Though Singapore has become westernized in many ways, the country still maintains many conservative values, including those about women's place in society. Century 21 Singapore CEO Eunice Yap has come face to face with many of those old ideas in her quest to create a successful business.

Yap began her real estate career in 1985, becoming a top seller in the soft property market. After taking a short break, she became a licensed housing broker and founded her own real estate office in 1992. To help her business grow, Yap merged her company with those of two former colleagues.

"A year after merging, I foresaw the constraint in further growth," Yap explains. "We had focused too much on the business without building a good foundation." Yap believes some of those early problems were caused by each of the merging companies having its own set of marketing strategies. "I realized we lacked a proper system and management skills as we trained our sales associates," she says.

To increase sales, expand the business and integrate a proven structure, Yap began looking for new opportunities. In 1994, a friend who was the owner of Century 21 Hong Kong introduced her to the Century 21 system. Yap brought together a group of investors and was granted subfranchising rights for Singapore in 1997. Then, in 1998, Century 21 Singapore officially began and Yap was appointed CEO with a new management team in September 1999.

Today, Century 21 Singapore has 36 franchisees employing 1,000 associates in 36 offices. Success often comes with a multitude of challenges, and as the first female real estate franchise CEO in Singapore, Yap saw her share. "[Our] society still holds the woman accountable for the household and child-care responsibilities," she explains. "As women are still seen as the weaker sex, we have to put in extra effort to show that women are able to strike a good balance between work and family. We work harder and smarter in order to gain respect and trust from our subordinates, business partners and associates."

Fortunately, Yap sees the situation improving for women business owners. "Singapore is fairly westernized, and women also enjoy a higher level of education [than they have previously]," she says. "Equal opportunities are available to both sexes, which [naturally leads to] a more balanced society in terms of leadership. My personal opinion is that we are witnessing a gradual shift toward equality of opportunity in political, social, economic and technological sectors for both women and men."