Women in Business Leadership

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Light Times with Lim Alicia, director of Himawari Hotel Apartments, Phnom Penh

Light Times: Alicia, please introduce yourself and tell us a little about your educational background and field of education and your family?

Alicia: My name is Alicia Lim. I’m a Cambodian who grew up in Singapore. I had the opportunity to study in Singapore, and since age 12 lived there. I’m a business graduate of the Business School of Nanyang Technological University NTU of Singapore. After graduation, I worked as a business development executive in the NTUC Learning hub in Singapore. After that, with my husband, Andrew Tay, I ran the only Cambodian food restaurant in Singapore—Khmer Delight—created by Andrew, for two years before returning to Cambodia to help run the Himawari Hotel. It was Andrew who brought me to the Christian faith, something I’d resisted for years. It was a sermon about grace preached by Reverence Kuan Kim Seng that touched my heart. He shared how Jesus is so gracious. Thanks to His unconditional love and grace, He embraces and accepts us despite our flaws, and died to wash away our sins. Through God’s grace, I became a Christian.
I’m a mother of three children—the oldest is five years old, the second is three, and the third is just nine ten months old.

Light Times: In your view, what is the role of women as God created them?

Alicia: As I said, I’m a Christian, so I see the role of a woman filtered through my belief in the Bible. I believe that God created woman for the continuation of humankind through child bearing, and also to be man’s helper. This is with the assumption that [her] man is a capable breadwinner for the family. With man as the head and provider of the family, woman is not by circumstance then forced to take over man’s role. The man must exercise God’s leadership traits, providing protection and provisions for the family.
On the other side, the woman exercises God’s trait of submission. God has beautifully created woman to be man’s helper, designing our body as well as our brain to be soft and gentle. A woman’s body is amazingly built to bear and take care of children, and her emotional intelligence is a great asset to her husband. We play a role in the spiritual symbolism of God’s relationship with His people where our submission and dependence upon our husband is symbolic of submission and dependence that God wants His people to display toward Him.

God created a woman out of a man’s rib and not from the dust like how He created the man. He chose the bone that protects the man’s heart and lungs—his life—that is the rib. His heart is the center of his being and his lungs hold the breath of his life. The rib cage allows itself to be broken before it will allow damage to the heart. A woman’s main role is to support the man as the rib cage supports the body. The woman is not taken from his foot to be under him nor is it taken from his head to be above him: woman is taken from his side, to stand beside him—and to be held close to his side. As a woman, we need to support the man, our husband. In humility, we should lend him the power of emotion that God has given us. In gentle quietness, we must show our strength and in love show him that we are the “ribs” that protect his inner self. In return, man, as husband, must treat us well. Man needs to love and respect us, for we are fragile, and in hurting us, man will hurt God and himself.

Light Times: Some women have involved themselves in the business leadership with a passion. From your experience, what are the challenges and the benefits that you have gained from being involved in business?

Alicia: Let me outline a few of the benefits, then I’ll give you a few of the challenges.
These days, especially, in a more developed world, women are better educated and there is more economic empowerment for women. Thus we can be more economically active and make a greater financial contribution to our family and society.

Being economically active means we also gain in terms of experience, recognition and networking. Despite being born into a traditional society in a less developed country, I’ve had the golden opportunity of an excellent education in an advanced country, Singapore. Being involved in business allows me to apply what I learnt in school. I became a trusted partner and ally to my husband in business. I become an important part of the management of Himawari. So I am committed to the best for Himawari—to the best of my capability. By applying what I learn, I further build my capability, sharpen and widen my experience which in turn I share with family members, colleagues, and friends.

In like fashion, I also have the opportunity to learn more and gain from the experiences of other more experienced and seasoned businesspersons and colleagues. To me, it is an opportunity to “upgrade” myself and to share my knowledge and experience with others who would like to learn from me.
But being a working mother, I’ve had to learn how to be more focused and efficient. I have to be sharp and straight to the point. I have to effectively use my time so that I can balance both work and family life. I also have a sense of independence as I do not have to depend on my husband to provide; I’m capable of doing things myself and contributing to my family financially.

Through my work and business, I get to enjoy a degree of status and recognition in business and social circles. I’m able to build a good social-business network as a result. This network is very important. It helps to further develop the business and/or help me when starting a new venture. I know who to call or who to connect. In addition to my work and business, I also have opportunity to serve the community. I’m currently a president of St John’s in Phnom Penh, which provides first-aid training; I’m a Global Ambassador for my university; I’m Secretary General for my university alumni chapter in Cambodia; and I’m a smaller donor to a women’s hospital in Phnom Penh. So through business, my sphere of influence and outreach is obviously much wider than if I were to remain at home as a fulltime housewife.

In respect to challenges, the first would be juggling my demanding work with my wonderful family: we gain some, we lose some. But I’m very family oriented. However, I wish I could spend more time with my children, husband and parents as do those full-time mothers. I see the role of a full-time housewife as noble, especially the educated and capable ones who give up everything for their family. Being a full-time mother means that you have to work 24 hours a day seven days a week and get almost no financial benefit in return. You give up pursuing what you wish or would otherwise prefer to do. It often involves the sacrifice of personal dreams and achievement in return for the best for the children and spouse. Hopefully, they benefit from and appreciate that. The reward, I think, is that their children are better taken care of, compare to outsourcing some of the care to helpers.

In this feel some guilt. Running a family and business would not be possible without the help of the helpers. I’m thankful that God has blessed me with decent helpers. I give credit to my nannies for being such good helpers.

Also, when you have to work and cope with your family, it means less time for yourself. Currently, I allocate most of my time between work and family—I have a young baby and two young children. Having a good, stable and understanding team at Himawari helps me to provide the best for my young baby, including mother’s milk—each of them, in fact—for at least a year. This is a challenge for working mothers, so in this I’m thankful.

I am quite a private and media-shy person. However, no matter how much I try, I’m constantly drawn into the spotlight. As proprietors of our Khmer Delight Cambodian Restaurant in Singapore, my husband and I were featured at least 20 times in various Singaporean publications. Now, through Himawari, the Singapore Club Cambodia, and my involvement with St John, I’m again being seen in the media—and now an interview with Light Times magazine. I’ve learned to see media exposure as a privilege and an honor, for which I should be grateful. It’s an opportunity to reach out to more people and let them know more about me and, hopefully, they’ll benefit from my sharing. Some people even view me as inspiration, which, I must say, I humbly accept, hoping to share something of benefit that’s meaningful to them. We share, learn and we grow together.

Light Times: Why is it vital that our society possesses strong women?

Alicia: From the question, I assume a strong woman is a woman who is independent and successful in their role, be it as a business owner, mother, daughter, sister, a citizen, and/or as a believer.

Well, we have to be strong first for our family so that we can better provide and bring up our children. We have to be strong so that we can be a good helper to our husband, a good and filial daughter to our parents, a kind and caring sister to our siblings, a good friend and a contributing citizen, serve the community and also serving God.

Light Times: What, are the foundations upon which such a women builds?

Alicia: First, a strong woman must be healthy. We have a healthy lifestyle by eating well and exercising. Health is vital. Without it, we are nothing.

Next, we must have the right mindset, which includes having a positive attitude and sense of self-worth and self-respect. This we get by getting to know ourselves, accepting ourselves for who we are, forgiving ourselves for our past mistakes, and being positive about the things that we do. The more we understand about ourselves, the more we will see and appreciate how unique we are, and the more we will respect ourselves. We need to uncover our life principles, our personality, and talents and make the best out of them. And never let others determine our self-worth.

Then there’s education. Education is empowerment, be it formal or informal. Formal education is going through the schooling systems, obtaining qualifications and certification. A relative once asked me if she should send her daughter to university, as she needed her help with their growing business. From my perspective, I saw an education as helping her daughter to better contribute to her business, albeit a little delayed. If you don’t have the opportunity for a formal education, then attending short courses, on-site training and learning from mentors also helps. You never stop learning.

Developing a sense of personal responsibility and commitment in whatever role you play is also important. It’s about always giving your best shot, be it being a business owner, a wife and mother, a colleague, a friend, a citizen, or believer. Take responsibility, be committed, give your very best.
Finally, we need to foster a kind and loving heart. When we have been blessed with some accomplishment in business, work or personal life and become somebody, we must pass on the blessing, helping those that are still in need. Only when we bless others can we be blessed by God.

I draw strength from my Christian faith and belief in God. This is a privilege that we enjoy as believers. I know that God will always be there for me through good times and bad, and I trust that He always wants the best for me. He promised us through the Bible—Jeremiah 29:11—that He knows the plans He has for us, as it says, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” For that, I do my part by giving my best, entrusting the rest into God’s mighty hands.

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