In conjunction with the recently held International Women’s Day, BusinessToday interviews Dawn Liew, CEO Kopitiam Asia Pacific Sdn Bhd, owners and operators of Old Town White Coffee on the stereotypes she has faced in her journey in becoming the CEO and has the business ecosystem changed after all these years.
1. What has your journey been like in the F&B business and what are some of the stereotypes you have encountered along the way?
The F&B business is a roller coaster of ups and downs and never a dull moment. I would say that opinions of senior people within the industry tend to be quite stoic. There is an unwillingness to change and resist the notion of “if it isn’t broken, don’t fix it” and that all F&B brands have the same formula. Prejudice and indifference toward women in senior management exists globally.
2. Has these stereotypical perspectives died down over the years? Do you think more work needs to be done to quash and change perspectives to create a more equal workplace?
I believe it has improved over time especially brought about by the global pandemic. The work for equality in the workplace is constant.
3. How has the pandemic affected your business and how did you overcome these challenges?
Most, if not all in the retail and services sector were affected. We spotted worrying trends as early as the start of the Chinese New Year in 2020. Due to these observations, we took immediate precautions to protect our associates, conserve cash flow, and re-orient our business model to brace for impact.
4. Digital transformation has been the key term for many businesses during the pandemic. What has the transformation been like for your business?
Having a mix of legacy and new franchisees within our eco-system meant that digital transformation would require a fair bit of customisation, and work arounds. To our credit, we have very supportive associates and third-party partners who worked with us to digitalize our business. The transformation has been rapid and continuous, and we are still not done!
5. Even as we pass the first quarter of 2021, what gender hurdles do you still face?
If I see a hurdle I don’t like, I review the direction of the race I’m running. Women can do anything men can do, we’ve proven that and more. There is no need for us to “prove” ourselves as the proof is in the doing and the environment that grows around each leader.
6. What is a message you would like to relay for young women who are looking to overcome hurdles and make their mark in the business world?
Begin with the end in mind. Do your research, be solid in your ask and be flexible enough to manoeuvre to get to the end state that you want to achieve. Often, I meet women and men, young and mature who did not read up or carry out basic research before pitching an idea or proposal. I’m not a fan of throwing spaghetti at a wall.
7. What more can we do not just as players in the business industry but also as a society to create a world and space for more women to come up and grow without being held back?
Education is key, and opportunity must be provided without prejudice. The transformation from a society that is self-aware and actualizes thought into action is a process. As contributors in this journey called life, each one of us, regardless the gender has a social obligation to call out and fix errors and oversights which have become endemic within our workplaces and social circles. If each of us can be present and impact the circle immediately around us, that will go a long way to setting the path for the world that we want to live in.