Malaysian-born Annie Gan was just an administrative worker when she started working at a construction firm. Working her way up the ranks, she eventually became a partner at another company — but that was only the start of her uphill climb in an industry that has no place for a woman.
“Annie, I am leaving you,” her business partner dropped the bomb one day in 1996. At 26 years of age, with only a quantity surveyor background and a family to support (she was the eldest child), “I did what a woman does best — I cried and cried,” she said wryly at the Women’s Entrepreneurship Forum 2009 at Novotel Clarke Quay on 13 November 2009. But the pressures of being a breadwinner and the refusal to admit defeat compelled her to pick herself up. Rallying the support of her roughneck subordinates entailed the humbling experience of having to beg them for a chance to work things out together, and buying them meals and drinks. She pointed out the irony: “Who ever heard of the boss having to suck up to the staff?”
Gan has burned her fair share of midnight oil, poring over site maps and studying the technicalities of a trade where a single nail can make the difference between life and death. Many times she has had to conduct investigations at the construction sites late into the night, supervise workers and perform other equally unfeminine duties. “If you do everything with your whole heart, opportunities will naturally come to you,” she says. Learning milestones such as successfully casting columns by herself and the like spurred her on.
In 1997, her company tendered for an MRT construction project, only to have the door shut in her face the moment the contractors saw that she was a woman. With dogged determination, she followed one of them for a month, unwilling to back down without being given a chance to prove herself. Finally, he relented and gave her two weeks to complete a task. Toughing it out, she and her team not only got the job done in 10 days, but did it so well that they were awarded two other MRT projects. Who knew there was such a gritty story behind that mundane commute to work every morning?
|PHOTOS: Jayson Lee|
Today, the mother of four children is managing director of Jian Huang Construction Pte Ltd. She was honored with the Top Enterprise 50 award for both 2006 and 2007, and won the ASME (Association of Small and Medium-sized Enterprise) Top Entrepreneur Award in 2007. She credits her success to the love and support of her husband, who laid aside his own dreams to help her achieve hers.