As the sole lady entrepreneur within the highly competitive industry of steel purlin manufacturing and distribution, Rowena Heng, the director of Juta Steel has found it an exciting journey from the early days of learning the industry ropes to maturing into an established industry player. In a recent interview, the enterprising ‘indomitable’ Heng provides an insight into her background and her managing of Juta Steel Sdn Bhd, and the challenges faced.
The most overpowering influence that has shaped the personal and professional life of Rowena Heng, is her father. Born and raised in Petaling Jaya, Heng comes from a middle-class family of parents and two younger brothers. “My dad, Alex Heng, started off small in the trading line before expanding his business,” explains Heng. “It is his influence and mentorship that gave me the confidence to helm the company when he passed away in 2008.”
The determination to carry on her father’s legacy is the main factor for Heng to continue the success of the company. The path from a management trainee towards helming a company that adds value to the steel industry has enabled Heng to possess an in-depth understanding of the industry in relation to the Malaysian economy. Although the industry is not noted for women leaders, gender issue has been another challenge to be overcome.
On returning from Australia as a newly accountant graduate in 2000, Heng joined the family business as a management trainee. “I have worked in almost all the departments and have an in-depth knowledge of the industry,” says Heng. Currently, as the director, she plays a leadership role in determining the direction of the company. The family business is also assisted by her brother.
“There are not many women running a steel industry business as it is a male dominated industry. However, despite being one of the few, I’m inspired to do my best for my career in this line of work,” says Heng with a grin, exuding a petite, charming presence.
The SME steel purlin manufacturing industry is a highly competitive industry comprising of a few players competing amongst themselves and the big players. The advent of globalization has opened the sphere of competition with the entry of a large number of players. Juta Steel has witnessed its share of up and downs while expanding from a trading shop to the factory in Kota Damansara.
“Industry competition is a major concern,” acknowledges Heng, “for which we are taking cost rationalisation and quality improvement measures including automation.” The long-term vision is to expand and diversify the current JSC and JSZ purlin brand into a roofing manufacturing and trading centre.
“Networking with industry stakeholders and the government facilitates in planning for the strategic direction of the steel industry,” reveals Heng. “As the Assistant Secretary General of the Malaysian Steel and Metal Distributors’ Association, I have been able to contribute towards the improvement of Juta Steel in terms of product knowledge and building industry relationships.”
“Juta Steel has always been associated with quality and we want to continue to build our brand reputation,” says Heng. “Plus, I believe that association brings about a good form of networking and learning opportunities,” she adds.
Heng’s leadership style is based on trust and accountability. “I entrust my staff to handle their responsibilities, most of whom have been with me for more than 10 years. My success is based primarily on the support I receive from my team and it is also a source of empowerment to them,” says Heng as she gives the reason for her success.
A mother of two girls aged 12 and 9, Heng admits she faces the challenges of a work-life balance. “We do spend time together daily in the morning and night, and weekends are family times. Both girls are into modeling and it improves their confidence in being able to meet and interact with outsiders,” says Heng as she proudly shows photographs of their modelling endeavours.
Heng believes that a newcomer to the business world should constantly learn new things and to persevere while adapting to the realities of the business world.