Soon Lay Ean, Managing Director, Sebarang (M) Sdn Bhd
CEO with Balanced Life – Soon Lay Ean sees the beauty in Vistage as helping her find balance in her life as CEO, wife and mother.
Soon Lay Ean, the second-generation owner of a specialized premium building materials distributor, Sebarang (M) Sdn Bhd, acknowledges that she has changed ‘step by step’ over her 13 years Vistage membership. The changes started in the business arena, but the effects are also felt in her private life. She is now basking in the makeover. ‘The biggest thing Vistage has done for me is to teach me to lead a balanced life,’ she says, as she is happy in her roles as CEO, wife and mother.
Before Vistage, Lay Ean faced many challenges as a woman CEO in the male-dominated building materials and construction industry. Sebarang’s customers include architects, consultants and contractors who use products such as roofing systems, wall partitions and doors in their projects. Although she eventually overcame the male chauvinism, Lay Ean drove herself very hard. “I was inexperienced, emotional and over- reacted to a lot of situations,’ she recalls. As a boss, she was authoritative, ‘always throwing instructions to others’. She reveals that she was so stressed that she often drove past red lights oblivious to them.
After joining Vistage, Lay Ean says she is now a calmer person who can see the big picture. ‘I listen more, speak less, question more. I process issues before I speak,’ she discloses. Her colleagues now work ‘with’ her and not ‘for’ her as she is no longer over meticulous and has built good rapport with them. ‘I get more support and sincerity from them,’ she adds.
Lay Ean is most thankful that the growth and changes from the Vistage experience have multiplier effects on her personal life. She no longer finds it stressful to juggle business, husband and kids. Gone are the days of working until 11 pm and bringing home work from the office. She spends quality time with her three children and discloses that her relationship with her husband has strengthened with a new dimension. Encouraged by her recommendation, Lay Ean’s husband has joined Vistage. Though they are in different businesses, she says they now ‘speak the same lingo’.
Three years ago, Lay Ean found spiritual balance by becoming a Buddhist. Last year, she added the social role of contributing to the society by joining Soroptimist International Club of Penang.
As CEO, Lay Ean continues to widen her business acumen. She has broadened her network and outlook with her exposure to two Vistage groups. Lay Ean moved from a Penang-based Vistage group to a Kuala Lumpur-based group, prompted by the expansion of her business to Malacca and Kuala Lumpur.
She is proactive in taking the necessary precautions to smooth over problems when they arise. After many Vistage meetings, she is aware that issues and problems are similar in many businesses. ‘If we let problems fester, it will be painful. We must act to prevent or cut down the intensity,’ she explains.
Lessons from Vistage have contributed to Sebarang, emerging unaffected from the recent economic downturn. She says the company is lean, profitable and has established a trustworthy reputation. Group turnover, which includes a subsidiary that manufactures aluminum insulation foil, stands at about RM28 million.