She’s out to change the way the world looks at female leaders of industry

Loretta Chen’s latest book ‘Madonnas and Mavericks’ is a collection of stories from 17 Singapore women who have made it to top against the odds.
Samuel Isaac Chua

She interviewed 17 power-packed Singapore leaders in different fields and they ranged from pastry chef Janice Wong, diplomat Chan Heng Chee and even the president of Singapore Madam Halimah Yacob.

When she compiled their life and success stories for her new book “Madonnas and Mavericks”, author Loretta Chen, 40, found a common thread running through them: None of the women ever allowed their circumstances to define them but saw them as a challenge to overcome instead.

She said: “None of them (the women) ever used the victim trump card ‘Boo hoo, poor me. It’s all my parents’, ex-husband’s, children’s (or) future lover’s fault’.”

Business Insider caught up with Chen, who’s also known for her work in TV presenting, theatre direction and radio DJ-ing, while she was in town this month for the launch of the book – her third and counting.

“They (the women featured) have in fact all allowed the obstacle to be the way and embraced challenges, pain, taken the stab in the back, the kick in the face and the slam of the door to say ‘Okay, this is how the world rolls. So this is how I will rock and roll’.”

Chen, who is Singaporean, now lives with her husband (and three cats) in Hawaii, and is an adjunct professor at Argosy University and the University of Hawaii (Leeward). She has a Doctorate in Philosophy from UCLA and a Certificate in Leadership from Harvard.

On how women today are empowered to take on power roles in corporate environments, Chen said she is heartened to see that companies are actively doing their part to eradicate the gender gap.

She said:” There is, of course, more to be done. Women in leadership positions are still a minority today and make up less than 5% of CEOs and S&P 500 companies.”

Leadership to her isn’t a job description or a position of power but more of a disciplined mental model and guiding principle.

“True leaders lead by example, are people-centred and able to provide a clear vision, guide their team, take charge when need be and assume responsibility when the going gets tough,” she said.

“Most importantly, a leader is one who dares to take the fall and is able to get back into the fray again.

Chen has worn many hats in her 17-year career and co-founded regional creative agency The Activation Group, helming campaigns for luxury and international brands, while directing theatre productions around the world.

She also worked as a consultant to the government investment arm of Bhutan and was once headhunted by American automobile company Tesla to be its business development advisor.

In fact, she is a living example of a maverick and believes that young women should dare to dream big and be accountable for their own actions.

“Power women do need to carry themselves and/or abide by certain guidelines to ensure they do not end up sidelined or become victims of bias,” she said.

“Having said that, this also means they must dare to break stereotypes and not be afraid to stir controversy if it benefits the greater good.”

Chen is currently working on another book entitled “Mana Wahine: Inspiring Women of Hawaii” which will feature women who are native Hawaiian advocates, spiritual healers, history buffs and even surfing champions – because the “landscape dictates it”.

It is due out sometime next year.

“I would like to live to see a day when women in leadership becomes the norm and that there is no need for gender markers in one-gender dominant industries…but till that day comes, I am proud to be considered a woman leader, so hear me roar,” she said.