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Shwe Yee Win, a Laidlaw Scholar at Säid Business School, on being resilient in the face of a crisis, breaking with societal traditions and going international.
Before the MBA, I was leading my family business, the garment factory and retail fashion in Yangon, Myanmar, for 5 years with over 300 employees. Before my family business, I studied Business Management in Singapore and worked at Uniqlo Store Operations as an Assistant Store Manager in Singapore for 2 years.
Despite facing criticism for not being a stay-at-home mother, my mother persevered with her entrepreneurship journey, taught me to be independent and prioritized my education. Being the first female among my extended family to study abroad for my undergraduate degree, relatives discouraged me as it wasn’t the societal norm and to avoid more financial burden on the family. However, determined to expand my horizon, I applied for a government bond, study grant, tuition loan and worked part-time to finance my education. This taught me not to let others dictate my educational path based on my gender.
Witnessing the garment factory workers’ difficulties, I am committed to making a difference by empowering women. At the factory, I set up a clear career development path and training programs to provide the skills needed for career advancement. Now, more than half of the managerial positions are held by women, and 40% of the workforce comes from the training program.
With my passion for making a positive impact and my experience in the garment industry, I realized that I could contribute to the Myanmar development story. Oxford’s focus on entrepreneurship and responsible business, along with ties to the international business community, will definitely allow me to accomplish this goal. However, with Myanmar’s current political crisis and regressing economic growth, obtaining a scholarship is the only way for me to pursue further education. Thus, I am grateful to be able to apply for the Laidlaw scholarship that is offering opportunities to future female leaders looking to pay it forward.
What is the biggest life challenge you overcame, and what did you learn from it?
After the first wave of COVID, the overall revenue of the family business dropped by more than 40%. Among all the business units, the garment factory with over 300 employees faced the worst. Despite the government loan support, which covered three-month staff salaries, by the third month, there was still no revenue stream due to little economic activity in the country. It was the most helpless I had felt as I’d have to shut down the factory within a month due to insufficient cash flow.
That was when I decided to put in my personal savings and give the factory one last chance to reopen and produce reusable cloth masks with the limited resources I had. Fortunately, having the first mover advantage, the cloth masks venture succeeded, and I managed to continue operating the garment factory and keep employing the staff. This experience taught me to be resilient and be more agile to respond better to adversities.
What is the best piece of advice you have been given?
Practice emotional discipline - Learning how to handle your emotions is never an easy task, especially during heated moments and conflicts. Knowing yourself, what triggers you and how to handle the emotions without over reacting have helped me maintain a clear head and make better decisions. If one loses temper, it’s very easy to let emotions overcome the decision making. As Warren Buffet says - “You can always tell someone to go to hell tomorrow”.
What is the worst piece of advice you have been given?
As a woman, play safe and follow what others do - Growing up, I was always taught to follow the societal expectations of a good woman, which means to stay at home and be a housewife. If I had followed that advice, I wouldn’t be able to break the society norms of a young girl studying overseas, leading the family business and applying to my dream school.
Top 3 tips that will help someone become a better leader
⚡ Delegation: You can not and should not do everything alone. By delegating, it builds confidence among members, empowers each other and can achieve the goal together.
⚡Listen - By actively listening, you will be able to grasp more information and will be able to empathize better. This will, in turn build trust and empower you to make informed decisions.
⚡ Never stop learning - Learning is a lifelong process, and the second that one stops being a student is when one becomes ignorant.
Which leaders in the world inspire you the most and why?
Aung San Su Kyi - Nobel Peace Prize laureate who led Myanmar’s democratic transition from the military ruled country.
Lee Kuan Yew - Former Prime Minister of Singapore who turned Singapore from a third-world country to the first world countr.
They both lead by examples, stay disciplined, show consistency and rise above the challenges.
What does it mean for you to be a Laidlaw Scholar?
Coming from a garment industry in all aspects of a challenging country, achieving the Oxford MBA with the Laidlaw scholarship definitely proves that circumstances aren’t a barrier to anybody’s dreams.
Being a Laidlaw scholar means being a part of a network of inspiring women who are breaking glass ceilings and leading ethically. It also means that we have a group of amazing female leaders where everyone relies and supports each other so that everyone succeeds. I am very grateful for the opportunity to be pursuing my dream without any financial burden and being a part of such an incredible community.
Briefly describe a scene from the future you are striving to create.
In the future, female leaders will be running at least half of Myanmar’s largest companies, which are also leading the major economic and social developments throughout the country. There will be no more social issues in the country, such as gender inequality, poverty and workplace safety. Everyone will have the same access to education and career opportunities regardless of gender, race or background.
At the same time, I will be leading my own company that contributes to driving the economy and for the greater good of the country. I will be able to bring in international contacts who are interested in the same mission, to be in the business that’s mainly driving the economic development in developing countries.
📺 Currently binging: Queer Eye
🎵 My current anthem: Stay by The Kid Laroi and Justin Bieber
📚 My top book recommendation: Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari
🎧 Podcast obsession: Girls that Invest
🌈 Something that made me feel joy recently: Seeing my managers being independent and handling their business departments well without my help and support.
Shwe Yee is a Laidlaw Scholar at Säid Business School. You can find Shwe Yee on LinkedIn. The Laidlaw Women's Business Education Scholarship aims to help build a pipeline of future women leaders through access to best-in-class education, resources and global networks by providing full and half scholarships to women who would not otherwise be in a position to reap the benefits of attending an outstanding school.
🔦 Discover more Scholar Spotlights
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⚡️ Xuerui Yin on overcoming societal norms, creating opportunities for underrepresented groups, and working with compassion.
⚡️ Paseka Khosa on overcoming financial hardship and advocating for unwavering belief in oneself.
⚡️ Fisayo Adeleke on her mission to increase women's access to opportunities, and dealing with uncertainty.
⚡️ Helena Couto on breaking out of your pre-defined place in society, and larger than life goals.
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