No one has a monopoly on good ideas

She actually stumbled into the world of strategic investment advising and financial psychology.  Having left her role as a regional marketing director to look after two toddlers, she came across friends, in their mid-thirties, facing personal financial problems. This was around the time of 9/11 and SARS.  Many reached out to her and after a while her husband said, “Have you ever thought of doing this for a living?”.

From there it was truly the financial psychology that became a passion for Andrea Kennedy.  She believes that anyone can be an investment adviser and the industry does attract a lot of salespeople.  By helping people understand their financial narrative, one can create tremendous confidence in people to become investors in their own right.

Andrea Kennedy shares her story with AsiaBizToday and also highlights why it is critical for women to be well versed in money matters. 

What are the activities that you undertake?

I do three primary activities:  a) I act as a financial planner b) a financial therapist and c) an investment advisor.  These are distinctly different activities and some clients need all three.

I try to give my clients flexibility around how to use my services so that I am able to provide service across a large band of networth.  From people just getting started to UHNW investors.

What was your trigger and motivation to get into this?

My trigger to develop an entirely new set of skills within a very old school industry came about because the way finance is practiced does not meet the needs of most investors.  Most people want empowerment.  Most people want to ask questions and understand why they think the way they do about money, whereas most advisers or bankers just are collecting clients and commissions.  I see myself as someone who graduates clients, not collect them.

What have been your experiences in this leadership position?

I lead by doing what the rest of an industry has not done, cannot do well and can’t be bothered with.  I listen to my clients and put their interests first by acting as a fiduciary.

Which are the important factors that keep you going?

Positive feedback.  My YOY revenue has grown 100% the last 5 years.

Have you faced specific challenges because of being a woman?

Women in finance are treated as Geisha to draw in clients.  Not as strategic thinkers.  That’s why I work for myself. I understand global money flows better than most of my contemporaries and I have clients across the world.  I do not limit myself and that alone allows me to stand out and when you stand out and have something to say, people tend to look past your gender / age etc.

Where do you usually find inspiration from?

From anyone that understands, you have to be different and offer a unique value proposition in order to create long term success.  I find inspiration from every age group and many nationalities.  No one has a corner on good ideas.

What’s your proudest moment so far?

On a personal note, I’m most proud of my children and what resourceful adults they have become.  They are truly amazing to me.  On a professional note, building a business when others laughed it off.  

How would you define success?

Finding a way to get paid to do that which you love the most.  It could be dog walking, painting houses or building a billion-dollar business.  Size does not matter, but rather the spirit of your success.

What Advice do you have for other aspiring Entrepreneurs, especially women?

  • Develop a service that is needed, not just one that you personally would like. Rather one that there is obvious demand for and it’s not being met.  Women have HUGE opportunities because many services are really developed with men in mind.  
  • NEVER work for free.  EVER.  And raise prices consistent with inflation.  Women really miss on this one and give away products and services and get in a spiral of freebies from which they don’t recover.

Connecting the dots in children’s education

After completing her graduation from The London School of Economics (LSE) and becoming an award-winning journalist, she was quite content in the calling that she had found. 

However, the birth of her daughter changed the status quo. Wanting her daughter to access the best of education she struggled to find a school that confirmed to all her requirements. And soon she realized that she was not alone in this struggle.

Pakistan has 28 million children in school and after seven years of learning more than half of them are still at a second-grade level in math and reading. In a sense the education system is broken. 

With a determination to change this scenario, along with her best friend and business partner Lina she converted her parents’ garage into a small experimental lab for learning workshops. The journey from that garage into the head office that they occupy today has been a humbling one and she believes that they still have a long way to go. 

Maheen Bashir, Co-Founder & CEO at Dot & Line based in Karachi, Pakistan shares her story in this exclusive chat with AsiaBizToday.

Your motivation to get into this

Even back in the garage we had a vision. We wanted to spark curiosity in children to connect information in textbooks to the wider world outside of those pages and bring something truly world-class to our doorstep. We began with math. Our workshops took flight, and with that, our message to the Pakistani parents reimagining education. 

The activities that you undertake 

Dot and Line is an ed-tech start-up that builds scalable learning centers. Our USP is our learning programs that were put together by some of the brightest minds in the country. Our agents of change are highly educated women. Using technology, our teacher training modules and our learning programs these women set-up Dot and Line level learning spaces in their homes. They become teachers and micro-entrepreneurs in their communities and start to earn! Technology is the binding force that brings accountability and transparency to the network across the different cities. 

Your experiences in this leadership position

I’ve had a steep learning curve. We went from a three-person company to a team of twenty. Over the years we continue to evolve, but so far I can say as a leader our experiences have shaped the values that govern the culture at Dot and Line. We seek courageous team mates and leaders, who speak honestly and are not afraid to ask for help; our devotion is to our customers as well as our team mates as we think creatively of ways to optimize and get better at what we do every day. We prioritize skillful listening so everybody in our company is heard and valued. I can say for myself and for other leaders at Dot and Line that we are ambitious in our vision, values, performance and character.

Important factors that keep you going

It is definitely the incredible women of Dot and Line. The women who have built this company with me, my partner Lina, our COO Fariha and all our formidable managers and colleagues. There are also the incredible women, Dot and Line teacher partners. These highly educated women who were previously mathematicians; software engineers; doctors; bankers; but are also wives, caretakers and mothers. As a mother of two, their struggle resonates with me and it is a privilege to be able to grow this company with them and bring quality education to the children of Pakistan.

Obstacles or challenges because of being a woman

We are still a young company and have faced so many challenges none of which I would be able to attribute to being a woman if I’m honest. 

Your proudest moment so far

Hmm, that is a tough one but this would be a good chance to highlight one particular project we did. Dot and Line was chosen to curate The Children’s section in the National History Museum in Lahore, Pakistan more than a year ago. Seeing our ideas come to life and be open to thousands of children to see fills me with gratitude. Our vision was for children to celebrate Pakistan through immersive exhibits that spark the senses and inspire. 

Your definition of success

Well, we are ambitious for Dot and Line. In the next two to three years we want to grow our learning centers to 4,000 and reach close to 40,000 students. The aim is to reach half a million students of Pakistan and help them realize their full potential.

 Your advice to other aspiring Entrepreneurs, especially women

Don’t be afraid to dream BIG and go after it. You will fall, fail, get up and try again! But in hindsight the string of memories you make by taking risks in your life will actually be the moments you treasure the most. 

Success sans compromises – Educating all the way

Teaching was the last job she ever wanted when she was young, but life had different plans. Today Anne Tham has been a teacher for the past 34 years. When she first startedEducation  teaching in KDU College, Malaysia, she loved it so much that there was no looking back.

After about 10 years in tertiary education, it was horrifying for her to realise that 80% of students do not have the English proficiency level of native speakers. How can Malaysian students learn a language for 11 years and be bad at it? It didn’t make any sense as she spent those 10 years sorting out what wasn’t working and creating solutions for them. Six months wasn’t enough to undo an 11-year problem.

Anne felt that it was easier to fix it from young rather to have to undo what is already engrained. So, she started teaching from her dining table at her house in Subang Jaya 25 years ago. And has never looked back since. Today, she runs eight language centres, one private tutoring centre, two international schools (Dwi Emas International School is the first entrepreneur school in Malaysia), two kindergartens, an EdTech game creation studio, a Co-Creative Entrepreneur Hub, and an online market store.

Anne Tham believes that she is an accidental entrepreneur, education reformist, big believer of lifelong learning. A big fan of Lord of the Rings and a collector of their merchandising, she loves visiting the countryside / seaside of different countries.

Here she shares some of her thoughts with AsiaBizToday.

What are the activities that you undertake?
What drives me is that education should not be exclusive and elitist. Top schools and best schools select these students. The focus has been on students who are academically strong which accounts for about 20% of students.

As a teacher, our job is to ensure that all students are successful in whatever career they choose to undertake. E.g. If they choose to be in the automotive industry, then be the best that they can be.  Most Asian parents would be horrified if their son or daughter chooses to be a mechanic, not on the list of choice professions. But they should be given the skills and tools to succeed in any industry they want. We have students who chose this industry – one is doing very well in BMW and the other sold 500 cars while he was still in college and now runs his own company, fixing up old cars and sells them to collectors. Another is now a pro racer.

The largest group of students at 75% to 80% should have equal focus as to how they want to learn. Just imagine what this majority can do if we can move these students to being extraordinary by equipping them with the 21st century skills from young. These human skills were completely systemised out of the education system in many countries.

Humanising Education is what we have been doing for the past 25 years with the track record to show for it.

What was your trigger and motivation to get into this?
My children and my college students. I wanted to make sure my daughters had the skills that were missing in so many college students. They are my business partners in owning and setting up the first school and all of the businesses now.

The lack of skills in my college students besides language skills like ability to think critically and have an opinion, the ability to write both creatively and academically, the ability and confidence to present, to handle content for their course with any depth, the ease of having a lively, engaged discussion in class with any teacher etc. put me on this path. And the feedback from my students that they loved what they learnt and how much their perspectives changed drove it home.

That was then. Today, what gets me going is that we have created a system that transforms students for a world of uncertainty and constant change. Most education systems are getting students ready for certainty.

What have been your experiences in this leadership position?
I have led based on what I felt was right, which was by serving my team. Encouraging and providing them the skills and tools for them to be great at what they do. So, we are big on training. We created a lot of our own in-house training that is very practical unlike a lot of teacher training that tends to focus on theory.

Many years later, I realised that the leadership style I have evolved into and trained our leaders is very much in line with leadership the way John C Maxwell leads and talks about in his books and training. It was from him that I learnt about servant leadership.

Which are the important factors that keep you going?

  • The horror of how far behind education is in the fast-changing world we are in now. Yet most educators and policy makers are doing so little to move it forward. What they are doing is taking baby steps when the world is on a rocket ship.
  • Keeping abreast of where the world is heading by attending international business and tech conferences, not in education conferences.
  • The fact that I work with my family and friends. We share so much together and we got to where we are today, together.

Have you faced any obstacles in your initiatives? Do you think you have faced specific challenges because of being a woman?

  • Working on changing an education system that is resistant to change on so many fronts – policy makers, teachers training policies and systems, the university systems, traditional mindsets of parents and teachers.
  • Requirements at governmental level to set up an international school was prohibitive until 2019 when the Ministry of Education finally relaxed the requirements.
  • The CAPEX to set up a school was prohibitive. Had to figure a way to do it that was manageable for a bunch of teachers.
  • A father predicted that we would close within six months of setting up our school in 2012. Two years later he sent his two children to our school system.
  • Mindset of the Ministry and many parents that the education from the West is better.

Where do you usually find inspiration from?

I was inspired by my girls when I started, created the businesses with my girls and moving forward for my girls. They’re 33 and 31 now.

What’s your proudest moment so far? 

They are too many on the ground level.

  • Set up the school business and the rest of the businesses together with my daughters, my family members, a friend and teacher, and my two ex-students. I guess the best would be the validation on a global and business level that we are on the right track. We came together because of a shared vision – to change education.
  • Featured in Cambridge University Union Yearbook six years in a row. In 2018, we were one of eight schools featured under Chapter 1 World Class. Only two schools were from Asia, one from China, the other us.
  • Selected by Endeavor Global New York as one of three school groups selected out of 32 countries over 22 years after screening 50,000+ companies.
  • My daughters, my niece and an ex-student are the game designers for ChemCaper, the first Chemistry Role Playing Game in the world which won the APICTA awards in Taiwan beating 17 countries and IMGA awards for South East Asia.
  • SOBA 2017 (Star Outstanding Business Award) for Female Entrepreneur of the Year and Best Employer.

How would you define success ?

  • Solving problems for many people at the same time and creating value for making that happen. Working and growing with my family.
  • Having great friendships along the way.
  • Making an impact on so many people’s lives.
  • Creating business partnerships with my teachers and staff. Co-investing together

What Advice do you have for other aspiring Entrepreneurs, especially women?
We can have it all. Success and family, good friends, a supportive ecosystem, a great network of likeminded people to create change for a better world. Many women think they have to choose one or the other. I decided that I wanted a business where I can have all that. So, I set about making it happen. So, Ladies, don’t wait for someone to hand this to us. A lot of people’s success comes at a price but it can be done without compromising what is important in our lives.

Enabling a final journey of immortal legacy

She has tread on a path that few dare to even imagine. Being thrust into the thick of things at a young age, she found herself in an outrightly male-dominated industry and one that called for tremendous empathy and fortitude.

Helping bereaved families, arranging for funeral set up and also providing holistic CARE planning under the CARE Planner Program, she is one of Singapore’s locally certified Will Writer and Grief Counsellor. Recognised with awards for her contribution she has been sharing her experiences with families as well.

Alverna Cher is the founder of City Funeral Singapore Pte Ltd, a modern age Funeral Service Provider founded in 2015. She is also the first Funeral Director in Singapore to provide holistic CARE planning under the CARE Planner Program launched in 2016, that write Will, LPA, and also engage in pre-planning funeral. She believes that it is about Leaving a legacy and not a burden.

Alverna was kind to share her journey in this exclusive interview with AsiaBizToday.

Activities that you undertake
My day-to-day activities include answering to bereavement families’ enquiries, arranging funeral set up, oversee the operation of the business, give training to the associate CARE planners and even spend my Sunday morning doing volunteering work with my daughters at Keeping Hope Alive.

I failed in two businesses since I started my entrepreneur journey in 2007, at the age of 25. With a motto of ‘Never Stop Learning,’ I joined the education industry, as a part-time consultant and a full-time mum. I increased my knowledge in MOE education and parenting skills, both helps me to be a better mother. I also honed my knowledge, skills and was accredited with the ‘Focus on Family’ as a facilitator in 2012.

In year 2015, City Funeral Singapore Pte Ltd was founded, however my ex-partner left over night, leaving behind a barely one-month old, indebted company. That time I was left with $400 in my bank account and five figure debts to repay. In order to not exchange time for money, I took up the challenge to embark into an unfamiliar, male dominated industry so that I can have the flexibility to spend time with my daughters, who were 8 and and 5 months old respectively at that time.

Trigger and motivation to get into this profession
My greatest motivation is MOTHER. A mother to my two daughters and a daughter to my Mother.

My motto, Turning Failure Into Fuel That Keep Dreams Burning, had inspired my surrounding mothers to stay strong and ride through hardship to see the rainbow at the end.

My parenting teaching motto to my two daughters age 13 and 6 is to live life-like a mirror, treating our family and friends how we wanted to be treated. This motto helped Vanessa, my elder daughter, to gain true friendship in school and learn to be satisfied with what she has. Vanessa is currently a passionate AVA leader in her school and a monitress in her class. At the end of Vanessa’s PSLE year, 2019, I was nominated to give a speech on stage representing the parent support group. The most memorable of the speech is to gather all P6 students, about 240 students to shoutout and remember encouraging tips to bring into secondary school life, which is: What You Think is What You Get, How You Speak is Who You Are.

Your experiences in this leadership position
The most satisfying moment in a leadership position is to empower and inspire. Firstly, being able to educate them at a young age to understand the importance of legacy planning and instilling the ‘Turning Failure Into Fuel That Keep Dreams Burning’s spirit’. Especially sharing that being in a single-parent environment does not give us an excuse to lay back.

Secondly, women around me are highly driven, inspire to do more than they can think of. Breaking the fear barrier that women can only stay at home, empowering them to step out of their comfort zone and start earning an income with CARE planner, and still able to fulfill their daily roles as mother, daughter, wife.

Important factors that keep you going
I strongly believe in leaving a legacy and not a burden for our next of kin. Leaving behind holistic last journey planning for my daughter is my mission and I want to inspire all parents to do the same.

Fulfill both my duty as a mother and duty as a daughter to my old age parents, I need not exchange time for money, hence the creation of CARE planner associate system, that runs on its own and becoming a pass-down business for my daughters. Spending quality time with my daughters and parents are my priority.

Any obstacles or challenges because of being a woman
In a male-dominated industry, I had a hard time to make a stand. I have been discriminated as a young, petite, know nothing woman, during the first six months in the business. Most of my staff left me at that time. However, I chose to prove them wrong. I did all the work that a man can do, passed my driving license in two months, drove a big van, transported deceased body and even created CARE planner associate system for the first time in Singapore. This empowers a woman to step out of their comfort zone, to earn a second income, based on my proven and supportive method in the area of Will Planning, LPA, Funeral As need planning and Funeral preplanning.

I gained respect through all these years of hard work, non-gossip policy and a never say die spirit. Now, we work together as a team and I treat my staff as family members.

I’m now seen as a funeral influence in the trade, my products, ideals, setup are trending and at the same time preserve tradition. Not forgetting my social media encouragement for the sole breadwinner in FaceBook and helping out single parents to find jobs.

Source of inspiration
I get inspiration from reading books, one of the highly recommended books will be ‘The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People’. I often do self-reflection on how to improve further in the different roles I took on. Motivation Is What Gets You Started, Habit Is What Keeps You Going.

Your proudest moment
I’m really proud to be the first funeral director in Singapore to provide a CARE planner associate certification program. We also expanded to Malaysia in January 2020.

More good news coming our way this 2020, a locally big media company is collaborating with us. Sharing the same mission to leave a legacy and not a burden.

Definition of success
Success is not defined by wealth, nor defined by the number of houses. Personally, I feel that success is being able to lift up the people around us, to empower them to see their purpose in life, empowering, inspiring, teaching them to make a passive income that does not exchange time for money. Bringing out the compassionate heart of one person to make the world a better place. City Funeral Singapore Pte Ltd gives back providing pro bono funeral assistance to needy with no next of kin and baby funeral. At a personal level, I joined Keeping Hope Alive on Sunday morning to knock on rental flats, provide them breakfast, cleaning of the house infested with bed bugs and giving new furniture.

Advice for other aspiring Entrepreneurs, especially women
Do not belittle yourself, believe in your dream. No dream is too small, it’s how you want to achieve it. Woman you are stronger than what you think.

When I started CARE planner affiliate program, no one trusted me. They doubted me, telling me, I’m wasting time out of the norm. But I believed and pressed on, I was doing it for my legacy to leave behind for my daughters. Many sleepless nights, worrisome, self-doubt nights, however I kept telling myself that I can do it. Kept telling myself to be positive and using the law of attraction to picture my achievements. Today, I’m a happy woman with a business system that allows me to have time with my family, a business system that allows me to have passive income and achieve my legacy. Empowering the women around me to leave a life of financial freedom, freedom of time and legacy planning.