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Asia’s outstanding female leaders 2020 revealed

Updated: Sep 26



The 2020 Asia’s Power Businesswomen list spotlighting 25 outstanding female leaders in the Asia-Pacific region was announced by Forbes on 15 September. This year’s list recognizes 25 women at the helm of companies and institutions across a wide range of industries including biotech, education, logistics and law, whose track record of success and resilient leadership has set inspiring examples for others to follow.


Rana Wehbe Watson, editor of the 2020 Asia’s Power Businesswomen list, says as the world battles with uncertainties brought about by the pandemic, it is more important than ever that Forbes Asia highlights these businesswomen rising to the occasion and excelling during challenging times. She says among those who made the list is Roshni Nadar Malhotra, of HCL Technologies, the first woman to chair a listed tech firm in India and one of a handful of female chairpersons in the male-dominated global tech industry.


“In her last position as vice chairperson, she backed HCL’s US$1.8 billion purchase from IBM of a portfolio of its products and the acquisition which closed last year was the biggest by value in the company’s 29-year history. Samantha Du, a 56-year-old entrepreneur, leads Zai Lab, a Shanghai-based pharma company, whose $6 billion market capitalization has increased threefold since its IPO valuation on Nasdaq in 2017,” says the editor.


Du founded the company in 2014 and got ahead of the competition by adopting a licensing model acquiring the rights, often exclusive, to sell foreign firms’ drugs in China. Maki Akaida, CEO of Uniqlo Japan, a global fast-fashion retailer moved up the corporate ladder when she joined Fast Retailing, an operator of Uniqlo, in 2001 and has been tapped by Tadashi Yanai, CEO of Fast Retailing and Japan’s richest person, as a potential successor.


“Melanie Perkins, an alum of the 2016 Forbes 30 Under 30 Asia list, co-founded Canva, a graphic design software company, with Cameron Adams and Cliff Obrecht in 2013 while she was an undergrad at the University of Western Australia. The company has raised more than $300 million since then, with the latest round of $60 million in June valuing it at $6 billion,” says Wehbe Watson.


According to her, Lily Kong, the fifth president of Singapore Management University (SMU) and the first woman to lead one of Singapore’s top universities, took the helm of SMU in January 2019 continuing to expand its entrepreneurship capacity for students. She says in February, SMU opened a new building that includes incubation space designed to foster innovation and entrepreneurship among students, alumni and local businesses.


Jang In-A is one of the few women worldwide to run a gaming company, joining Smilegate Entertainment in 2007 as a game developer and rising through the ranks to become CEO in 2015. In-A now heads one of South Korea’s largest gaming companies by sales with $451 million in revenue last year and about 600 game developers.


Wehbe Watson says over the past two decades, Preeyanart Soontornwata, president and CEO of B.Grimm Power, has grown the power unit of the Thai conglomerate into a $3.7 billion company that operates 47 power plants in Thailand, Laos and Vietnam with five more in development. She says Soontornwata also oversaw the company’s IPO in 2017.


“The youngest to make this year’s list is Lucy Yueting Liu, a 29 year old alum of the 2017 Forbes 30 Under 30 Asia list who cofounded Airwallex with three other founders in 2015 to help customers conduct multi-currency cross border transactions more cheaply than banks. The company valued at nearly $1.9 billion is headquartered in Hong Kong and has clients ranging from JD.com in China to startup Cosmetics Now in Australia,” says Wehbe Watson.


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