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Fabulous female f+ckups: leaders and entrepreneurs in Singapore explain why it’s ok to get it wrong

By Beatrice Seilern, Managing Editor

July 7, 2017 | 10 min read

Last month’s SheSays Singapore session was all about the women in Singapore who have f+cked up in some way or other, and bounced back to tell the tale.

Shesays singapore

Shesays Singapore tackles the topic of 'f+ck ups'

The speakers included; Wendy Hogan, marketing transformation and strategy director at Oracle, and co-founder and APAC curator of, Regan Bailie, managing director at Xaxis Singapore and board member of IAB Singapore and Bea Seilern, managing editor of Giles Publications.

The event was chaired by Lizi Hamer, regional creative director at Octogon and founder of SheSays in Singapore. She kicked off the session with: "My mum called me the other day and said, “Elizabeth, you’ve put the word ‘f+ck’ online.” However, it is fascinating how the connotation of 'f+ckup' has changed, and how people are embracing it now". Here are our panelists to talk about their biggest f+ckups:

Regan, you work at an incredibly successful company now [Xaxis]. Have you had any areas where you've gone wrong before getting there?

Regan: I've actually had a business myself. When I was 22 I left a very well payed job with equity because I thought I could run my own business. It was like a reverse MBA - we did everything wrong. It was just one thing after another, and although it was an absolutely amazing experience, it culminated in a huge spectacular fail at the end when it went into liquidation. After 2.5 years I was broke and homeless. I lived in a really sh*tty studio flat and had to sleep with a knife under my pillow.

But when I think back, that wasn't the f+ck up. The f+ck up was that I didn't tell anyone. I didn't confide in my friends, I didn't talk to my parents. I was just ashamed, and that stayed with me for quite a few years, and affected my confidence. And because I didn't process what had happened, I actually made a few of those mistakes again. I probably wouldn't change it because I learned so much from it, but I would definitely change the way I handled the fallout.

Wendy, can you follow that up with something you've done that's f+cked up?

Wendy: For me it happened on a more personal level. I was put into a management role before I was 30, and it took me a long time to grow into what I was actually supposed to be doing and I think I did a lot of f+cking up along the way. I had a team of about a hundred and something people at one stage, and I wasn't much older than anyone else. Learning how to manage as well as run a business is why you actually need an HR manager and all that process sh*t. Learning how to hire great people and how to fire people, and fire people fast. Because you know how much an impact toxic people have on your culture, how much of an impact not hiring the right people has on your ability to deliver a great business and a great outcome for the business. All of those things you learn as you become a manager and try to help grow the business and grow the people that work for you.

However, I think my biggest f+ck up was that I had imposter syndrome, being promoted so young without any management experience and making it all up as we went along. So I never thought big enough and that meant I didn't take my team with me as far as we probably could have gone. So I regret that in some ways, and I learnt a lot in terms of my own confidence and my own ability. I also learnt how your team is what makes you successful, and celebrating your team means celebrating yourself as well.

How did you talk yourself out of the imposter syndrome and what advice would you give to girls who have that now?

Wendy: I formed a network of a lot of ladies in this room, and a lot of other ladies, and every couple of months we have dinner, and I have someone speak at that dinner, usually on a topic that I want to learn about.

We're all going through the same sh*t, we all have the same fears and insecurities, none of us think we're as good as other people think we are, so I've been really conscious about creating interactions with people that I can learn from. And the more I got to know people, the more I realised they didn't know any more than I did. Getting involved in third party things like being on the IAB or being involved in an event like this, allows you to interact with a cross section of the industry.

That was another thing that I f+cked up: I spent 14 years with the same company and for 13 of them I never interviewed anywhere else. You've got to be externally facing as much as internal, and you've got to cultivate networks way beyond your own industry. I found that really empowering, building a professional learning environment with people that I trust and people that I can learn from.

Beatrice: I think on that same note there’s a lot to be said for mentorship programmes. It’s a great way to avoid situations like these, especially for younger people who might be going through similar stuff that you went through ten years ago. You can probably save someone a lot of similar f+ck ups along the way. I think it's something that we need to push a lot more within our networks and I also agree that there's a lot to be said about having a network outside your company, outside your business, outside your industry, because there's so much we can learn from each other, especially in terms of running a business. And yes, not everyone knows what they're doing, a lot of people are faking it till they make it and some of them just fake it better than others.

Lizi: I think mentorship is a really important thing, and I tell everybody: go and be a mentor. You can find your own mentor, or go mentor somebody else who needs it because everybody in this room has something to offer, something to teach somebody else.

Back to Bea, who is an editor. If somebody comes to you with a piece that has got a lot of mistakes in it, how do you correct them? Do you take out the f+ck ups or do you dance around them?

Beatrice: One of the services we provide is proofreading. In terms of clients you have to be very tactful, especially because people get very attached to their writing, as it can be very personal. As an editor or proofreader you can push back to a certain degree, and you can definitely correct the grammar and the typos, but a lot of it comes down to personal style. Plus at the end of the day, the client’s always right.

In terms of proofreading a colleague’s work, it's very important to be aware that your style might not necessarily be their style. I try very hard not to impose my style onto other people's work – you have to respect that person's personal style and understand that that's the reason why they're a copywriter.

So once you've had a f+ck up, how do you damage control?

Regan: I don't think I did damage control very well. I just spent the next three years driving myself into the ground with regrets. However, I wrote a list of what I could control and what I couldn't, and started to break it all down and say, “What do I need to do first?” I phoned up an old boss and asked for a job, and that turned into my first job in platforms, which kind of turned into what my career is now. It was really driven by self-preservation and that pride thing of 'I mustn’t lose face here’.

We’ve seen a lot of CEOs getting it wrong when it comes to apologising for f+ckups...

Wendy: It all starts with the CEO. And if the CEO doesn't get it, then the business isn't going to change. Do I see CEOs taking responsibility and ownership of what they need to do differently? No. There are a lot of people with their heads buried in the sand, hoping issues will just go away. But in a customer-driven world, the empathy you get from someone admitting that they've done something wrong and trying to fix it earns more brownie points and loyalty than pretending it didn't happen.

Beatrice: You can actually turn an event like that to your advantage - bringing humour into it and just showing a bit of personality can go such a long way to repairing the damage, and it can even take your brand further than it was before.

Regan: If you make mistakes a genuine heartfelt apology, actually taking responsibility for what you've done can go a long way and be very disarming.

When do you decide it's time to throw in the towel?

Regan: I'd like to say it's when you're unhappy and not enjoying something, but I actually think that's the worse time to leave something because I think you can make really bad choices.

Wendy: I think from a business perspective it's a commercial decision. When you're doing a forecast and you're looking at the business plan and if it's costing more than it's making, then you need to make the call.

What is the most memorable piece of constructive feedback that you have received?

Beatrice: The advice I got from my previous boss which is: just own it. I didn't have enough confidence in the work that I was doing and she would always say, “You need to own it. You need to own the project. You need to own the work. You need to own what you're doing.” It comes back to what I was saying earlier which is fake it till you make it because eventually you will make it and then you can own it with confidence.

Elizabeth: Reach out to people. Network is the strongest thing you have. Lean on it in the bad times, but also in the good times - make sure that you're giving back to those people that have reached out to you.

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