‘It takes a lot of courage to lean forward. We need to speak up and sometimes speak a little bit louder to be heard.’
For over 20 years, URC International managing director and chief marketing officer Mian David has been working with brands at different companies and turning around declining market share. That’s what she did when she first joined URC’s Beverage Division, leading a team that steered Great Taste back to its top position after three years of decline.
URC International operates in Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar and China. Mian oversees all these markets.
“Many times in my career, I would find myself in a room, and realize I would either be the youngest, or the only female, or the only Asian in that room. I’d sometimes wonder if that would be taken against me. In a room like that, it takes a lot of courage to find your voice. I’d like to think I eventually did. It may not be the strongest, or the loudest, or the boldest, but it’s my voice,” Mian reflects on her two decades of experience.
Women in the workplace, she says, are like ducks or swans with a calm exterior “but they’re paddling furiously under the surface just to keep afloat. Just to keep everything together. That’s us.”
What is your leadership style?
I’m not sure I have a particular leadership “style,” but I lead according to my values. First is excellence, which means giving my 100% to every task, big or small. Second is humility, recognizing that others are better than me and I have so much more to learn. If I make a mistake, then I own up to it and apologize for it. Third is courage, which is doing the right thing, even if it’s difficult or unpopular. It is not always easy, but I try my best to show up every day being true to these values.
What are the benefits of having women in leadership roles?
I think women are naturally caring. Through the multiple hats we wear—as mothers, daughters, sisters, aunts, and friends—we’ve learned to care. And so it’s natural for us to care for the business and wellbeing of our teams—to act with empathy and compassion as leaders.
Equally, I think women are strong. There is a certain resilience and grit that come with womanhood and motherhood, and if we bring that to a business setting, it can be powerful. Whether it’s solving complex issues, turning-around a business, or rallying a team, women can be counted on to act with grit and tenacity. And so it’s the unique combination of strength and empathy that makes women special and effective as leaders.
What do you think is the behavior or trait that derails women in their careers? What is it that lets them flourish in their careers?
I think women sometimes tend to second-guess themselves. I do. I was once part of a global brand leadership team, and I was the only woman, the youngest, and the only Asian in the board. To some this would seem like an achievement, but to me, it felt like a huge mountain. In big meetings, I would watch my male colleagues speak confidently and spontaneously. Meanwhile, I would rehearse my point-of-view several times in my head before speaking up. Before you know it, the debate had passed, and I missed the opportunity to fight for the business.
It takes a lot of courage to lean forward. It is not easy to claim our seat at the table. We need to speak up and sometimes speak a little bit louder to be heard. But we need to do it to get the job done.
Did you have a role model or mentor? What are the lessons they taught you?
My role model is my mother. She was a teacher—an accounting teacher actually—and a tough one at that. So growing up, I would see her preparing lectures, checking test papers, and teaching on her feet for hours. But she still managed to help me with my homework, attend all my ballet recitals, pick me up from school, and do my makeup for prom. At a young age, I saw how strong and excellent women can be, and how caring and selfless mothers should be.
I remember asking my mom once, “What do you want me to be when I grow up”? And she told me, “It doesn’t matter what you become, as long as you are the best at it. If you decide to be a street sweeper, I will be happy as long as you are the best street sweeper you can be.” That was one of my early lessons on excellence.
Balancing career and family is tough! I personally tutor my kids and help them with their homework, and that’s hard to do when you’re traveling overseas for business.
What is your secret to balancing career and family/personal life? How hard was it for you and what was the breakthrough moment when you said, “I got this!”
It is not easy. Real talk: balancing career and family is tough! I personally tutor my kids and help them with their homework, and that’s hard to do when you’re traveling overseas for business. One time, I had to cut short a business trip and fly home because my daughter was rushed to the hospital for dengue. And when yaya takes a day off and doesn’t return on time, it could feel like the end of the world! So definitely, it isn’t easy. But us, women, we do our best. And we do it for the people we love, our family.
I have two daughters, 13 and 16. I want them to grow up to be excellent in whatever they choose to do, to reach their full potential. At the same time, I want them to value family as much as I do. So I want to be the kind of mom who shows them it can be done.