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Success stories: These inspirational women entrepreneurs made a career change and re-entered the workforce to transform their lives

By: Katie Roberts; Photography by Emily Cornelius

American expat Jill Danielson successfully opened restaurants and franchises 

Are you struggling in your current career, or looking to re-enter the workforce, but wondering which new job might be the right one for you? We asked six brave women to explain how they went about transforming their working lives.

#1 – Jill Danielson, American


General Manager, American Association of Singapore. Prior to that: Materials and Logistics Manager, Sequent Computer Systems, Portland, Oregon, US.

Best part of the job: Meeting so many interesting people.

Biggest challenge: Coordinating a diverse number of events throughout the year.

Inspiration for career change: We decided to open a Subway restaurant, and ended up opening three outlets in less than a year. So I quit the American Association to focus full-time on the Subway business. 


Subway franchisee and co-owner of new Mexican restaurant, Burrito Boys.

Reason for choice: 

We saw how popular Subway was with the younger crowd and decided to try the food and beverage business. With our partner, we presented a formal business plan to the ​Subway ​Singapore Development Agent. Once we’d gained approval, we started looking for locations. Eight years later we have opened 12 Subway outlets, and three months ago we opened the new Mexican restaurant.

Best part of the job: Our chips and guacamole!

Biggest challenge: Figuring out how to handle all the accounting, tax and manpower issues with IRAS and the Ministry of Manpower.

Most satisfying achievement: When construction is completed on a new outlet and we open it.

Old job versus new job: I do miss the social aspect of the American Association, but the flexibility of owning my own business is certainly a benefit.

Useful advice

“Use the resources available from the Singapore Government. They are incredibly supportive of new small to medium enterprises (SMEs) and have organisations set up to help you navigate through all the various schemes available to help SMEs grow and be successful.”


feminism in singapore 


#2 – Michaela Anchan, New Zealander


Stay-at-home mum, writer and student in Mumbai and Singapore.

Best part of the job: The flexibility to care for my firstborn full-time, while studying towards a degree and writing short stories.

Biggest challenges: The distractions and isolation of working at home, plus feeling I wasn’t working to my full potential. Lacking the headspace to get going with any of my entrepreneurial ideas was very frustrating.

Inspiration for career change: After my second child was born here in 2013, and with the tremendous help at home, I realised I had a lot of dreams and thoughts; but a lot of it revolved around wanting to get out of the house, to have somewhere to go to, to “work”.  I knew other women felt the same way, and that the way forward would have to involve some kind of shared office space.


Founder, Woolf Works, a shared workspace for women; opened July 2014.

This is a growing community of small business owners, writers and company executives who have chosen to ditch the home office and work from our space for productive, focused work time.

Reason for choice: I had never heard of “coworking” until I started researching shared offices. The movement is booming in Singapore, where there are a lot of options, but I felt there was room in the market for a space that was low-key and would appeal to “mumpreneurs”, or women with home-based businesses.

Best part of the job: Is it terrible to say that I love leaving my kids in the morning to come to work? I am very proud of the space, our high retention rate, and our open, supportive community of women.

Most satisfying achievement: Among the amazing press coverage, my cover-girl gig for the ANZA magazine was a career highlight! I was also honoured to speak on a panel at the recent Coworking Unconference Asia.

Old job versus new job: I enjoyed my time as a stay-at-home mum, but I definitely feel more fulfilled and creative now, and I know that everyone in my household benefits from me being happier!

Useful advice

“If you want to get something off the ground, treat it like a fulltime job. Work at it from nine to five, not just in bits and pieces between household jobs. Commit 100 percent. Also, when I was trying to make up my mind what to do, I focused on which option I would regret not doing ten years from now.”


Brit Sarah Cragg left her Solicitor gig to become a PR guru 

#3 – Sarah Cragg, British


Solicitor, Allen & Overy, Associate, London and Singapore.

Best part of the job: The people. I worked with some brilliant people and made lifelong friends. And it’s the reason I first came to Singapore – I’ll always be thankful for that.

Biggest challenge: It’s stressful. Making mistakes can cost your clients or your firm millions, so you are expected to be right 100 percent of the time.

Inspiration for career change: My mum. She lost her sight unexpectedly when I was young, and she had to give up work. She went on to receive an OBE from the Queen, is a trustee of two national charities and has been a local councillor and mayor. She taught me that you never know what’s going to happen, so you need to seize opportunities and make sure you are doing what you want to do, today.


Account Manager, Salt Singapore (communications agency). 

Reason for choice: I knew I wanted a job where I would feel I was making a difference and having a positive impact, but I didn’t know where to start. While in the UK, I found OnPurpose, which helps to develop talented professionals and put their skills to use in organisations that focus commercial thinking towards creating social and environmental benefit. It was perfect! I worked on a variety of projects, which gave me the confidence to do what I really wanted to do: move back to Singapore. Then I met Salt, where I work on social mission and sustainability campaigns – it was love at first sight. 

Best part of the job: There are lots of serious issues facing the world, and business has a large role to play. Having a social purpose helps businesses and brands turn green issues into opportunities and CSR into business growth, while also having a positive impact on the communities and environments they work in. I love being a part of this.

Biggest challenge: Drafting legal contracts is vastly different to executive briefings, press releases and Twitter posts, but I love the variety. It’s hard starting again; I’m an ambitious person, so to be behind my peers is a challenge – but it also inspires me to push myself to work hard so as to catch up.

Most satisfying achievement: Working on the social mission campaign of Unilever’s soap brand, Lifebuoy. The mission is to help more children reach the age of five by teaching them the lifesaving habit of washing their hands with soap. So far, this has reached 254 million people.

Old job versus new job: The new job definitely wins. I get to do something I really believe in, while living in an amazing city.

Useful advice

Get a support network: Giving up a career is difficult; there are going to be times when it would just be easier to stay, so surround yourself with people who remind you why you are making the leap.

Do your research. Think and plan the next step before you quit your job. It can take time to change careers, so don’t make any swift decisions without having a plan.

Save, save, save. If you’re changing career, chances are you may have to take a pay cut, at least temporarily.”



#4 – Jenny O’Malley, American


Sales Representative, Three Dots, Chicago Apparel Center, US.

Best part of the job: New York trade shows and fashion shows, visiting clothing boutiques all over the Midwest, representing a clothing line that I loved, and working with amazing people. It was a very hard job to give up.

Biggest challenge: It’s a tough market, and it was hard seeing boutiques go out of business, and the people who had put their hearts and souls into them.

Inspiration for career change: I have always exercised, but in my third and last pregnancy I started Pilates to counter terrible back pain, and I loved the results; I was stronger and more flexible, and I lost my baby weight.


Certified Pilates Academy International Mat and Reformer Teacher, trained in pre- and postnatal.

Reason for choice: We moved here seven years ago and I got pregnant before really starting my job search. Now with three little boys at home, I was ready for something different that would allow me flexibility around the needs of my family, but put me back in the working world. When I saw the Pilates teacher-training course, I knew that was exactly what I wanted to do.

Best part of the job: Challenging clients in each and every class, but also making sure they are having fun; teaching prenatal and postnatal clients and hearing about their pregnancies, and then seeing their babies. I love when my clients see the positive results in their own bodies.

Biggest challenge: The hours of study required for the certification exam – not only Pilates, but anatomy and biomechanics, practice teaching, and self-practice.

Most satisfying achievement: Through Pilates instruction I can inspire and motivate clients to improve their core strength, flexibility, focus, and overall wellbeing.

Old job versus new job: I honestly can’t say which one I prefer. I’m hoping that down the road I can merge them together – open my own studio, with a boutique attached to it.

Useful advice

“Change is not always easy and can be intimidating, but the result is deeply rewarding.”


German expat Alexandra Schmutterer successfully navigated from marketing roles to founding a holistic travel business 

#5 – Alexandra Schmutterer, German


Director Marketing Communications, Pan Pacific Singapore. Prior to that: Regional Marketing Communications Manager, Siemens Water Technologies, Singapore.

Best part of the job: Hospitality was always my dream industry; it’s fast-paced, it’s never boring and every day is a new challenge. Hoteliers are fun to work with, and it was so different to the technical environment at Siemens.

Biggest challenge: At Siemens, it was standing one’s ground as a woman in a male-dominated technology company; at the Pan Pacific, it was the 24/7 non-stop hotel industry, which affected my work-life balance.

Inspiration for career change:

After working hard for years to realise my first dream at the Pan Pacific, I decided to move on to my second dream: starting my own business.


Managing Director and Founder, Saakalya Pte Ltd, Singapore.

We focus on three concepts: décor solutions focused on wellbeing; holistic weekend breaks to the countries from which the Saakalya Collection has been sourced, and yoga.

Reason for choice: Saakalya Pte Ltd is a lifestyle and wellness concept, but that is a coincidence. I discovered the products sold under the Saakalya Collection on a tour of Asia’s various furniture trade shows back in 2010, for an unrelated reason. Later, curious friends asked to join me on sourcing trips to remote areas of Indonesia and Thailand. And with this, Saakalya Travel was born: themed, holistic weekend trips. I decided to become a yoga teacher after I left the hotel, and this also became part of the business.

Best part of the job: That I started something from zero; it’s my own idea and all my effort and time is invested in this business. It’s an endless learning process and I never stop learning.

Biggest challenge: Setting targets and goals sometimes means working long hours, including weekends. I’ve had to learn that our bodies are not machines, and that we need a break once in a while.

Most satisfying achievement: Our official launch in December 2014 was an important milestone; the support from friends and business partners was fantastic, motivating me and keeping me going.

Old job versus new job: The new always wins over the old. Nothing is more important for me than continuous learning and change.

Useful advice

“Just believe in yourself, decide what you want and you will get it.”


Irish expat Leela founded Leela's Fine Chocolates 

#6 – Leela Titus, Irish


Lawyer, UK and Singapore.

Best part of the job: Achieving positive results for clients, particularly in my pro bono work.

Biggest challenge: Saying no! Sometimes it just wasn’t possible to find a happy solution to the issue.

Inspiration for career change: I’ve always been a foodie, and over the years I’ve fantasised about running my own food business. The spirit of enterprise in Singapore helped me turn that daydream into a reality. 


Founder and Chocolatier, Leela’s Fine Chocolates.

Reason for choice: What could be better than working with chocolate? After taking a course on chocolate-making, I was hooked and started making chocolates for friends. As my skills and confidence increased, I expanded to corporate orders, events and teaching short courses.

Best part of job: Seeing customers’ reactions to the chocolates, particularly some unusual varieties such as rosemary and olive oil. I get a real kick from seeing suspicious expectations turn into smiles. 

Biggest challenge: Working with chocolate is very tricky and you have to be very meticulous to produce great chocolate products every time. The shift from being a small cog in a big operation to running my own small business has been challenging but rewarding.

Most satisfying achievement: Seeing a box of my chocolates in front of 350 guests at a prestigious event at The St. Regis Hotel and, later, watching some of the guests scour the tables for extras to take home.

Old job versus new job: Definitely new! I’ve been operating outside my comfort zone, which has been a liberating experience. It’s made me braver and bolder in other aspects of my life, too.  

Useful advice

“There’s a real difference between enjoying something as a hobby and spending every day working at it. Test your passion and resolve before committing full-time to a career change. After a year of running the business part-time while working full-time at a legal job, and working very late nights and weekends in the kitchen and getting some very stiff shoulders, I found that I still loved it, which gave me the confidence to take the leap.”


This story first appeared in Expat Living’s May 2015 issue.