Tour de Force: Fiona Siew

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’re 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.

Tour de Force

Fiona Siew likes getting uncomfortable, as that often creates enormous opportunities for her to grow and discover more about herself. This self-confessed free spirit also tends to “evolve as I navigate through life.” She considers herself a work-in-progress. The best is yet to be for this unassuming yet remarkably gifted teacher, with a penchant for learning.

Before she found her calling to teach communications studies at Republic Polytechnic, and yoga at Ziva Yoga, Fiona was part of a duo that helmed fashion distributorship FnBC Pte Ltd, where she also cut her teeth in managing a business. “I believe I am on a path of creating the best version of myself. Am I there yet? I don’t think so. But this journey has been a rock and roll ride so far! So, I guess maybe…. Fiona Siew is, first and foremost, a student. Always learning and evolving.”

Fiona remembers looking fear in the face when, in her late teens, her mother was diagnosed with nose cancer, and later passed on just when she began work life in the media industry. “My mum had a strong spirit and throughout her battle with cancer, she never gave up. There were days when I saw fear in her eyes, but I love how she embraced every single day – every day was a gift. One of the things she taught me was to never let fear limit you and define who you are.”

The bona fide fitness buff does not shrink from failure.

She recalls, “Shortly after my mum’s passing, I decided to start my own fashion and lifestyle distribution business. Looking back, I don’t think I had full clarity as to what I was getting myself into. It was just pure gut and passion. I remember my first ‘failure’: With no prior merchandising or retail experience, I ordered my first batch of shoes from this brand that I was distributing. No retailer wanted the shoes – saying they were too ‘loud’, too ‘crazy’. So there I was, with cartons and cartons of shoes and no retailer. My business partner and I decided that since no retailer wanted to sell them, we would do it ourselves! We rented a shop house at Boat Quay, sent out a bunch of press releases to the media, one thing led to another and the shoes were featured in the papers and our phones were ringing non-stop for appointments to our showroom. We were sold out that season.”

Her Secret Super-power

Although it is easier to do things that you love, Fiona feels empowered when she thrives at the things that she does not necessarily love. Often, the more arduous the experiences, the more life-changing they are for her.

“Growing up, I was never an athlete. In my mid 30s, I decided to make a list of #fearlessfi40under40 things that I did not (then) see myself doing and achieving before I turned 40. Top on my list was running, and I still laugh about it. My first run was 200m. It was tough and I really did not enjoy it. I remember telling myself, if I can do 200m, I can do 400m! Not too long after, I ran my first proper 5km. This followed several 10km runs. This running journey has led me to some of the most amazing people at @thehighpanterssg. As a collective, we run for a charity called Hope for the Family, in Chiangmai, Thailand. They provide shelter, food, clothing, medical care and education to young women-at-risk in the hope of breaking the poverty cycle. This year, our target is to raise $10,000 for them. I believe in empowering women because women have the power to change the community.”

Running eventually led Fiona to Yoga. What started out as a stretch routine turned out to be another life-changer. “Yoga empowers me because it teaches me what it means to be – As Is. Letting go of the past. Living in the moment. And not to worry about the future. Yoga challenges me and keeps me grounded. Every last Sunday of the month, I lead a charity yoga class, where all proceeds benefit Hope for the Family. I am grateful to be able to share my practice and raise funds through it.”

Pushing Beyond Limits

Call her masochistic, but pushing beyond the limits is oxygen for Fiona.

“Each time I think I have gone beyond normal limits and pushed boundaries, I look back and realise that even though things were difficult and scary, I did and got through them anyway. When we are in it, all we feel is the hardship. But when we walk out of it, we all emerge victorious,” she says. “If I need to state one example, I think it would be that time when we made the decision to diversify our business. We started out as a fashion distributor and then because of e-commerce and social media, we decided to diversify our business. We figured at some point, brands will not require a ‘third party’ to reach out to their audience. We had to evolve and we needed to do it astutely. We started offering brands PR and distribution management support. On top of that, we also looked into FMCG lifestyle brands to create new revenue channels. This time around, unlike the crazy, loud shoes debacle, we had clarity. But, it was still tough work, with many trials and errors along the way. We even moved from a small office-showroom to a bigger space, and allied with a logistics partner. Every step was a steep learning curve and we definitely pushed ourselves to make it work.”

On Being a Bold Traditionalist

In the world of instant gratification, Fiona does not believe in taking short cuts or trying to manage her team and her business remotely. As a leader, she is as hands-on as they come.

“In the digital era, most people do not see the hard work or failure behind success. Hard work is essential and discipline is key. Call me old school, but I believe in getting my hands dirty and putting in the work. I do not expect my staff to perform duties that I have never done before. You have to know how something is done well before you can manage someone doing the same thing. Which was why I stationed myself at our retail counter (like an undercover boss) for a month to work the sales floor, so as to understand all the challenges and in order to find solutions for the team to work around them.”


Related links:

Game Changer: May Yip

Omega: The Seamaster Diver 300M in 2019


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