Freda Liu has tried her hand in many things, from marketing and public relations to broadcasting. Through it all, she claims that she has never been driven by money or fame; she is just curious by nature and believes in continuous learning.
“I’m full of energy, adventurous and love trying new things. A lot of things, in fact. And this has led me to writing books,” says the indefatigable Liu, who is currently a presenter and producer at BFM Radio.
Indeed, five years ago, the 47-year-old added author to her cap, releasing her first book, PR Yourself: Red Lipstick and Amazing Shoes about her observations of the PR industry.
Last month, she launched her latest book entitled Bursting Fixed Mindsets
. It features 15 women entrepreneurs who have built successful brands in Malaysia in sectors ranging from fashion and food to education and healthcare.
It was written to dispel the notion that a woman’s place is in the home, not at the head of the table in the boardroom. Being an advocate for female empowerment, Liu reiterates that thriving women entrepreneurs are not a myth: “They do exist!”
She took a year to write the book. Before she started, Liu was reading Million Dollar Women by Julia Pimsleur and realised that there are not a lot of women entrepreneurs who have crossed the million-dollar mark in the US. That got her wondering about the statistics in Malaysia.
According to the Department of Statistics, there were 187,264 businesses owned by women in 2015, about 20% of the total companies in Malaysia. On average, more than 10,000 women-owned companies were established every year from 2010 to 2015 (Source: Report of Economic Census 2016).
Delving deeper, Liu found that nine out of 10 women entrepreneurs were from the service sector, especially in services linked directly to homes. Other sectors included retail, food, beauty, education and child care.
“I wanted to find out more about the women who have crossed the million-ringgit threshold, what they did differently, so we could learn from them,” says Liu.
The lessons she learnt – which she recounted in the book – are not new. “But we need reminders,” stresses Liu.
Speaking to these high impact entrepreneurs, Liu observed some common traits. Most of them recognise the power of a good support team and hiring the right people.
“They had vision and being a woman, they are generally resilient. When we set out to something, we will see it through to the end. Money may be one of the motivations, but it’s more than that.”
Liu tried to get a wide representation of women business leaders. The goal was to showcase that anyone can do it regardless of background and circumstances.
She had many eye-opening insights, including one about perseverance from See Wai Hun, co-founder of Juris Technologies. Juris was established to address debt recovery challenges during the 1997 Asian financial crisis. The company developed an end-to-end software solution that offers corporations, primarily banks, the tools they need to distribute, recover, and analyse loans.
The company made big money during the crisis. Although bigger competitors have emerged since then that saw See and her partners struggling to stay afloat, they never gave up. Today, Juris is one of the largest credit management software providers in Malaysia, serving over 7,000 users and eight million accounts.
Liu highlights another impressive individual, Christy Ng who stresses the benefits of diversity in a business. The shoe designer started with an online shoe store, but has since opened six brick-and-mortar stores in the Klang Valley and Johor Bahru.
“To Ng, diversity is important,” Liu notes. “She had never thought of hiring men in an industry that caters mainly to women, but hiring men was what her business needed to be bolder and take risks.”
Liu believes there are many more lessons in the book. She felt that women entrepreneurs are not given enough publicity in Malaysia and she is making it her mission to change that.
“I hope people get inspired reading Bursting Fixed Mindsets,” she says.