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A source of inspiration to help young women to aspire and achieve

Business and Enterprise

Posted on November 9, 2017

2 min read

Managing a team of 90 is definitely no easy task, but Nicole McMillan, Vice President of Marketing for Asia, Middle East and Africa (AMEA) at Mars Wrigley Confectionery, and finalist of the Telstra Business Woman in Asia Award 2017, not only manages a team of this size but has become a source of inspiration for the women around her.

What sets Nicole apart from many others is her nurturing and supportive leadership style through which she has paved the way to create a stronger, more diverse workplace at Mars Wrigley Confectionery.

Since staring her career at Mars, Nicole has worked with some of the global leading food and beverage brands under the Mars umbrella, including Snickers, M&M’s, Twix and Skittles. Nicole was rewarded for her hard work and dedication and was eventually promoted to the position of Vice President of Marketing AMEA for Mars Wrigley Confectionery. Managing 750 different products across 75 countries and territories, Nicole has demonstrated her skill as a valued leader and advisor in the industry.

Confectionery, is a finalist for the Telstra Business Women in Asia Award 2017.
Nicole McMillan, VP of Marketing for AMEA at Mars Wrigley Confectionery, is a finalist for the Telstra Business Woman in Asia Award 2017.

Since commencing in her role, Nicole has streamlined the operating structure in her department to provide employees a sense of ownership over their work, and give them an opportunity to showcase their talent.

She is now reaping the benefits of her compassionate approach with her team’s employee engagement levels increasing by 20 per cent and attracting some of the best talent in Mars globally.

Her approach does not benefit employees alone. By nurturing employees, she is able to create a mutuality of benefit for the employee, the company but also the community at large.

Nicole is always looking for ways to improve the functionality of her organisation through the application of leading edge technology. As biometric testing rapidly develops, she is optimistic about the insights these technologies will provide on how Asian consumers respond to advertising, compared to their Western counterparts. Such valuable insight will help inform the future of marketing on both a local and global scale.

Managing a team of 90, Nicole is a source of inspiration for the women around her.
Managing a team of 90, Nicole is a source of inspiration for the women around her.

Nicole is one of seven finalists for this year’s Telstra Business Woman in Asia Award category. The winner will be announced on Tuesday 21 November in Melbourne.

Click here to learn more about the Telstra Business Awards or to nominate brilliant business women for the 2018 Awards.

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Leading the forefront of education in India

Telstra Business Women Awards

Posted on October 17, 2017

3 min read

Last week we announced the seven finalists of this year’s Telstra Business Woman in Asia Award category. In the coming weeks, we will share inspiring stories of some of these outstanding women from India, Hong Kong, Malaysia, and Singapore. Today, meet Geeta Dharmarajan, Founder and President of Katha from India.

As a passionate writer and storyteller, educationist, reading advocate and community focused leader, Geeta Dharmarajan has combined these traits to create her not-for-profit organisation, Katha, which has been at the forefront of publishing and education in India for three decades. Through the years, Geeta has been bringing together India’s 2,000-year-old storytelling, theatre, dance and music traditions into her StoryPedagogy, a sustainable education model that spans the literacy to literature continuum, seeing translations as a non-divisive tool in nation building.

Family has been a big inspiration for Geeta. Her grandmother, an Indian social activist, and her father, a family doctor, highlighted the importance of empathy and equity, from an early age. Knowing that children living in poverty are not given the opportunity to learn, Geeta started the Katha Lab School in 1990, to give all children the opportunity to bring themselves out of poverty and live a better life. From mainstreaming quality into ageold government systems, to starting bold, innovative reading initiatives that impact thousands of schoolchildren, to cutting edge teacher training, Geeta is making a positive impact on poverty reduction through quality education.

Katha’s education model focuses on learning for meaning. Geeta is fostering in children a reader-leadership to create a kinder, more nurturing world. Katha’s children’s books open the world of Indian culture and diversity amongst people, helping to create a more open and inclusive society. From caring for the earth and nature, and gender issues, Katha’s focus is on equality for everyone.

As the world is rapidly digitising, technology has played an important role in Geeta’s plan to bring 300 million children in India to help bring equity in education. From this, the Katha digital lab – the organisation’s cell that creates ekits, apps, website service and online education resource – was born. Through the power of technology, DigitalKatha removes physical barriers, enabling children across the country to have access to books and learning. Enhancing the use of technology is also key to the organisation’s work with teachers and poor communities, facilitating the training of government school teachers as cloud specialists, enabling them to lead their own learning clusters of teachers.

The impact of Katha and Geeta’s constant ambition to educate children has had significant impact in India. Not only has she empowered children in government schools, in over 1000 poor communities training 350,000 women, but also 17,000 teachers in primary education. Her work has helped over 1.3 million children to date to become upwardly mobile, who otherwise would not have had access to an education. Katha books have reached 8 million children and continues to grow!

Geeta is one of seven finalists for this year’s Telstra Business Woman in Asia Award category. The winner will be announced on Tuesday 21 November in Melbourne.

Click here for more information on the Telstra Business Woman in Asia Award or to nominate brilliant business women for the 2018 Awards.

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Chinese Startups: An evolving landscape of innovation and change

featured Startups

Posted on June 22, 2017

10 min read

The world of Chinese startups has been evolving and growing rapidly in recent years. To get a holistic view of the Chinese startup ecosystem, I spent time with Chris Pu, Partner, Head of greater China at Telstra Ventures and Ben Sand Entrepreneur in residence at muru-D Sydney, to discuss technology trends in China, industries that make them excited and the most memorable advice from their mentors.

How would you rate the current startup environment in China?

Ben Sand: In my experience, mainly from spending time in Shenzhen, the startup environment in China is very exciting. People work extremely hard, and the ability to execute, especially on the hardware side is phenomenal. There is a truth behind the saying: “Whatever you can do elsewhere in 12 months, you can do it in 3 in Shenzhen.” Sometimes even just feeling some of that energy or having people around you moving at such fast pace can positively influence you as well.

Chris Pu: Very interesting and very diverse. There are clear differences between the 3 startup hubs in China – Beijing, Shanghai and Shenzhen. I think Beijing is the most vivid one. There is plenty of good talent, opportunities and capital, and for any startup these are the most important ingredients. Also, in Beijing, you can feel that companies have the ambition to build nationwide or even globally around a strong and transformative idea. Companies in Shenzhen, due to their heavy focus on hardware and consumer electronics, seem to be a lot more practical in terms of running a business and eventually driving sales.

What do you personally find exciting about China startup environment? 

Ben: I think it is the pace. The combination of the energy and the real thirst from people to be internationally and locally relevant, start companies and businesses and eventually succeed. I’ve never seen that level of thirst and speed before.

Chris: I would echo what Ben said. I would say both the atmosphere and the passion for driving a startup are very exciting. Chinese people are known for their hard work. But nowadays they not only work hard but also work smart. And that’s really important in a startup environment. Another exciting element from my point of view is the Government’s support for startups, especially in the last 2 years.

Is there enough support for the startup ecosystem locally?

Chris: China has a very supportive environment for the startup ecosystem today with a lot of support on a policy level from the Government. At 2015, during the 12th National People’s Congress meetings, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang urged local governments to implement policies encouraging “mass entrepreneurship and innovation” and to promote the growth of startup companies. Since then, the state has set aside more than RMB 2.1 trillion (US$320B) to invest in supporting emerging entrepreneurs in the technology sector. However, you can see that the Government understands that it’s not just about the funding: in the last few years, the State Council has introduced new measures to cut red tape and make it easier to register new companies.

Two more elements that are crucial for a healthy startup ecosystem are VC funding and access to talent. China is the second largest venture capital market in terms of aggregate deal value after North America. And Chinese universities are well-known for producing great engineering and technical talent that, very often, ends up joining local startups. Because of these elements the local startup ecosystem is flourishing today.

What are some of the challenges local companies face?

Ben: I think one of the challenges local companies face, especially if we talk about global ambition, is challenges around “cultural translations”. When the product is “simple” and doesn’t require any cultural translations, it is much easier to scale it to other markets. For instance, when you look at something like DJI drones, you get the controller, read the manual and you can pretty much fly the drone. But when you look at something like WeChat, you have to understand the culture in order to really get the interface and start using all the functionality. Sometimes there are also data-related challenges. If you work in healthcare or fintech, there are some restrictions on moving the data across borders, which make it much more difficult for companies to scale outside of China.

What industries or sectors look particularly interesting in China?

Ben: I’m very intrigued by fintech startups. Most people in China don’t have a credit rating so there are a lot of companies trying to come up with solutions to increase people’s capital. I’m also following education startups – there are a few companies using AI to teach children. The needs in the healthcare sector also offer many interesting opportunities for startups in China. In terms of what China can do for the rest of the world, I think the hardware companies are definitely going to be impactful on a global scale.

Chris: I would say on a broader level, consumer apps will create a lot of interesting use cases and new business models. Not only because China is the largest smartphone market in the world, but also because users are adapting to the new usage model in China and there are some interesting business models being created locally. The other area I think which has good future potential is enterprise software. First of all, there is just a lot of room for improvement there. But also as the user interface and behaviors are quite different in China, many Western solutions don’t really scale locally. This offers a lot of opportunities for local companies. Another area that looks particularly interesting is Artificial Intelligence (AI). A few of the leading AI scholars and researchers are actually from China. I believe that China is going to have a major AI development, and also find a way to use it in real-life applications, like Autonomous Driving.

How would you describe Chinese model of innovation?

Chris: I’ve been doing investments in China for 18 years, and can say that the local innovation model is evolving. Before, Chinese entrepreneurs were focused more on improvement. The original idea might have been from the West, and they would just focus on making a product better and adding different functionality that makes sense locally. Nowadays, the younger generation’s mentality is so much more open that they start thinking about, and more importantly pursuing, some very disruptive ideas. Mobike is a perfect example of that.

Ben: There is a famous saying in Silicon Valley used by many people – ‘move fast and break things’. Such a saying becomes famous because people feel that they need to do it, but most don’t. In China, I didn’t hear people say something like that because they just do it. There is no reason for such quote to exist – entrepreneurs just keep going and get on with it. From my point of view, this describes Chinese innovation. Local companies collect data by getting things done in different ways and trying different approaches. People here keep trying and see what happens rather than just planning everything out.

From your perspective, which sectors are not getting enough attention from local entrepreneurs today?

Chris: I would say consumer apps will remain the main driver at least for entrepreneurs and venture capital. But one area that doesn’t get much attention is enterprise software. There are so many opportunities there, not only to change the existing way of doing things but also to re-think some of the solutions and add a local “flavor” to it.

Ben: The most interesting area from my point of view is machine vision or computer vision. Especially how computer vision applies to the robotics and real-time scenarios. This technology is what makes it possible for robots to interact and understand the environment. And applications of this are huge. From self-driving cars to manufacturing and medical diagnostic (robotic surgery).

What are some tips you can give to local entrepreneurs thinking about starting a company? 

Chris: For young entrepreneurs starting new companies in China I want to advise them to be ready to share. Starting a company is extremely hard. So, it’s important to know your limitations and be able to share not only responsibilities but also the amount of capital you allocate to your co-founders and early employees, as these people will be a lot more motivated to make the company successful.

My second piece of advice would be to think differently. Don’t just copy existing ideas from other regions – instead try to come up with a better and more locally relevant product. My final advice is to be ready to embrace the challenge. As mentioned earlier, starting and running a company is extremely hard. This is especially true for post 90s generation, as the environment they grew up in was a lot nicer compared to previous generations who faced all sorts of challenges before.

Ben: I think the most important thing is to really focus on working with people who have a common goal and the same outcome in mind. If you pursue a personal financial outcome, then find someone who has the same goal in mind. If you feel the urge to build new things, go and find someone who will accompany you and help bring new things into the world. If you want to build up an empire like Alibaba, then find someone with the same goal in mind.

There are as many different types of the companies, as there are different types of founders and investors that are willing to back them up. People and companies have different motivations, and that’s okay. From my experience, the biggest cause of failure for a startup is co-founder breakup. One of the most serious reasons that people stop working with each other is that their core motivations are not the same. So, make sure you have people around you who share your core motivation and values. When you look for investors or business partners, make sure that they share the same values too.

What is the top advice that you received from your mentor in the past?

Chris: I started working in VC 18 years ago, and the most important advice I got from my mentor who brought me into this business was: “Don’t try to make all the money in the world because you just can’t. Instead, focus on finding a great idea and backing a great team. If they succeed, you will be successful too.”

Ben: I really like the advice I got from Garry Tan about how to form a company. He said: “The first step is to find a group of people with a common problem. Step two is to spend more time with them than anyone else. Step three is to approach it with a mindset on how to automate the solution.” Many people think that to launch a startup you need to come up with a brilliant idea. What I really like about this advice is nowhere he talks about the idea. What you need to do is to find a group of people to work on the same problem and then spend more time trying to solve it than anyone else. And that’s how you win.

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Business Woman in Asia Award expands criteria

Telstra Business Women Awards

Posted on April 24, 2017

2 min read

After the success of last year’s inaugural Telstra Business Woman in Asia award, we’re going bigger and better in 2017.

For the second annual Telstra Business Woman in Asia Award, we’ll be expanding the criteria to not only include those in the corporate or private sector, but also female entrepreneurs and women from not-for-profit or social enterprises operating in Asia.

The opportunity to add female entrepreneurs to the awards line up is an exciting addition to the program, and follows on from our continued investment in innovation in Asia through our startup accelerator program muru-D, and our investments in emerging technology businesses throughout Asia via Telstra Ventures.

We spoke to the 2016 Telstra Business Woman in Asia Award winner, Rituparna Chakraborty, Co-Founder of TeamLease Services Ltd from India, who shared her thoughts about what it meant to her winning the inaugural award in 2016.

As part of our ongoing commitment to gender equality at Telstra, we believe our Telstra Women’s Business Awards can have a positive impact on the industry as we continue to highlight some of the most successful women in leadership positions throughout Asia. While there is a long way to go, achieving equality regardless of gender is our ultimate goal, and we will continue to support this throughout Australia and abroad.

If you know of any woman in Asia who are inspiring, successful, and outstanding – nominate them for the Telstra Business Woman in Asia Award at Nominations are open all year round.

Entries for the 2017 Telstra Business Women’s Awards open Wednesday 26 April 2017 and close on Thursday 15 June 2017.


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The business woman opening up new education opportunities in the Philippines

Telstra Business Women Awards

Posted on November 14, 2016

3 min read

We are only days away from learning who will be the inaugural winner of the first Telstra Business Woman in Asia Award. While we excitedly await the results, we caught up with finalist Beth Lui, the CEO of APEC Schools in the Philippines about expanding the opportunities for kids to receive a high quality education.

In 2013, just as she was about to take a sabbatical break from her 30-plus years in the IT industry, Beth Lui received a call asking her to join a new education venture, the Affordable Private Education Centre (APEC) Schools. She didn’t hesitate and started the very next day as CEO.

With a growing population and funding pressures, the public school system has come under increasing pressure in the Philippines. The chain of APEC Schools aims to make a difference by providing an affordable alternative for families with a limited monthly household income. Families who can afford to spend $50 per month can receive a better quality education for their children as well as relieve pressure on an otherwise overcrowded public school system.

“Education is an important Filipino family value and considered as the primary means to rise out of poverty, however, the lack of access to a quality education is a hindrance to finding decent employment. APEC aims to catch families who want an affordable alternative to the public school system but can’t see one,” Beth says.

As CEO, it is Beth’s role to make the business model work by making APEC Schools financially viable and sustainable long term. Since her appointment three years ago she has grown the venture from a small cohort of 70 students to more than 10,000 students across 27 schools.

“I use my position as a guiding light to not only remind the teams about our APEC mission, but just as importantly to deliver education outcomes for students whose parents set aside hard-earned money to put them through a private school.

“My hope is for APEC’s success to act as a benchmark in the industry and will force other education institutes to innovate, be competitive and deliver on quality,” says Beth.

Under Beth’s leadership, APEC has embarked on a marketing enrolment program to bring in more students by introducing afternoon and night time classes. Beth has worked hard to break down the myth among parents that learning outcome is better in the morning and therefore offers the later classes at a 30 per cent discount.

“This time slot provides educational access to families with an even lower socio-economic background, whilst at the same time, improving APEC’s financial bottom line,” says Beth.

Both the morning and afternoon shifts have the same access to learning materials and teacher’s training level, ensuring consistent quality and delivery of education. The shift was implemented in the 2016 School Year, and current enrolment has exceeded expectation.

Through Beth’s work she is able to make a positive difference in the lives of Filipino families in the lower social-economic conditions.

Beth is one of seven inaugural finalists for the Telstra Business Woman in Asia Award category; the winner will be announced on Wednesday 16 November in Melbourne.


Click here for more information on the Telstra Business Woman in Asia Award or to nominate brilliant business women for the 2017 Awards

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