today, the app has become a global household name, and has assisted in the creation of over two billion designs in 190 countries.

Yang Huiyan, Shareholder of Country Gardens Holdings

This 39-year-old Cypriot-Chinese businesswoman and property developer is purported to be the wealthiest woman in Asia. Just last year, she recorded a jaw-dropping net worth of US$21.2 billion. Yang Huiyan is the largest shareholder of Country Garden Holdings (holding 70 per cent of the shares), which was transferred to her by her father Yang Guoqiang in 2007 and is also the co-chairman. In 2014, it was reported that she had raised a whopping US$410 million for the company by selling new shares, proving her aptitude for fund-raising.

As a teenager, the Ohio State University graduate would accompany her father to board meetings to learn the ropes. Today, she runs the Foshan-based company with him. As one of China’s largest property development firms, they have holdings that extend across Malaysia and even Australia. Currently, the company is working on a S$58.3 billion project called Forest City, which is the largest mixed development (consisting of four man-made islands) in Johor Bahru. The estimated date of completion is projected to be around 2036.