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Leading from the ground up

Dr Low Chai Ling is transforming Singapore's aesthetics scene - by first nurturing a formidable team

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'At SW1, we believe there are no such things as limitations. We're not afraid to question traditions, push boundaries and challenge conventions. And this manifests in the way we run our business, formulate our products and partner with our clients.' - Dr Low Chai Ling, SW1 co-founder.

'THE higher you climb, the more on the ground you need to be," declares Dr Low Chai Ling. With that, the co- founder of aesthetics practice SW1 sums up her leadership style: happy to be on the front-lines, rolling up her sleeves, working hand-in-hand with her team. In fact, unlike most bosses, Dr Low doesn't ensconce herself in a fancy office, separate from her employees. "I sit with my girls, I eat with my girls, I do whatever they do because I see myself as part of the team," she notes.

In fact, she is routinely one of the earliest at work and one of the last to leave. Her work ethic dictates that she puts in the hours just like everyone else - and then some. Says Dr Low: "I am envious - and disbelieving - of people who tell me they come in late and leave early because they are the boss. Employees don't want to work for a lazy boss. They'd rather be part of a team that is productive and successful, and that's hard to do if the leader doesn't set the tone."

Having set up SW1 just half a year ago with her husband, Dr Kenneth Lee, Dr Low now has the chance to mould a brand-new aesthetics clinic from scratch - and she's certainly not squandering the opportunity. Her vision is lofty: she wants to transform the beauty industry, and change the way aesthetic services are delivered.

"The opening of SW1 represented the fulfilment of a long-time dream of mine, to create a first-of-its-kind 'global wellness village' concept. I have been in this business for over 15 years, yet I have never been fully satisfied with the way clinics have been run so far," she says.

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Her foray into aesthetics happened in 2003, when the husband and wife pair started The Sloane Clinic. They eventually sold the company, though they stayed on to run it until last year when they felt a burning passion to take things to the next level, with SW1.

"I felt that the industry was just saturated with too much of the same thing - no one was really doing anything different, and many practices were merely extensions of yet another clinic down the road. It seemed to me that the industry had stagnated, and I've always had the feeling that we can do better as doctors."

Motivated by the desire to revolutionise the industry, Dr Low and Dr Lee embarked on their next journey: The creation of SW1.

"When we look around, we observe that many of us are not living our lives to its full potential because of societal expectations, established conventions and self doubt. We believe we should demand more of ourselves and accept nothing less. Definitions are there to limit us. At SW1, we believe there are no such things as limitations. We're not afraid to question traditions, push boundaries and challenge conventions. And this manifests in the way we run our business, formulate our products and partner with our clients."

A great example of this is a world-first offering that SW1 is bringing to patients, by tapping into breakthrough research. SW1 has been collaborating with scientists from A*Star to map out the skin microbiome. As part of their commitment to patient education, SW1 patients can choose to receive a report of their skin microbiome and genetic markers, which will give them an insight into how their skin may age in the future. This will give SW1 key data on the best type of skincare an individual will respond to.

Dr Low adds: "That underlines what SW1 does, as a 'global wellness village' featuring cutting-edge aesthetic medical and cosmetic surgical treatments, offered by a well-rounded team of doctors and plastic surgeons - each with their own field of expertise. Owing to the breadth and depth of our collective expertise, the team at SW1 is able to provide world-class aesthetic and bespoke cosmetic attention, unlike singular standalone establishments."

With a multi-disciplinary approach, SW1 is able to cater to a wide variety of patient needs. With expertise not limited to a single doctor, patients can receive a whole range of services under one roof, instead of having to bounce from clinic to clinic for specialised treatments. An SW1 patient can choose to meet with both a plastic surgeon and an aesthetics doctor simultaneously, with the collaborative effort of identifying the best treatment strategy.

The clinic, located at Paragon, is one of the largest aesthetic, plastic surgery, and medical spa establishments in Singapore. It spans over 7,000 square feet and boasts over 23 treatment suites and two fully equipped operating theatres.

To be sure, Dr Low's plan to shake up an entire industry is an ambitious one. That's precisely why she works tirelessly to motivate every single person at the clinic - no matter how big or small their role is - to live and breathe the SW1 mission.

"It is easy for us leaders to ask our team to look at what they can do for the company, less so what the company can do for them. I believe that a great company starts with great people, but great people must also be nurtured and taken care from within the company. We encourage feedback from our people, and we believe in sharing the success of the company with our people. In this way, the performance of the company is closely tied with the performance of its people."

She adds that the welfare of her staff features highly on her list of priorities. "Our team knows we take care of our own people so they are more willing to lay their lives down on the line for us. This includes disabled and elderly employees which we have. It is with this principle that some of my employees have followed me for more than a decade."

A firm believer of leading by example, Dr Low has instilled the same ground-up approach to leadership in her senior management. "My philosophy is that in whatever I do, the team should come first. I encourage the same mindset in my senior management - I tell them if we are all to sit down to a meal, then the leaders should eat last, not first; they should only start after making sure everyone else is taken care of."

Clearly, her caring outlook has yielded tangible results. Despite having only opened its doors in December 2017, SW1 has made several key players take notice. The Catalist-listed Singapore Medical Group has acquired an 85 per cent stake in the clinic, with plans to expand the brand across the region.

Dr Low emphasises that all these new ventures would not have been possible without the support of her team. She sees her role as a nurturing one; she enjoys figuring out what makes each individual tick, and supporting them in their career goals. "When someone starts off at SW1, I ask them what their strengths are and how they think they can contribute to the team. Everyone has different key strengths and my goal is to nurture the varied strengths of each team player to create a formidable force."

After all, she has made it her personal mission to up Singapore's aesthetics game - and she knows she has to lead the charge.