As part of our Leading Women series, we want to highlight the professional challenges and career aspirations of the women we work with here in Asia.
In this story, Melisa Teoh, General Manager & Chief Marketing Officer at MyDoc, Simplify Healthcare, shares what it is like as a woman in the startup world, a particularly scary situation at work and the lessons learnt from that experience.
Q: What have you had to sacrifice in the course of your career?
MyDoc is a startup, and I’ve been with the company for about two years. This is the fourth startup that I have joined and, in every one of them, it takes all of who you are to make things work. Unlike a corporate environment, there isn’t a clear structure for things, which is why I enjoy it. There’s a lot of freedom for us to exercise our creative ideas. To manifest a vision that we all share, it takes a lot of effort, and there’s no shortcut to that. The team is very passionate, very dedicated to the cause, and all of us work anywhere up to 18 hours a day, sometimes more. So there are definitely sacrifices on a personal level. I am fortunate enough, however, that my daughter is a lot older now and she’s able to take care of herself. If she was younger, I probably wouldn’t be doing this right now.
Q: As a leader, how do you set the tone for your team?
The only way that I set the tone has been through my own behaviour. I tend to be quite aware of giving advice to people. I grew up with parents who were pretty controlling, and they liked things to be done in certain ways. I remember thinking, “But Dad, you said this, but then you did that, I don’t understand”. So to me, leadership is a lot like parenting. You can tell the children whatever you want, but if you don’t fundamentally believe in it yourself, they are going to mirror your behaviour. So leadership is really about leading yourself, and the tone I set is the tone that I adopt personally.
Q: In what ways have you empowered others?
I am a very collaborative type of person, and I believe that individuals have unique talents, interests, experiences and knowledge. So I tend to mix things up. When I build teams, I tend to look for complementary skill sets depending on what it is that we are trying to accomplish and the circumstances within which they are operating. I will combine people that work well together, a bit like a cooking recipe. I tend to also invite others to share ideas and, even if they have different thoughts on how to do things, I think it enriches the whole experience. I love creative thinking and working with people who bring different perspectives.
Q: What are the key leadership lessons that you’ve learnt?
One thing that I’ve learnt you can’t expect in others what you don’t expect for yourself. You can’t expect A+ results if you’re not willing to go the distance yourself. That’s what I learnt after studying other leaders and experiencing it myself. The other lesson is getting comfortable with different personalities. For example, I recently agreed to take on the role of General Manager. General management is not something that’s new to me because, growing up in a family business, my father was an entrepreneur, and most of my family members are too. I’ve set up multiple businesses throughout my life. However, at MyDoc, I inherited a team of salespeople, and some of them have been in sales for 20, 30 years. It is not easy to gain respect from people when you’ve just stepped into a new role. There’s some degree of trust and mutual respect that has to be established. So learning to work with people with much deeper experience in specific areas of expertise, and then to lead the team with that trust, is another thing that I have learnt.
Q: What advice would you give for future women leaders?
I’ve never really looked at it from a men versus women perspective. I tend to be gender neutral in that way. I think as long as you ensure that you’re competent in your role, you should earn a seat at the table. If I had to give advice, it would be that you have to be selective, especially when you’re joining a startup. Ask yourself: what is the idea? What is the opportunity? What’s the market potential? Who is in the team? Does the team share the same values? You also have to make sure that you are passionate about what you do, because it is going to take everything you’ve got.
Q: What energises you at work?
It’s the vision, I think. MyDoc is where we are truly trying to change the healthcare industry. To put it simply, we are very focused on improving the health outcome, not just in Singapore but around the region, and we are already in the US. The chronic disease level is going up, and healthcare has created a lot of innovations. We’ve got better equipment than we’ve ever had, but populations are not getting any healthier. People are ageing, and they are ageing faster. Chronic diseases are hitting people at much younger ages. Things are not working. So we are truly committed to making things better and at a cost that people can afford. I’m at the part of my life when I am seeking significance and meaning in life.
Q: How did you navigate your way through a male-dominated environment?
When I was still in the corporate environment, I did experience some challenges on that front. During a Chinese New Year dinner one year, I found myself and one other female colleague in a karaoke booth full of men. No one was inappropriate or malicious in any way, but we felt so uncomfortable at the time. So it’s about drawing boundaries and how do you do it when connecting with different colleagues. As a woman in a male-dominated team, I wouldn’t want to be an outsider. I do want to hang out with the team — but how do I do that? It’s finding that balance, and sometimes it’s challenging.
Q: As a leader, where did the bravery to step up come from?
I don’t see myself as being very brave. I’m just very curious. I’ve always been like that as a child. I used to get punished a lot by my teachers, always doing something that I shouldn’t have done. I guess it’s really about focusing on what I believe is important at any given time, and I think it comes across as bravery. When I moved from the corporate world to startup, people said that I was nuts. The pay wasn’t as good, the benefits weren’t as good, people asked, “Are you sure you really want to do this?” Now that I’ve been doing this for many years, I know that I did the right thing.
Q: Who’s been an inspiring female figure in your life?
Not to sound cliche or anything, but it’s certainly my mother. She’s been through a lot in her life. That generation of people don’t sing their praises, and they’re hard working people. They just get on with life. They’ve been through the war and survived challenging circumstances. In terms of public figures, I would say Madeleine Albright. I’ve been reading a lot about what she has to say about what’s going on in the US, and I’m inspired by the way she thinks, the opinions she has, her attitude and the way she conducts herself is jut outstanding.
Q: What’s the biggest risk you have taken?
Getting married and having a child. Until today, I have no clue what I am doing. I had no idea what I was getting into. I would say both my husband and I would agree to that statement. There is no manual in having a child. Every day is a brand new day, and you hope for the best. Yet you want the best for them and that they have a happy life. So for me, that always feels like a huge risk.
This interview was conducted by Jonathan Goldstein, Head of Page Executive in Southeast Asia. He has more than 14 years of experience in connecting women of the C-suite to both Asian businesses and Fortune 500 companies. Being the son of a mom who speaks 5 languages and received her masters in New York after immigrating into the country through Ellis Island in her teenage years, Jon was exposed to female leaders early in his life and was deeply influenced by them and their leadership styles.
He envisions himself to be part of the Gender & Diversity revolution in Asia Pacific and hopes to give prominence to women executives and the important elements they bring to senior leadership teams for companies to grow holistically.
Partner with Jon to strengthen your senior leadership team, discuss about your next opportunity or contribute to our Leading Women series to inspire others.