Women in Leadership Roles in Big Business: Stella Ambrose – A Visionary Professional

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As corporate Malaysia strives to embrace diversity, equity, and inclusion in their policies, one shining example of a professional woman that embodies these ideals is Datin Stella Ambrose. With technical, managerial, and strategic skills, Stella is perfectly suited for the challenges of major big business companies diversifying into other industries.

Her intimate knowledge of core businesses, coupled with her visionary mindset, makes her the ideal candidate to strategize and oversee multi-billion-ringgit corporations that are seeking to expand and diversify.


Stella Ambrose’s illustrious career in engineering began with a bang in November 1994 when she became the first woman engineer employed in a palm oil mill in Malaysia. This groundbreaking achievement demonstrated her determination and unwavering commitment to make her mark in a male-dominated industry.

Over the years, Stella further honed her skills and acquired valuable qualifications, including a 1st Grade Steam Engineer Certificate of Competency and a Diploma in Palm Oil Milling Technology with distinction. Notably, she became the first lady engineer in Malaysia to hold both the 2nd and 1st Grade Steam Engineer Certificates of Competency.

Within Sawit Kinabalu Group, Stella’s career progression has been nothing short of exceptional. Starting as an assistant engineer, she quickly rose through the ranks, showcasing her proficiency in managing palm oil mill operations.

While performing mill operations responsibilities, Stella was key in writing up the mill’s first comprehensive Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) for DOSH submission. Stella’s innovative mindset led her to develop various programs and templates using Microsoft Excel to simplify work processes and enhance efficiency in the mills.

As the then General Manager (Processing & Engineering) and later as the Head of Engineering & Property Development, Stella spearheaded groundbreaking initiatives within the Sawit Kinabalu Group.

Under her guidance, the company successfully implemented projects such as the Biogas Power Plant in the Apas Balung Mill and ventures like sawit shield production, dried long fiber (DLF) and charcoal plants, and OPF animal feed plants. Stella’s reputation as an industry leader was solidified by her instrumental role in planning and implementing process improvement projects in all the mills and refinery.

Beyond her professional achievements, Stella actively engages with the academic community, sharing her knowledge and experience with young aspiring engineers. Her commitment to empowering the next generation is evident in her four-year stint providing invaluable guidance to a team from the UMS chemical engineering school, leading them to win prizes in the yearly competition on Chemical Process Design organized by the Institute of Engineers Malaysia (IEM).

Stella’s dedication to the growth and development of the industry as a whole is truly exemplary.

Stella’s expertise extends beyond technical competence. She possesses exceptional leadership and management skills, enabling her to effectively lead teams, foster collaboration, and identify and develop talent.

Her focused and daring approach, coupled with her strong communication and interpersonal skills, has resulted in remarkable achievements within her organization. As the current Controller of Engineering & Property Development for Sawit Kinabalu Sdn.Bhd, Stella continues to help steer the company towards responsible and efficient use of resources, emphasizing sustainable and responsible growth.

Throughout her career, Stella Ambrose has received numerous accolades, recognizing her pioneering contributions to the palm oil industry and sustainability practices. From being the first woman engineer employed in a palm oil mill to holding key leadership positions, she has broken barriers and set new standards for women engineers in Malaysia.

Stella’s remarkable journey serves as an inspiration to aspiring engineers, both men and women alike, urging them to pursue their dreams and make a lasting impact in their chosen fields.

is presently putting her best foot forward serving at Sawit Kinabalu Group. Apart from the core oil palm business there, Stella is also assisting with diversification efforts of this giant state-owned enterprise. Stella is also helming the newly created property development division, another largely male-dominated industry.

Not one to shun challenges, Stella has taken on this new assignment head on and already there are signs of encouraging success; shop offices in the first phase of Plaza Semporna received overwhelming response and was fully booked in the very first private preview! Ever the realist, Datin Stella did remark on this new major venture sharing, “…real estate development is a long-term game. Our journey has just begun. For Plaza Semporna, we will be launching our anticipated strong yielding commercial suites Eden Suites at Plaza Semporna soon. Then, there are other parcels of land requiring different strategies and concepts and each with differing risk profiles. We have a long journey ahead with this particular diversification effort.”

In the meantime, expectations are high that Datin Stella and her team, will be able to work their ‘magic’ in the property development division too and deliver good value real estate products.”

Stella is indeed a visionary and proven leader in the engineering field, particularly in the palm oil industry in Malaysia. Her determination, technical competence, and visionary leadership have propelled her to new heights.

Through her accomplishments, she has not only broken barriers but also made significant contributions to the palm oil industry and sustainability practices. Stella’s inspiring story serves as a beacon of hope, inspiring future generations to pursue their dreams and make a lasting impact in their chosen fields. There is much more this exceptional professional woman can offer to the corporate world and we hope Stella will journey on and give benefits and grow Sabah companies she steward.

Published by: The Daily Express

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