It’s becoming less likely today that one’s career begins and ends with the same company or even the same business environment. We’re instead seeing more emerging leaders from SouthEast Asia take the leap from traditional businesses to sail the open waters of hypergrowth.
We recently had the pleasure of speaking with two women who answered the call to adventure - Angela Lai, Head Of Commercial at Love, Bonito and Joanna Fung, Head of Business Development at LELO. Join us in this edition of Middle Matters as we uncover what drew them away from the fashion powerhouses of I.T and Christian Louboutin to game changers in the fashion and femtech space and what they learnt about themselves along the way.
Invest in Your Future
When Angela Lai had a manager that valued her work and an offer for a managerial role at I.T Group, one of the biggest fashion groups in Hong Kong, she understood how privileged she was to be in that position. Despite that, she craved more.
“E-commerce was very small in Hong Kong back then (in 2016) and there was no other way to learn about it because there wasn’t any other company doing it,” Angela said before her move to Zalora, currently one of Asia’s biggest online fashion retailers.
“I suddenly felt very strongly that I didn’t want to become a manager without knowing what I believed was going to be a big part of the future trend.”
She has no regrets about having to give up a managerial position in place of being a Senior Buyer at Zalora. “It opened a new door for me to learn something entirely new … That inspired and fueled the strong need to stay relevant in the future.”
Trust Your Gut
After nearly a decade of working in high fashion at Louis Vuitton and Christian Louboutin, the industry and its lifestyle didn’t resonate with Joanna anymore. “I felt like I knew everything like the back of my hand and I wasn’t learning anymore,” she said. “That was the moment where I said, ‘Okay. I need to start exploring something else.’ ”
She moved to Soho House, where she looked after event programming. It opened her circle to people outside of fashion - music, film and different industries. After three years, she felt the same pang in her stomach again telling her: “I don’t know if I’m learning anymore.” She started looking again and found LELO, a leading luxury pleasure brand.
“What brought me to LELO was its mission of working towards something more impactful and being able to change attitudes regarding women’s health and democratising sexual wellness,” she beamed. “I hear a lot in terms of looking for something that’s aligned with your values and ambitions [because] I think that drives everything that you do.”
“My lightbulb moment came from trusting my gut. It always tells you when it’s time for a change. It’s just a matter of whether you’re listening or not.”
Good Enough is Enough
The fast-paced world of hypergrowth can be challenging to adjust to, even if you’re transitioning within the same industry. “I used to want to do everything perfectly and as detailed as possible. All decisions were based on considerations of a hundred different factors. Find all your facts and look at all the data. Have it super supported by evidence and make the decision to do it,” Angela explained.
“People from a more structured environment struggle with how fast things have to happen. In most cases, the growth of the business needs is usually faster than the growth of your resources.”
With more to do than the manpower available to accomplish them, Angela learnt to focus on the trade-off: “In the hypergrowth environment, especially when resources are never enough, prioritisation and trade-offs become even more important.”
Angela’s advice for managers taking the same leap as her is to focus on what matters most now. “You have to learn that good enough is enough,” she says. “Investing anything more than good enough may, unfortunately, become not an effective use of resources.”
“Prioritisation and making decisions on trade-offs is a key factor.”
Embrace Your Limitations
When she has a thousand and one things on her plate coupled with the responsibility of managing a team, Joanna is reminded that:
“You can do anything, but not everything.”
“It’s about making mistakes, taking risks and embracing failure,” she explains. “Making mistakes is human - there is nothing wrong with making mistakes [because] there are great learnings that come from them.”
While Angela and Joanna can attest to the purpose they found in trusting their instincts and pursuing a career in hypergrowth, it wasn’t without its fair share of ups and downs. The right path for you may lie in the one that matches your values, just like it does for them.
What we can learn from their journey is that the pursuit of adventure begins with bravery and curiosity and is nourished through kindness - both to others and ourselves.
- How wide is the gap between your personal and professional goals? What steps could you take to bring them closer?
- When was the last time you had the chance to reassess your priorities?
- Are there any areas of the work where your team members are having a challenging time? What questions can you ask them in your next meeting that’ll help them come up with their own solutions?