S03E010: Fiona Marcus Raja, Founder & Managing Director of Borneo International Exhibition Sdn Bhd, Malaysia

I didn’t plan for my son to get cancer. I sure didn’t plan to sell any of my businesses and give up my job. But I guess it was a big wake up call for me to really do what I wanted to do when I came back to Kuching in 2016.

Fiona Marcus Raja

In this episode, I spoke to Malaysian entrepreneur, Fiona Marcus Raja who is based in Kuching, Sarawak.

Fiona Marcus Raja Womenpreneur Asia
“You only live once,” says Fiona Marcus Raja.

She is the founder and managing director of Borneo International Exhibition Sdn Bhd, an events management business that helps other businesses organise large-scale events and expos in Borneo and beyond. She is also the managing partner of Orion Social Media (Sarawak) Sdn Bhd.

Her entrepreneurial and family journey started early in life. She started by helping her father sell cars while at the same time, sold insurance after graduating from college.

She went on to open her own beauty salon and nail parlour, open an events management company, create the first river cruise in Sarawak, run a wedding planning business, manage a construction business, supplies waste management equipment and sit on various tourism-related boards in Sarawak to promote Sarawak arts and culture.

Remember my beauty parlour? It was always a love-hate relationship. I wanted to keep the business cause I loved it so much and had fun in it. But I hate being the one doing it cause I put in long hours, you know? When your staff leave, you have to be there personally cause it’s like a hundred per cent service industry. Your hands need to be there. You cannot be replaced. 

She also founded a Borneo initiative named TENUN in which she led a team to Germany in 2019 to showcase Sarawak crafts and products. TENUN which means “weave” in Bahasa Malaysia aims to build a network of talents and artisans, celebrating old and new and creating links between Sarawak’s creative and business communities.  

And she is a certified chef who graduated from Le Culinaire Canada (The Culinary Arts School of Ontario).

This is a woman who became a mum at 21 and started her business and at one point even drove a lorry in her pregnancy as she had to manage events for her clients!

From our conversation, I found Fiona to be someone who is tough, strong-willed, pragmatic and persistent. She knows what she wants and is able to adapt no matter what happens. She said she learnt about crisis management and decision-making from taking care of her son who was diagnosed with neuroblastoma cancer and the years of being in and out of hospitals. 

Due to her son’s condition, Fiona also started The Royce Foundation (named after her son) as a primary source for cancer information and resources in Sarawak. Comprising of families from different backgrounds, it is a charity committed to advocating for families as well as serving as the liaison between healthcare providers and families.

She also started and founded 11Ridgeway Kuching, a community-driven event venue in Kuching designed for people to meet, greet, work and network. 11Ridgeway is also the birthplace of The Royce Foundation.  

I’m actually talking to another friend now about starting another company. Each company we start, we get a team to work on running the company – eventually, I want to retire from the company. I’ve already resigned from both two companies and run the company now more like a CEO, rather than a director. I come for meetings and that’s about it. They make the call, they run it on a day-to-day basis, they handle the clients. 

In this episode, she talks about:

  • Why she lives by the saying “You only live once” 
  • The death of her father when she was young
  • Her nail parlour she ran for 8 years and the love-hate relationship with that business
  • How she gave up her business to seek treatment for her son when he has neuroblastoma, a type of cancer affecting children
  • Coming back to Kuching after being away in Singapore and Canada seeking treatment for her son and how she realized she had been away mentally as well
  • Starting five businesses in the five years that she has been back to Kuching and how each of these businesses is managed
  • Why she went from handling everything as a single company to becoming a project manager in the events management business
  • Why she is in seemingly random, unrelated businesses when in truth, all her businesses are strategic decisions in themselves
  • How she has exited 2 of her 5 businesses and what her plans for the future are
  • How one project in Nanning, China completely changed her business and mindset about events management 
  • What project management is and isn’t
  • What she learnt in the years that she ran her nail parlour (and why it gets harder as one gets older!) 
  • How she used her time during the pandemic lockdown

Connect with her: https://www.linkedin.com/in/fionamarcusraja

When we got offline, Fiona said that she gets her staff to present to her individual mindmaps in their meetings. Through the mindmaps, she gets to understand the person who drew the mindmaps and in that process, coach better. What a wonderful tip!

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