Juda Kanaprach, Co-Founder and Managing Director, Thailand, Milieu Insight

Tech entrepreneur Juda Kanaprach has co-founded Milieu Insight, a mobile-first consumer data and analytics company that is transforming how research in Asia is conducted. 

In this interview, Juda speaks to Aditi Sharma Kalra on learning from mistakes, success tips for careers, and confronting gender-related roadblocks.

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Having studied engineering at Thammasat University, more to please her parents than out of love for the subject she candidly admits, upon graduation Juda Kanaprach, Co-Founder and Managing Director, Milieu Insight found herself working at a petroleum refinery. She was unused to working in such a male-dominated industry and found that many of her colleagues did not respect her, despite her seniority - an experience that put her on the path to be more vocal to solve issues around women leadership.

Switching careers to financial services honed her sales and leadership skills – skills she relies on to this day – and an MBA from the US put her on the path for a career in consumer research and, most importantly, she gained useful perspectives of the problems inherent in the global research industry.

Presently, she works with some of the region’s largest companies to understand what over 2mn (and counting) consumers think about, on topics such as the COVID-19 pandemic and climate change to mental health and fitness.

In this interview, Juda speaks to Aditi Sharma Kalra on learning from mistakes, success tips for careers, and confronting gender-related roadblocks.

Q What are the key factors of success that have helped you in your career?

There are a lot, and one key factor that has brought me to where I am is continuous learning of industry trends and know-hows. To me, industry knowledge is the backbone of adapting and thriving in every role that I’ve been in, and particularly useful in my interactions with clients. I always do my due research before presenting or pitching to stakeholders, which has helped me to gain their trust.

Another factor is having the courage and confidence to put myself in challenging situations. I often find myself gravitating towards them - finding solutions to complex problems always gives me a lot of satisfaction. I’m also not afraid to voice out my opinions, having my voice heard is something I really enjoy. Even while saying this, I feel a lot of pride and gratitude to be able to stand on this stage, sharing my experiences as a female tech entrepreneur.

Last but not least, building meaningful relationships with people has given me many opportunities during my career.

Whenever I reflect on how far I have come, I’ll always recall the familiar faces who have given me advice, support and opportunities on this journey - family, friends, colleagues and clients included.

Q As a female leader, what have been the most significant challenges? Have you been confronted with gender-related roadblocks?

Ten years ago, I worked in a male-dominant industry and I constantly had to fight against imposter syndrome and feeling as if I don’t belong. I remember having to work extra hard to prove myself more than my male colleagues to fight for a job promotion, and even for the most basic ask of getting equal pay. It was like running a marathon every day - extremely tiring and sometimes utterly crushing - but I didn’t stop.

I take those experiences as blessings in disguise. They have built me to be stronger, and be able to thrive even in the most challenging situations. Thankfully, I face less of these problems now at Milieu, which gives me more headspace to focus on my work.

Q How would you define your management style and would you say it's quite different to what you've seen in the past?

Definitely - every leader has their own experiences, which will influence their management styles. For me, I work on building family-like relationships with my team members. Trust, rapport and support are very important to me - they form a strong foundation for the team not just to produce great work, but more importantly, enjoy working with one another. Being just mere colleagues, following a hierarchical relationship just doesn’t cut it for me. 

Q Any interesting anecdotes to share working with the Milieu Insight leadership team, especially being the only woman on the team currently, as well as working remotely from them?

Male and female leaders can have vastly different opinions and working styles. While some people may find being the only female in the leadership team intimidating, I always voice out whenever I think that things can be done better or differently. Being in a team where the leaders have mutual respect for each other’s opinions, I believe that I’m appreciated for bringing some balance to the team and company.

Since COVID-19, the challenges have been a lot about remote communication. When there are important decisions to be made, face-to-face meetings are of course ideal, but being based in Thailand while the rest of the team is in Singapore, there’s just no way to do so with travel restrictions. In such cases, I appreciate that the team is willing to accommodate the slight time difference so that I can participate in the decision-making process. We also actively ensure frequent communication so nothing is missed.

Q Would you say you've made some mistakes along the way, and what did you learn from them?

I used to think that being a perfectionist was a good trait of mine, but as I gathered more experience working with different people, I had to face myself and acknowledge that I might have been wrong.

Being a perfectionist can sometimes strain relationships with people, and the pursuit of perfection can turn out counterproductive.

The paradigm shift was due to one incident at work: I was constantly pushing the team to make changes - one revision after another until the work was what I considered 'perfect. However, it took so much effort that I began to question if there was something that I lacked. After much reflection and honest conversations with myself, I realised that the root of the problem was my desire for perfection. It was a difficult lesson, but one that made me learn to balance the perfectionist side of me.

Q Why do you think companies would benefit from having more women in leadership levels and all across?

For female employees, seeing other women in leadership positions can greatly motivate them. You realise that you can be just like them, and there are always opportunities for you to be a leader as well.

I believe that female leaders - most of them, at least - can also better relate to female employees who are married or with children. These employees wear many different hats, and it helps to have a leader who can understand them.

On the corporate level, having different perspectives from male and female leaders helps a lot, providing the companies with more solutions and perspectives. I’d like to think that female leaders tend to be more financially savvy too, but fundamentally it’s important to have a diverse team with different backgrounds and strengths to complement each other.

Q Have you had a mentor who has inspired you, or are there leaders in the industry that you have deep respect for?

I have a deep respect for Anne-Ev Enzmann, who was a senior of mine before my time at Milieu. Anne-Ev has demonstrated what good leadership looks like, and has influenced not just my leadership style, but also inspired me in many ways as a woman in the corporate world. I may still be lacking in some ways, but I’m always on the lookout to learn from other female leaders doing amazing work.

Photos / Provided by Milieu Insight

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