Marian, the Managing Director of Cornerstone's EMEA office, began her career with Cornerstone in 2020. Born and raised in several states around Malaysia, Marian has probably seen more of Malaysia than most Malaysians have. She garnered a nursing degree at the La Trobe University in Melbourne, Australia and soon moved to The Netherlands for love. She then began pursuing a chemical engineering degree in process and food technology, which landed her a job with Tradin Organic. It was during this time when opportunities to start her own business began emerging. With the desire to start a family, the idea of her own business felt more enticing than working for an employer due to the flexibility it would allow her. Marian began and grew Cornerstone during the global pandemic and welcomed her daughter in 2021. Chatting with her on the topic of Women in Business, Marian shares her insights and experiences as a new mum in a leadership position:
What does a day look like in your shoes?
My morning starts with feeding my 6-month-old. I take care of the household, make sure the dog is fed – although I do share these responsibilities with my husband. Once I’m done with all the domestic things and have myself humanised, I get to work at around 10am and catch up with my team – we discuss the key milestones for the day, week, and fortnight - these morning meetings are essential for our type of work. Once my lunch break is over, I head back to work from 2pm to 6pm where I usually have meetings with clients or my team or arrange plans for the organisation like implementing training sessions and workshops for our employees so that they can upscale themselves. When my workday ends, my family and I have dinner and we take care of the baby – making sure she gets fed, showered, and changed. Once she goes to bed, sometimes I go back to work, and this happens maybe… once or twice a week. Otherwise, I relax and wind down.
What gets you excited to go to work?
The feeling of being in control of your own destiny and being your own boss – it’s a lot of fun. In the past, I would be so worried about my performance review, but I don’t have to experience that anymore. I take this experience into heavy consideration when I’m preparing the performance reviews for my staff – I try to make this process as fun and as unintimidating as possible. My personal performance review is with my clients, and it’s exciting to work with different projects from all over the world and make new friends along the way as well.
Tell us about how your experience as a nurse prepared you for this role.
Time management and the ability to to pick up key information quickly were two critical factors. During my time as a nurse, I also developed critical thinking as my university would give us real patients and make us figure out what was wrong with them. There was a lot of practice on identifying issues and having a sense of urgency. I developed people skills and learned how to deal with challenging situations. I watched my managers have difficult conversations with patients so I’m not afraid of having them and I’m quite resilient in these situations. Sometimes, the conversations are about things that are out of my comfort zone, but I believe these situations really help build you as a person as you can’t run away from them.
You’ve seen how various industries operate and how Cornerstone operates. Do you think different business sectors have greater gender diversity/women in leadership and why do you think that is so?
Within the industry of healthcare and babies, there is usually a much greater female presence because many companies within this industry profile themselves as family focused. These companies are often more flexible with mothers as they can work three or four days a week with one day at home to look after their children. These companies will also see you as a whole person and not in terms of just output. So, if a company within this industry doesn’t have this type of flexibility, it probably won’t have the best reputation. A company can’t say “I’m for mothers” but is mainly run by men and doesn’t have flexibility in working situations.
As for women who are in leadership, it’s only natural that if you have more women working in a sector, you’re probably going to have more female leadership. Despite that, unfortunately you still see the disparity and often, men still get promoted faster than women. Sometimes it’s because women don’t want to take on the extra burden because it means more hours, more workload and ultimately – more headaches! Sometimes, companies tend to promote people (regardless of gender) who will be able to commit to the job scope better. That’s why I think women who are currently in leadership really want to be there. They will make sacrifices and sometimes, these sacrifices come at great costs but generally, if women want to be on top, they will be able to get there.
You’re a new mum and you grew and developed Cornerstone during a global pandemic. How do you balance career, personal life, and passions? Do you believe there is such thing as balance?
There is balance but you can’t have it all. How do I do it? I manage my devices – I never read my emails when it’s family time. It’s crucial to touch base with my business partners and make sure that anything that is of importance or is urgent is being dealt with. I also won’t look at my phone on the weekends and I will only look at it when I know I am going to work. I’ve also learned how to delegate; so, if I know I can’t do something that needs to be done and I can pass it on to someone else, I do it. Another thing is not expecting perfection – if what you have is going to get you over the line, it’s good enough.
What is one thing you know now about women and work you wish you had known earlier in your career?
It’s not so much something that I wish I knew but it’s definitely something I appreciate - women are survivors and they just make it work. We’re very flexible and it’s something I really appreciate especially when I think about my mum. Being brought up in a Chinese-Malaysian household, I was also raised by my grandmother and from that, my mother had a lot of support which was especially important. From my upbringing, one thing I wish other women knew is that you don’t have to suffer by yourself. You can always ask for help and your support group is essential. In my case, we met a neighbour who eventually became a part of my family and I see her as a mother figure here. If we didn’t have her, I wouldn’t have the work-life balance that I have now. Because of her help and support, I have so much time for the business and still have time for the family.
What advice do you have for a woman just starting their career? What would you want them to know?
Just thinking about when I went back to university to pursue my chemical engineering course; it was a bachelor’s degree, and I was a little older than the rest of the cohort - One thing I noticed was how the younger people got so hung up about their grades and their performance at school. They were unable to see the bigger picture and at university, although important, grades are not the most important thing. More important things to learn at university are building relationships, learning how to deal with different people, soft skills and etc. In the end, getting a 7.9 and not an 8.0 will not matter in the grander scheme of things. Companies will more often look at your ability to socialise, your networking skills, your critical thinking skills, they’ll see if you’re asking the right questions, and these skills are far more valuable than just grades. That’s why in your job interviews, it’s very important that you have far more questions than your interviewer has for you.
Another piece of advice I would give to women just starting their career is to make sure you never get yourself into a situation where shady things can happen to you. I know it’s easy for me to say this coming from an industry where things like this don’t happen as often, but never provide an opportunity to put yourself in a potentially harmful situation. Don’t be too gullible, take your time getting to know people, and never do things alone. Keep yourselves grounded. Ladies, as the saying goes: when something is too good to be true, it probably is.