Whether it’s rising above a poverty-ridden childhood in Perak’s slums or transforming a fledgling water treatment company into a world leader, recently-crowned Ernst & Young Global Entrepreneur of the Year Olivia Lum shows Low Shi Ping how she turns life’s daunting tide in her favour.
When her primary school teachers barred her from physical education because she was too scrawny, Olivia Lum didn’t take it lying down. Instead, the nine-year-old filled up plastic bags with stones, tied them to her legs and walked for hours every day to build strength.
Rain or shine, Lum trained for months, surprising everyone to clinch top spot in the 100m race at the sports meet. The prize? A pair of Bata shoes. “It was the happiest moment of my life,” Lum remarks.
It doesn’t take long to realise that the 50-yearold founder and group CEO of Hyflux relishes turning life’s adversities – however immense or insignificant – into fuel that propels her to greater heights. It’s how she emerged from the depths of poverty in bleak Kampar, a former tin-mining town in Perak, to become one of Asia’s wealthiest and most influential women.
More recently, she became the first woman to be anointed as the World Entrepreneur of the Year in the 11 years that global accounting giant Ernst & Young has been running this international programme.