KUALA LUMPUR - An apple doesn't fall far from the tree, so the saying goes.
And how true that is when Norzalinda Mohamed, the assistant general manager of Northport Malaysia Bhd container services, is concerned. She chose to walk in her father's footsteps, into a man's world.
Norzalinda took the shipping world by surprise when she was appointed the Northport's assistant general manager of container services, making her the first woman in the country and region to hold such a position.
"Before joining Northport as operations manager, I worked as a secretary for a Singapore based-shipping company after graduating from Universiti Teknologi Mara. At that time, I knew very little about shipping."
Her only exposure to ports and ships were through her father, Mohamed Abdul Rahman, the former director of operations of Port Klang Authority. He brought her along with him during checks on Northport's development when she was a student.
"Since my father was occupied with office work during the day, he would make site visits to Northport, which was under construction then, after dinner. The whole family would tag along."
Fast forward to 1992 and Norzalinda, a mother of three, found herself walking into Northport again -- this time with an appointment letter in hand.
Her parents were proud of her and supportive of her decision to follow her father's footsteps.
For the first seven years, Norzalinda worked long hours at Northport as its operations manager, learning all she could.
Four years ago, she was appointed assistant general manager of container services.
The news of her appointment took many by surprise. Many of her friends gave her four to six months in this male-dominated field while those in the industry were convinced she wouldn't last beyond the honeymoon period of a few months.
Norzalinda persisted, burnt the midnight oil and worked hard.
"The shipping world is 99 per cent male dominated. No one had faith in me and people were waiting for me to throw in the towel.
"These included ship owners, importers, exporters, freight forwarders and port employees among others.
"My biggest challenge was proving myself to the industry and my colleagues. I had to speak the same lingo as those in the industry to get them to accept me.
"In the early days, I used to work long hours. But now, I am at the port until 8pm or 9pm. Weekends, are the busiest time, so my weekends are spent there too. There is never a dull moment because I learn something new every day.
"This is not an easy industry, especially for a woman."
Norzalinda says she had seen male colleagues not lasting more than two years in the industry.
"What would be good is for more women to come onboard. At least then, we will have our own support network within the industry."