Game Changer: May Yip

by Susanah Cheok

Omega highlights its classic yet bold Seamaster Diver 300m this month, by putting 2 empowered women in the limelight. Meet May Yip and Fiona Siew, who, through sheer resilience, have pushed beyond expected roles and traditional boundaries, to accomplish a life less ordinary.

In my humble opinion, bold, empowered women make some of the most attractive newsmakers, because people are naturally drawn to them and are curious about how they manage to, not only juggle multiple roles in life, but achieve success in all these different aspects too. How do accomplished women like May Yip and Fiona Siew do it all?

To me, it’s this simple: achieved women like May and Fiona are able to accomplish in a myriad of ways because they are a bundle of contradictions – steely yet nurturing, and they aren’t afraid to cry; they practical yet idealistic, single-minded yet open to adventure. Their diverse assortment of traits ensure they are also versatile, able to successfully compartmentalise the curve balls that life throws them, and they aren’t afraid to think out of the box. They have ambitious goals and still have a life. They don’t do things differently for the sake of defying conventions either; there has to be meaning and purpose to it, and often it’s about being fulfilled doing just what makes them happy, not because of meeting expectations. Sometimes, they make plans that they aren’t able to see through, and they’re fine with that too.

Game Changer

If you find mother-of-two and entrepreneur May Yip familiar, it could be that you recognise her from picture bylines during her stints at Straits Times Urban, L’Officiel and Style magazines, where she was fashion correspondent, Deputy Editor, and Editor respectively. After leaving Style, she founded PR firm Bolt Communications, where she counts luxury champagne marque Moet & Chandon and revolutionary dermacare brand The Skin Firm, as faithful clients.

Ironically, the wordsmith and news point spinner finds it hard to describe herself.

“Honestly I don’t really know who May Yip is, and I am OK with that. I’ve always embraced flux and evolution, and find that some of the most interesting people I meet are those who don’t entirely know who they are, but are constantly pursuing their passions.” 

“For starters, I’ve always thought I would work in the arts when I was younger. I was part of the art elective programme in secondary school, and even graduated in the history of art and English with First Class Honours for my undergrad studies in the UK. But when I returned to Singapore, the arts scene was just in its infancy, and there weren’t many job opportunities. I went into journalism after pursuing a Masters in the field, thinking at the very least I could write about the arts, but the arts desk at my first editorial job – at The Straits Times – was fully manned by a team of amazing reporters. Instead, I was thrown into doing fashion and beauty at the supplement Urban, and went on to become deputy editor of a new-to-Singapore fashion title, L’Officiel, having had zero experience managing a team of writers, stylists and designers, much less an editorial budget!” 

May rose up the ranks to Editor of now-defunct women’s title Style, absolutely loved the fashion and beauty industries, but had to resign because of her husband’s impending overseas work posting. “But, literally, weeks after I gave my notice, I realised I was pregnant. There was no way I was going to have my first child away from family and friends,” she remembers. “And so I stayed put and created another baby – Bolt Communications,” where she “conceptualised and executed events, sent out media pitches, did press clippings and slowly built a team of incredibly talented young women to build a boutique agency.”

She shares, “At that point, businesses solely believed in traditional PR, but I believed that branded content was the future of marketing. So that’s what we did.” And as she’d anticipated, “over time, brands began to understand the importance of crafting their own narratives, and we began tapping on our journalism background to produce content for our clients. In fact, one of our first social media clients was luxury champagne marque Moet & Chandon, that saw the power of social way before it became a must-have for big brands.” 

Two years ago, May took another leap of faith to helm something new. “After working on multiple beauty and aesthetics medical accounts, and years of reviewing products and interviewing beauty company founders, I met family friends who have been in the business of skincare production for decades. They had always created products for other brands, but wanted to harness their expertise into a line of products of their own. They needed help with branding, sales and of course content marketing. And hence I was roped in as a partner two years ago. In 2019, natural dermacare brand The Skin Firm was born.”

From thespian dreams to a fulfilling career in journalism, to building her own boutique PR business and dermacare brand, May is the quintessential chameleon, able to morph, transform, stretch her strengths and talents to make an impact wherever and with whomever work or life lead her to. You could say, “May is the ultimate multi-hyphenate and accidental mumpreneur.”

Her Secret Super-power

Every woman has one (or many). May’s is not defined by aggression but assertiveness, “the quiet ability to remain a pillar of calm even in the midst of chaos. Being strong isn’t always about having the loudest voice or pushiest demeanor, it’s about using empathy (our secret Jedi force!) to align others with your passion and vision.” 

What empowers her is also an insatiable curiosity for just about anything in life. “It’s a blessing because I am intrigued by a vast range of subjects – from quantum finance (one of Bolt’s clients is a business school) to the chemical reactions of ingredients in a Skin Firm formulation. It’s empowering because I am not intimidated about interviewing CEOs or pitching to potential clients and investors, or even tweaking code on our ecommerce site, as long as I am armed with research and a genuine interest in the expertise of others. The downside is that I spend so much time researching what I do when sometimes I should be delegating and freeing up my time for other aspects of work, like business development.”

Pushing Beyond Limits

“It’s a cliché for entrepreneurs with kids, but the biggest challenge we face is probably juggling parenting and running our own business. For one, I can’t just take maternity leave like other employees.”

“I remember spearheading a fashion event for a client, days before I was due to deliver my second child. I was running up and down the stairs of the bar venue during the night event with my watermelon-sized belly, staying up till 2am, and dancing to the great DJ set. No surprise, my baby arrived earlier than expected with all that activity. In fact, Evan popped out just half an hour after I arrived at the hospital. I also spent most of my confinement holding my colicky child in one arm and typing articles on my laptop with my free hand.” 

“Why did I do it? My family is of course a priority, but my business is also a baby of sorts that I need to nurture and grow. I am responsible for not just my clients but also my team – I tend to also regard my colleagues as part of a family I want to groom and learn from. Yes, there are times I break down in tears in the shower because I am so overwhelmed. And yes, it feels very lonely trying to figure out everything from accounting to Google Analytics on your own. But this sense of responsibility gives me that superhuman strength to push myself constantly.”

On Being a Bold Traditionalist

“I am definitely quite a traditional wife and mother – I take it upon myself to ensure that my family is well fed and taken care of whenever I can. Whether it’s double boiling Chinese soups (that’s the Cantonese side of me coming out) when someone is feeling poorly, or making costumes for a school play, and making sure my husband packs his medication on trips. Family values are certainly important and since I have two sons, I believe in showing them that women aren’t damsels in distress, but strong, multifaceted people whom they should always respect. My older son even remarked that he wants to join The Skin Firm when he grows up! So that sense of building a legacy is certainly a form of fuel that drives me.”


Related links:

Tour de Force: Fiona Siew

Omega: The Seamaster Diver 300M in 2019


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