Natalie Sit was an administrative clerk in a small company in a small town who rose to become the CEO of her own IT company, Acestar. MEK ZHIN has the story.
IF THERE is a takeaway from the story of Natalie Sit’s rise from administration clerk to CEO of her own company, it is that the way forward in life is to keep learning and improving, and to make the most of the opportunities you’re given.
Sit’s company, Acestar, specialises in providing holistic IT solutions for entities public and private, offering end-to-end services, including servers and storage, network environment, virtualisation, project implementation and management, software solutions, security and technical support.
“When I first started in this industry, I had zero IT knowledge,” the 38-year-old says with a smile, remembering the small establishment she joined back in her hometown in Ipoh.
The low headcount at the company meant that Sit was soon multitasking and doing some sales as well as marketing.
“I never felt I was particularly diligent, but my boss must have seen something else and said he saw the potential for me to do well in sales. After I joined an IT expo in town, I found that I liked talking to people, and started developing a personal interest in sales,” she recalls.
In a short space of time, Sit began earning a five-figure salary doing sales. By the time she was 25, she had bought her own house.
But as with most things, she began to feel that her growth had stagnated and that Ipoh had nothing left for her to explore.
“From young, I had always wanted to leave Ipoh and live in a city. I decided that it was time to see where my dreams would take me, and I resigned and headed for New York.
“I stayed on for six months, working part-time jobs to support myself. I loved the freedom and the new people from all walks of life I met. I even made some lifelong friends there. But I had ambitions to make something of myself and it was tough to do it in someone else’s country, so I came back,” she relates.
Upon her return, Sit worked for a short while for her former boss but soon left to start Acestar in 2008, with his blessing as well as investment. Sit’s style is to approach business from a solutions point of view, through the use of the hardware and software she had on offer. The business made enough profit to be sustainable.
But the initial few years were tough, and Sit remembers being able to afford only two workers. She ended up multitasking again, almost doing everything herself, including sales, deliveries and the accounts. It took a toll on her health, and she ended up in a surgery room and needing two months’ rest.
To make matters worse, upon her return to work, her workers resigned.
“I felt so lost, and it was the toughest moment of my life. I almost gave up. Then two people came to help me. One was my then boyfriend, who is now my husband, who quit his business to help mine. Another was a friend I had known for over 20 years from Ipoh. Their support helped me carry on,” she says.
Literally starting anew, Sit began building a new company structure, eventually rehiring and then expanding the services Acestar offered according to market needs. She took each opportunity that came her way carefully and worked with strategic partners to build the business.
“When it comes to hardware and software, the core of the business, one could say that there was plenty of competition because the same products can be bought anywhere else. I wanted to differentiate ourselves, and that is in the services we can offer the client. We would provide not only the information they needed but also training and updates for their product as and when it was available,” she says, adding that they soon began to grow a steady portfolio of clients.
Two years ago, Sit once again decided that she needed some personal growth and joined a one-week overseas business course that led to a complete change in her mindset and direction.
“It was a very motivating and inspiring experience. When I got back, I shared what I had learnt with my team, and everyone became so energetic after that! I came up with the motto “Work With Passion” and started looking into staff growth as well.
“I even sent some of my senior team to a version of the course,” she says, adding that the business saw a 30%-50% growth in the last year alone.
Sit started to take a bigger interest in her employees. She says she now sees their dreams as hers, too, and strives to help them achieve it.
“Some of them are even earning a five-figure income like I was years ago. This essentially means they are earning more than me!” she laughs good-naturedly.
According to Sit, she believes that by taking care of her team, who in turn takes care of the clients, the business will continue to do well and everyone will benefit.
Sit has also started exploring other business-related activities, a big change compared to her previous focus on sales alone. An example would be the Adobe Certified Associate Championship Malaysia that Acestar organised as Adobe’s local partner.
University students got to participate in the challenge and the winner went to compete at the World Championship.
“In the next three years, I want to participate in more awards which will give the company better recognition and maybe even become a public-listed company,” Sit enthuses, adding that Acestar saw a RM21mil turnover last year.