It may be some time before the world of finance is dominated by women, but Sein Chew is ever hopeful.

"We are still waiting for an old girls' club to take on the old boys' club," the founder-president and chief executive of global investment firm Unity Asset Management quips. "But times are changing."

Part of her determination in climbing the career ladder has come from the desire to succeed in a traditionally male-oriented business, but she admits ambition alone is not enough.

"It is more than just being ambitious; it is about learning, bringing on new skills and, in my game, discerning patterns others do not see," Chew says. "If you are being contrarian to the market, do not be discouraged, even if you are alone, but have the courage of your convictions. You cannot be a member of a pack - you need to stand out on your own merit."

This attitude appears to have paid off. Chew holds a master's degree in business administration from Oxford University and trained as a chartered accountant in Australia. She became the first woman vice-president and first woman to hold a line management position in the Bank of America in Hong Kong.

She later joined investment bank Merrill Lynch before setting up her own asset management firm.

She also put Hong Kong on the map by becoming elected treasurer of the International Women's Forum in Washington in February. The forum serves a network of more than 5,000 members in 26 countries.

Chew believes Hong Kong is a city that offers women many opportunities. "Without doubt, being in Hong Kong has been a huge part of my success," she says. "It is a highly driven society that rewards success, whatever the gender. If you are smart and have an entrepreneurial bent, you stand a good chance of succeeding." It is, however, one of her regrets that she has not been able to promote the cause of women leaders in Hong Kong more actively.

"While I helped found a women's leadership organisation in Hong Kong in 1987, I could have used this platform to showcase Hong Kong women leaders more aggressively and visibly around the world," she says.

Running an asset management business does not come without challenges. The past four years in particular have been a testing time, given market volatility and uncertainty.

Chew looks back to the events of 2008, the beginning of the global financial crisis, as a continual sap on the financial scene.

Financial crises have presented her with some of her biggest career obstacles, including 2008, the 1997-98 Asian financial crisis and the 2000 tech bubble. "Each of these created their own set of challenges and, although a cliché, by dealing successfully with such problems you not only become stronger but also wiser," she says.

Her advice to fellow women in the industry is to keep up with the learning curve and constantly improve. "Be determined and always look to be one step ahead," Chew says. "Remember that the cream always rises to the top."