As the world celebrates its 100th International Women’s Day, CNNGo takes a look at the key women who are shaping Asia’s political and economic landscape .
Zhang Yin, China :In the 1990s Zhang Yin decided to form a company to ship American scrap paper back to China to turn into cardboard boxes for export.
It was a stroke of genius and Zhang “Paper Queen” Yin never looked back. Her company Nine Dragons Paper Holdings is currently China’s biggest paper maker and places her at second on Hurun Report’s latest China rich list, with a net worth of USD$4.9 million. She’s also the world’s richest self-made woman, ahead of Oprah Winfrey and eBay CEO Meg Whitman.
As a member of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, a powerful government advisory body, Zhang is also currently lobbying for the relaxation of China’s birth control policy and emissions reduction.
Indra Nooyi, India :As the chief executive of soft drink and snack company PepsiCo, the Indian-born Indra Nooyi lords over some 185,000 corporate minions in close to 200 countries. Since joining the giant snack provider in 1994, the 54-year old Nooyi has consistently tried to steer the company in a more waistline-friendly direction, which includes dropping fast food chains KFC, Pizza Hut and Taco Bell in 1997, and acquiring Tropicana and Quaker Oats in later years.
She’s currently revamping Pepsi’s falling profit share in the drinks business with the healthy Pepsi Natural and Propel Fitness Water, as well as shouldering corporate responsibility with the “Pepsi Refresh Project.” Nooyi’s hard-as-nails leadership and her sense of fun (the one-time lead guitarist in an all-girls rock band still performs regularly at corporate functions) has earned her spots on many ‘best leader’ lists in the United States.
Sonia Gandhi, India :As president of the major political party the Indian National Congress, converted Indian Sonia Gandhi’s story reads like a soap opera.
Born Edvige Antonia Albina Maino in Italy, she met future husband and Indian political aristocrat Rajiv Gandhi at Cambridge and tied the knot four years later. Rajiv became India’s prime minister but was assassinated in 1991. Years later Gandhi entered politics as a primary member of the Indian National Congress before rising through the ranks to become party leader in 1998.
Under her leadership, the Indian National Congress become the Lok Sabha’s single largest political party. Gandhi’s also big on austerity, travelling economy class on a 2009 flight and urging MPs to contribute their salary to drought victims in India.
Ho Ching, Singapore :Ho Ching may be the wife of Singapore prime minister Lee Hsien Loong but she’s no demure accessory. As CEO of Singapore’s government-owned investment company Temasek, Ho stands out as a leading lady in the machismo world of global finance.
In her tenure as Temasek’s chief executive, Ho has been lauded for her bold corporate decisions, which includes investing in Indian and Chinese telecom and banking firms. Under her leadership, Temasek has evolved from a standard Singaporean investment company to one of Asia’s leading investors with a US$100 billion net worth. Ching suffered a minor setback in 2009 when her role as CEO was replaced by Charles “Chip” Goodyear, but five month later she regained her seat at the top when Goodyear resigned.
Chanda Kochhar, India :Chandra Kochhar is no stranger to ‘key women’ lists. The head of ICICI Bank — India’s second largest bank — has frequently been named in Fortune’s “Most Powerful Women in Business” list, and last year she figured among Forbes’ “World’s 100 Most Powerful Women”.
Little wonder, considering how the mother of two is responsible for some 15 million customers in India, which makes up a third of India’s retail lending. Since joining ICICI in 1984 as a management trainee, Kochhar has been credited to turning the company from a wholesale lender to the retail banking dynamo that it is today. Under her leadership, ICICI Bank is currently worth around US$120 billion in assets.
Sheikh Hasina, Bangladesh :When it comes to political staying power, Bangladesh’s prime minister Sheikh Hasina’s record is hard to beat. During her three decades in public office, she’s been slammed with numerous extortion allegations and a murder charge. She dodged assassination attempts in 2004 and was thrown in jail in 2007. Despite the furor, Hasina has managed to win a second term as Bangladesh’s prime minister by winning a landslide victory in the 2008 Bangladeshi general elections.
Hasina is also a member of the Council of Women World Leaders and is an outspoken advocate for women’s rights.
Hasina is currently pushing for improved bilateral relations between Bangladesh and India over border disputes, as well as addressing unemployment issues at home.
Hyun Jeong-eun, South Korea : Hyun Jeong-eun, chairwoman of massive South Korean conglomerate Hyundai, is still referred to as “a housewife” in some circles. Not that it fazes her.
Hyun took over the Hyundai leadership after her husband and fomer Hyundai CEO Chung Mong-Hun committed suicide in 2003. As head of all of Hyundai’s businesses (from motor production to ship building) Hyun has more than doubled revenue from 5.42 trillion won to the current 12.78 trillion won (US$11 billion), the company said.
The Hyundai group is currently caught in the political wrangle over inter-Korea travel tours, while pundits expect the group to push for aggressive growth with the relocation of Hyundai offices throughout the country.
Sri Indrawati, Indonesia :Although Indonesia’s finance minister Sri Indrawati is now being pelted with corruption charges over a bank bailout in 2008, there’s no denying that Indrawati is one of Asia’s most powerful women.
Since stepping in as finance minister in 2005, the 48-year-old reformist Indrawati has been credited for wiping out corruption in the finance ministry (her bureau is now the government’s least corrupt department, according to Forbes). Her tough and effective handling of Indonesia’s finances after the 2009 global finance crisis hit, such as slashing debt and reforming customs and taxes, has pundits applauding.