Opinions & People

Staying In Focus with…Datin Winnie Loo

by Su Aziz

Sharp, witty and focused, Malaysia’s most recognised hairstylist inspire ambition, drive and positivity. If that has peaked your curiosity, read on to find out just what Winnie Loo from A Cut Above thinks of her success and what’s next for her.

Most good things come in modest, neat packages, they say. It’s certainly true of Datin Winnie Loo. Trim, wiry and stylish, Loo’s agility and gait is that of a woman 20 years younger. Owner and CEO of Malaysia’s well known hairdressing salon A Cut Above which she started in 1979, Loo’s entrepreneurial journey has been generously peppered with her optimism.

‘I’m a dreamer. I dream big,’ the influential hairstylist confesses and that dream today has won her multiple awards. She’s the first Malaysian to be awarded the World Master of the Craft by the Art & Fashion Group of New York in 1997 and had, aptly, won the MCA Chinese Woman Entrepreneur Award in 2008.

Even today, after helming 10 salons around Kuala Lumpur, Loo still gets onto the floor to cut as well as style hair. ‘Yes, I’m very hands on. But nowadays, I’m a little choosy about whose hair I cut and style,’ she admits. Well, after being in the business for over four decades, she has earned the right to.

‘Now, I go to the salon to play every day,’ she says cheekily. When Loo opened her first salon all those years ago, having been trained under the guru of hairstyling Vidal Sassoon, it was perseverance and skill that buoyed her. ‘Perseverance gives hope, do you notice that in life?’ she asks pointedly. ‘Another thing I notice is, men prefer to have ladies cut their hair. Men think women understand their hair better,’ she shares with an easy laugh.

On Success and Failure
Loo’s group of salons not only comprises the premier A Cut Above salons but also five Restyle+ salons where they work together with Aveda to create a pampering session for hairstyling customers.

However, those weren’t all she had started.

Do you remember seeing X-Cut which were express haircut places normally situated on lower ground floor of malls? ‘We opened around eight of them, if I recall,’ Loo says. ‘But they weren’t churning enough revenue to be sustainable. The thing is, you must always be willing to cut your losses. I am. I set goals, we set goals and be prudent but I’m willing to let go when things aren’t what I expect.’ She smiles and continues, ‘I dare to fail. If you ask me how I have failed, I’ll tell you that I may have failed in doing things the way I wanted but, no matter, I achieved the goal.’

‘I don’t look back. What’s done is done. I don’t worry about tomorrow. I live in the now, the present.’

So, when does she consider herself a success? ‘Do I dare say that about myself?’ Loo deliberates on her reply. ‘Success has never been the destination. It’s always about the journey. I’m determined. I’ve done so many things that most people only dreamed of. Success isn’t a thing I stop and think about. At every decade, my journey begins again – a different journey each time,’ says Loo who was a former creative ambassador for Schwarzkopf. ‘I don’t look back. What’s done is done. I don’t worry about tomorrow. I live in the now, the present.’

A Balancing Act
Loo’s been together with her husband for 38 years, married for 33 years and has two grown children. Her husband, Richard Teo, as well as her 29-year-old son, are in the business with her while her 25-year-old daughter lives and works in New York.

Despite her visionary business moves and forward thinking, Loo epitomises women of her generation. ‘I’m a unique person. I’m a perfect woman,’ she cheekily admits. ‘I can run a business and I can cook up a storm in the kitchen too. When the children were young, I spend mornings with my family. That’s their time. It’s important for women to strike a balance, find time to be with them. I’m a submissive wife, I respect my husband and he’s not the sort to pay me compliments but he sings my praises to friends and family.’

Today, besides the salons, Loo has started A Cut Above Academy and in its 13 years, it has been recognised as the best hairdressing academy in Malaysia by City and Guild London. Most of all, the academy was started to share hair styling skills Loo had acquired and honed throughout her stellar career.

‘And also, [the academy is] to provide the kind of training that will produce staff we want. But people aren’t willing to invest in hairdressing lessons to gain the skills. It’s because parents think their children have better things to do for work rather than hairdressing,’ she says ruefully. ‘What they forget is, no matter how bad the [economic] crisis is, your hair still grows!’

Technically Speaking
In this age of AI, high tech wonders and real-time communication, Loo has a pragmatic outlook on technology. ‘I’m thankful for tech, I don’t have to try so hard. My popularity has risen due to it. For example, a friend in China wrote about me and in just one night thousands have read it. It’s that easy,’ she says, laughing. (Yes, Loo laughs easily.)

‘But technology is also unkind. People tend to believe what they see or read on social media, they’re just followers. In this sense, tech has become so unfriendly, which is a pity. We’ve lost it, you know. We’re together, yet not. We meet up but we don’t connect. Don’t get me wrong. I love technology. But we no longer touch each other.’

Wise Words
‘Be very focus on what you want to do. Never be afraid to make decisions and don’t listen to naysayers. Be determine, do it and then you can say, at least you’ve tried. Be realistic and practical [when it comes to business], have a financial plan,’ she advises.

So, what’s next? Immediately, she lights up, back straight and her hands gesticulate. ‘I just did something fantastic,’ she confides, elation evident on her virtually ageless face. ‘Last Friday it went global.’ She’s referring to People’s Choice Award she had created with Steve Wee in 2015 to recognise outstanding individuals with prominent achievements in their respective industries. This year, they’re inviting entrepreneurs from Australia, China, India, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, New Zealand, Singapore, South Korea and Thailand to participate in this award.

That’s not all.

These days, Loo’s also kept busy with speaking engagements. ‘I hold a microphone more than a pair of scissors now,’ she laughs. She’s very much in demand – which explains her being the host for WIEF’s Women Business Network (WBN) Tea Talk session. ‘I want to push entrepreneurs to be future superheroes, train them to stand up and shine. I want to give talks that inspire them.’ If anyone can do it, we believe, Winnie Loo can.

The WBN Tea Talk session is an intimate session between 20 – 30 women entrepreneurs and a well-known business personality to absorb his or her success story, entrepreneurial journey and also a platform for networking. The next Tea Talk session will be on 27 September 2017 at Flora Terrace Restaurant in Hampshire Place Office on Jalan Mayang Sari, Kuala Lumpur. Click here to register.

11 Aug 2017
Last modified: 13 Sep 2017
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