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Interview answers with Fione Tan ¨C President & CEO of

Madam Chair, Volume II 06

Q:In your previous job, you were the only woman holding a high position. Please provide some background as to how you got there.

Since starting my working career, I¡¯ve always been in male-dominated industries, where women were the minorities. For which I co-founded in end of 1999, I was more focused on the growth potential of the Internet industry and therefore, being in a male-dominated industry was not a concern.

Q:What was the journey to the top like?

I could still remember when my co-founders actually wanted me to take on the position as the CEO of the company, and I was actually quite intimidated, as I did not then, possess the experience nor the confidence. It was also during the initial stages, where we had to do business plan presentation to prospective investors, where the question of gender popped up. Many prospective investors were uncomfortable having a young girl with no IT experience lead their new invested company.

However, I was very thankful to have good partners who did not judge me by my gender, but by their vision of my capabilities, and ability to be groomed.

Now, when the shareholders respect me and treat me as equals, which I¡¯ve earned along the way through sheer determination and hardwork in pushing the company to higher limits. Therefore I feel that, even with little experience, but if you are persistent and passionate about your dreams, you will still achieve success if you are willing to take risk and focus on your goal.

Q:What were some of the struggles and challenges you faced in your climb to the top?

Being my very first time in business, I was having in a way more pressure, trying to prove that I could run the company, and to proof that my gender would not be a determining success factor.

Rather than look at the problems, and worry about whether I might be able to handle the new role, I made a choice to just look at the brighter side of things, and therefore be flexible along the way.

Most of my staff are also males and the question about working with a female boss, have not been their concern, as we have built a relaxed and cosy environment to work in.

However, for external factors like customers, these are harder to predict. I remembered where I was scheduled for a project pitching presentation in Korea, and when I walked into the room, I was the only woman within the group of over 10 male decision makers from all over Asia. Initially, it was rather uncomfortable that the other presenter for that project was a man, and I could actually sense the audience giving him more flexibility. There were several instances where that meeting went to topics off the agenda, and it was frustrating when some of them were not focused during my presentation.

After trying my best by giving them powerful strategies and tips, the audience started warming up to me, and became more open to what I had to say. You might not be able to change the audience¡¯s perspective of yourself, but by still performing with your best efforts, many prospects will still be able to accept you as a person worthy of their attention.

Q:Some companies are structured in such a way that women face difficulties in rising to top managerial positions. How do you think the companies you were with helped you get ahead?

All the companies I have been attached to previously have been bigger firms with many opportunities for both genders. Therefore, it is also very dependant on the individual to grab the chance and perform beyond expectations. There are always other companies available in the market, who will recognize your value and achievements, no matter what your gender is.

Q:In your experience, how do women prevent themselves from breaking through the glass ceiling?

The first obstacle is normally self-imposed, where many people tend to limit their capabilities. Dare to dream and work at it. If you have not tried it out, you will never know the results. I still remember a good phrase from Mahatma Gandhi ¡° You will never know the results of your actions, but without action, there will be no results!¡±

For any journey, there will be ups and downs, and these are just part of life. Many times, after we have solved the problems, we can look back at the obstacle and see that it wasn¡¯t such a big issue after all.

There are no set rules as to what a woman needs to do to be labeled as successful. It depends on what you feel personally are important to you. Therefore, if you feel that you want to build a good career, then go all out. If you feel that you are satisfied with just how your life has been, then you can also be considered that you have been successful as you have managed to achieve happiness.

Q:At any time and in any of your positions, did you earn less than the men in same positions?

I was fortunate that I did not have such experience. If I had been treated that way, I would definitely just move over to another company that would reward me based on the value I bring to the organization, and not based on my gender.

Q:Did you have any role models that motivated you to be the high achiever you are today? Who were they?

Yes, there are many role models for different aspects. For the motivation to work hard on my dreams, I would say Jeff Bezos, the founder of He was willing to give away his comfortable high-earning job, for a dream and vision of the Internet, even when this was a very new industry.

Coco Lee, the singer who dared to venture into music-genres which were competitive with western artists, rather than just limit herself to just Asian artists normal types of songs.

And many more entrepreneurs who overcomed huge obstacles to reach where they are today.

Q:It has been said that many women at the top don't help and even try to prevent other women from following in their footsteps. Please comment.

I¡¯ve also had a personal experience of this once. I was at a business luncheon and while passing out cards to the guests on my table, a middle-aged lady who was the Managing Director of her own PR firm, had the guts to say aloud ¡°Nowadays, it doesn¡¯t take much to be a CEO. Just register a RM2 company, and you can give whatever position titles you wish.¡±

I was not just sad to hear that, but to actually see that coming from a lady who is in PR, was rather unforgivable. However, her actions backfired, and none of the guests on my table even bothered to talk to her afterwards, as she has created such a negative impression to others.

There will be women, and men out there who might feel threatened that you will be as successful as them. However, the general fact is, most people are willing to help you and groom you. Therefore, you can choose your allies wisely and work only with people which are positive-minded.

Q:It is a myth or fact that women who succeed where few other women have are ruthless, heartless etc?

Some even say the same thing for men! Many of the successful people just know how to use their best traits, and work towards achieving their goals. As everyone would have different value systems, then as long as the individual feel that their efforts are worth the rewards, there is nothing wrong about their actions.

Q:What do women bring to management positions that differ from men?

Women have many extra added-values, like ability to be more compassionate, and emotional. Rather than put up a strong front, they know when to appear more determined, and when to be softer. Having both men and women in a company, ensures that there is a good balance of ¡°yin and yang¡± and therefore, more creative powerful ideas can be created.

Q:How can companies be encouraged to do away with the "think director, think male" phenomenon? (Or is this no longer a problem in our society?

I don¡¯t feel that this is a major problem in our society. Sometimes it¡¯s even more surprising when you expect a woman boss for selected industries or companies, but at the end of the day, discover that the individual behind that women-related industry was actually a man.

Q:Did you have any unpleasant experiences with male colleagues who may have made life difficult/ made snide remarks/ showed disatisfaction or unacceptance towards you?? If so pls provide an anecdote or two.

I tend to focus more on the silver lining in the clouds. Most of the time, when I become truthful with them, they will then realize their own faults, and treat you like a real person. Luckily, I¡¯m also sociable so have been able to make friends easily.

About, ranked No.1 Internet marketing company Asia in top search engines, and headquartered in Malaysia and with regional offices in Singapore and Hong Kong, is the only Internet marketing company in Asia to offer Internet marketing seminars, training, and one-stop eCommerce solutions to businesses worldwide who wish to expand to Asia, or vice versa. eOneNet offers Asia¡¯s top Internet marketing coaching program online with its popular Internet marketing video course and face-to-face program in Hong Kong, Malaysia and Singapore. For details, visit and

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