Woman At The Forefront: Elaine Fan

By Lim Lay Hsuan|29-04-2016 | 1 Min Read

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Priceless leadership tips from Elaine Fan, managing director of consumer business, Citi Malaysia

In the last couple of years, Malaysia has made commendable efforts to increase women participation in the workforce and has encouraged them to take up key leadership positions in their organisation.

People generally acknowledge that women are as capable as their male counterparts in the marketplace. Hence, their participation at the workforce is important to Malaysia for economic and social sense.

Leaderonomics caught up with Elaine Fan, a Citibanker for 32 years, who now heads consumer banking at Citi Malaysia. A self-driven woman, she shares her personal experience in being a part of this ecosystem of charting one’s own career path and achieving goals.

Discipline is a choice

When we examine the life of some of the world’s greatest sportspeople like Muhammad Ali, Wilma Rudolph and Datuk Nicol Ann David, we see a common trait of self-discipline. They don’t usually see the fruits of their labour until they have toiled and persevered relentlessly.

“Discipline is something you choose to do for yourself as you stay focused on what you need to do to improve yourself. For me, I was fortunate to have a supervisor who ensures I focused on the right things when I started my first role as an administrator in the real estate division with Citi,” reminisces Fan.

In her subsequent roles, she consistently sought to do more than what was required. In the midst of facing work challenges, she always maintains the can-do attitude to overcome these hurdles.

Fan says, “I used to dislike travelling, but the role that I was in forced me out of my comfort zone as I needed to travel overseas to conduct roadshows. I had to discipline myself to be prepared for presentations. As the company’s ambassador, you really need to understand the heart of the business that you’re in.”

The open door policy

In today’s challenging leadership role, one is expected to balance between delivering results and taking care of the people under him or her.

For Fan, she is able to do both really well. Being someone who loves to see business results on the cards (task-oriented), she also possesses the knack to add value to people’s career (people-oriented). She is inclusive in her management style where everyone is treated as equal. She also keeps herself available to her people.

“I consciously make the effort to be mindful and approachable. I’d like to believe that by putting yourself in the employees’ shoes, you would be able to see from their point of view and be more understanding in managing people.

“In fact, I make sure that people are comfortable talking to me in non-office settings. Once trust has been established, people are more likely to take your advice objectively when they go to you as your peer or friend for clarity in any of their life’s major decisions,” says Fan, who enjoys listening to music to unwind herself.

Actively seek feedback

In addressing a TED talk audience, Bill Gates once said: “We all need people who will give us feedback. That’s how we improve.”

In fact, it was through such feedback that in 2010, the organisation became the first bank in Malaysia to establish childcare facilities for its employees.

By providing a proper support system for employees to find a work-life balance that works for them, employees are kept engaged and happy, in addition to increasing its employer value proposition. This is also echoed by Fan when it comes to personal and professional development as a leader.

Fan says:

“I’m always open to feedback, not only from customers but also from employees. Most times, this calls for the leader to go down to their level to receive feedback openly and constructively. By doing this, it shows that you are humble enough to learn to make better decisions and do things more efficiently in the future.”

Live in the moment

Fan recalls a gathering where a group of people, including her, was asked which part of their lives they want to revisit, i.e. to do things differently. While most wanted to go back to their schooling or tertiary years, Fan was the only one who responded “now.”

“I am one who lives in the present, but I always look forward in anticipation for changes. And you learn from your past successes or failures. But if you ask me what my most memorable moment is, “now” would best describe it.

“With the Internet of things and the digital movement in the world of banking and business, I’m proud to be a part of this evolution taking place right in front of your eyes. However, to stay ahead, you have to be prompt to adapt and embrace these changes,” explains Fan.

On hindsight, Fan also shares that to be a better leader, it is always wise to take a step back to move two steps forward. The key is to stay true to your cause and to always bring value to the things that we do on a daily basis.

Parting advice

As Fan is now at the height of her career, she shares some tips for people who want to emulate her success to be where she is at today, besides achieving work-life balance as a female corporate leader.

“Seek guidance from a mentor or a role model. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes, but always learn from these experiences because they help you become a better person.

“Although sacrifices may need to be made for work and life commitments, ensure that you know what you want before setting your priorities right from the beginning. Give your best in all you do and don’t stop learning,” concludes Fan.


Fan’s 5 nuggets of wisdom

  1. Don’t be afraid to ask questions for clarity.
  2. Take on new challenges. There’s more to gain than to lose.
  3. Fall, but get up again and move on.
  4. Find a role model or a mentor.
  5. Never lose sight of your goals and purpose.
We invite you to write in to editor@leaderonomics.com or comment below to share your experience and takeaway lessons from any leader you know personally. He or she can be a leader in your family, school, university or company. Here is your chance to reflect and acknowledge your leader! For more articles on Women & Careers, click here. To watch some of our great interviews with game-changing leaders, go to YouTube and subscribe to the “Leaderonomics Media” channel.

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Lay Hsuan was part of the content curation team for Leaderonomics.com, playing the role of a content gatekeeper as well as ensuring the integrity of stories that came in. She was an occasional writer for the team and was previously the caretaker for Leaderonomics social media channels. She is still happiest when you leave comments on the website, or subscribe to Leader's Digest, or share Leaderonomics content on social media.
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