The effortless ability to juggle career, family, pro bono commitments and hobbies seems to come naturally for Esther Ma, founder and CEO of public relations firm Prestique.
"I have a timetable in my mind. I can switch from my work diary to my daughters' daily plans, and from that to my family's vacation schedule," Ma says. "It's like saving information in computer folders and retrieving the relevant bits when you need to."
Blessed with a cheerful disposition and positive mindset, Ma believes that there is a solution to every problem, and tries to help others whenever possible.
"I like seeing people happy," she says, adding that looking on the bright side of things is important for achieving work-life balance.
"While I'm very busy, I'm learning new things and enjoying what I do all the time - whether it is reading a good book, sipping wine or having a massage."
Ma, author of The A To Z of PR and winner of the Entrepreneur of the Year Award last year, began her career working on Wall Street, before obtaining an MBA from Columbia Business School in New York, and joining Procter and Gamble where she managed beauty brands such as SKII and Olay. She founded Prestique in 1996.
Ma says she treats her employees as friends. "[My staff] can come to me with their personal problems, or when they are unhappy," she says. "In return, I ask them to be empathetic with others, and engage in charity and pro bono public relations work."
She meets with her team every Monday morning to make sure they are clear about their tasks for the week. She says she is always ready to support and stand up for her staff.
If she isn't in the office, they can e-mail her if they have any questions and she will get back to them promptly.
Ma has adopted an "open-door policy" whereby she welcomes criticism and suggestions from staff. "The last thing I want is office politics at my firm. There is always something I can do [to help improve a situation], such as by reassigning a project, or not having two people working as partners."
Ma believes in empowering her staff.
"I trust that they have the skills, and the ability to take up a portfolio of clients that I assign them. I always encourage them and tell them to be persistent," she says. Ma also sponsors her staff to attend courses and events which are work-related. At home, Ma tries to spend at least 4½ hours with her two young daughters a day.
"I read stories to them in English and Chinese, put them to sleep, engage in role play with them, and play educational games, such as puzzles, fill in the blanks and hangman."
She is grateful for having a supportive husband who is willing to accommodate her busy schedule. She, too, plays the role of a model wife. "My husband loves wine, and I accompany him to wine dinners no matter how tired I am. I also organise trips for the two of us. It's important to prioritise."