By Mariam Mokhtar
In February 2018, Rupa Shanmugam, received the Women In Leadership Award from the Buffalo Niagara Chapter of New York State (NYS) Women, Inc for showing leadership, enterprise and excellence in her chosen industry.
The girl who grew up in Kampar is now the President and Chief Operating Officer (COO) of an American electronics manufacturing firm, SoPark Corporation, based in Western New York.
The company was formed by Robert Stevenson, as a two-man outfit, in 1981. Today, Rupa is the majority owner of the highly technical firm, which employs 78 people. SoPark manufactures and designs medical devices and high-tech equipment. It also offers circuit board manufacturing, electro-mechanical and custom cable assembly services.
Rupa credits her father, a physics teacher at Sekolah Menengah Jenis Kebangsaan (ACS) in Kampar, for being her inspiration, and for motivating her, to pursue a career in Electrical Engineering.
Having completed her secondary schooling, Rupa enrolled for a diploma in Electronic Engineering at the Federal Institute of Technology, in Kuala Lumpur, where she recalls being the only girl in the class.
Seeking employment in Singapore, at Thomson Consumer Electronics, Western Digital, and then returning home to work in Carsem, Rupa said that she was the only woman technician in the five years of her early working career.
She then read Electrical Engineering at Tri-State University (now called Trine University) in Angola, Indiana and after graduating, Rupa continued to work in the same field at SoPark Corporation, where she scaled the corporate ladder.
She started off as the only woman engineer and later became a manager. By working hard, displaying a strong work ethic and having suitable mentors, who trusted her, she absorbed many skills. She played important roles in manufacturing, from operator, technician, engineer to manager. Her technical knowledge and international work experience served her well, as today she has become the President and COO of SoPark Corporation.
Her expertise in developing complex databases, combined with her leadership and motivational skills propelled SoPark Corporation, to obtain four ISO certification audits within four years, and made the company a financial success.
Rupa is a mentor to the employees in her organisation, and students at local universities and high schools. She is responsible for creating work experience for students, and for creating opportunities to work at SoPark. She helped to set-up the first Western New York Chapter of Engineering World Health at the University at Buffalo.
Keen on promoting Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM), Rupa is pleased to see that more women are studying these disciplines. Despite the increase, she acknowledges the need for more professional women in the industry, especially as leaders.
She said, “”By combining science, technology, engineering and production, with a focus on people skills and quality, women have the opportunity to impact their local and national economy.
“Women make great leaders and can make significant contribution to the Manufacturing and Technology industries. My life commitment is to encourage women, to embrace manufacturing and engineering, as part of their world of opportunity.
“I hope to be able to assist in any mentorship programme that is available in Malaysia, during my visit in May, as this is something that I feel strongly about.”
The other woman who makes us proud, is mother and kindergarten teacher, Indira Gandhi, whose courage and steadfastness, should be emulated by all Malaysians. Ipoh Echo, has followed the trials and tribulations she has faced since the day her personal life became public.
In March, the United States embassy in Malaysia, honoured Indira by nominating her as Malaysia’s candidate for the US International Women of Courage award.
Her problems started nine years ago, when Indira divorced her husband K. Pathmanathan. He converted to Islam, and assumed the name, Muhammad Riduan Abdullah.
The details of her divorce were followed by Malaysians from the west coast to the east coast of peninsular Malaysia, and from West to East Malaysia. Her family life was torn apart. Her career prematurely cut short. Indira’s personal battles became the nation’s and her plight was politicised because of religion.
When they were divorced, the court granted Indira custody of their children, but in April 2009, the revengeful Riduan kidnapped their youngest daughter, Prasana, who was only 11 months old. Without telling his former wife, or seeking her consent, he converted their three children, from Hinduism to Islam.
Indira sought legal help to reverse her children’s conversion, and prompt the authorities to locate her former husband, and return her long-lost daughter. She has been in and out of court several times, but she never gave up hope.
In January, the Federal Court set aside the unilateral conversion of Indira’s three children to Islam and ruled that any conversion of non-Muslim children could only be done after the consent of both parents.
The American ambassador, HE Kamala Shirin Lakhdhir, who had been in her post for 14 months, said Indira’s case was widely known, around the world.
At a press conference, after a brief ceremony held at the Ambassador’s resident, Lakhdhir said, “We wanted to recognise Indira’s struggles. Her struggles go beyond her family. They affect all Malaysians. We are here to celebrate her effort, and those who have supported her struggle over the past eight years.”
Other women, who are not as resolute, would have given-up ages ago, to lead a quiet life, but not Indira Gandhi. Unlike some of our political leaders, Indira has shown that when honour is at stake, she has both inner and external strength.
Like her, Rupa has shown Malaysian leaders, that actions, not endless talk about fulfilling quotas of women in industry or top positions, are the best way to promote women in education and the workplace.
We salute these two Perak women!
By Mariam Mokhtar