28 May 2019


In My Humble Opinion: Family Dynamic

Modernizing a century-old business
by Julia Hanna

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Photo by Agoes Rudianto

As CEO of Indonesia’s Sintesa Group, Shinta Widjaja Kamdani (OPM 31, 2002) is the third generation of her family to lead the highly diversified holding company that began as a rubber plantation in 1919. Kamdani had been at the company for 10 years when she took the reins from her father in 1999, and she knew then she wanted to undertake a major transformation. “My entrepreneurial spirit came out,” she says of the transition. “I wanted to be a partner in the business, not just an employee. I realized that if my father didn’t share my vision I would have to go out and maybe start something on my own.”

Kamdani integrated all the businesses into the newly named Sintesa Group (“sintesa” translates to “synergy” in Indonesian) and shook up the organizational structure, establishing an executive committee and shifting from a family business to a professional management model. She also diversified the company’s interests by adding investments in energy and infrastructure to supplement Sintesa’s holdings in consumer and industrial products as well as property and development. Ten years on, Kamdani notes that implementing those changes—particularly as a woman—involved some hard-fought battles for traction and respect.

“We’ve made progress in Indonesia when it comes to gender equality, but we still have so much work to do,” she says, adding that entrepreneurship is one avenue for achieving equity. Kamdani, who founded the Angel Investment Network Indonesia, points out that many women are already working behind the scenes to build businesses; and her angel investing network offers capital to some, such as Krakakoa, a women-owned cocoa startup that has been helping smallholder farmers in Lampung through fair trade and sustainable practices. “Operating a business in Indonesia has its challenges, but there is also tremendous diversity and energy here,” Kamdani says. “We’re creating a new ecosystem for growth.”

Knock, knock: “When I was 13 I had my first real job: selling Time-Life books door-to-door. The interesting insight for me was that I could convince people I didn’t know to make a purchase.”

Indonesia fast facts: 268 million people; 17,000 islands; 500 languages; 700 ethnicities. “It’s an amazingly vast, diverse culture.”

Role model: Mother Teresa. “Reaching that level of selflessness would be my biggest satisfaction as a human being.”

Against type: “As a non-Muslim woman who is also ethnic Chinese, many in Indonesia would consider me a triple minority.”

Time stamp: “I became pregnant with my fourth child after my first year at OPM. I wasn’t sure if I would come back but my husband said, ‘If you don’t, you’re going to regret it.’ I am so glad I did. My living group was amazingly supportive.”

“My entrepreneurial spirit came out. I wanted to be a partner in the business, not just an employee. I knew that if my father didn’t share my vision I would have to go out and maybe start something on my own.”

“My entrepreneurial spirit came out. I wanted to be a partner in the business, not just an employee. I knew that if my father didn’t share my vision I would have to go out and maybe start something on my own.”

Seeding the future: “I launched one of the first angel investment networks in Indonesia, including a fund focused on women. Access to capital and mentoring are two of the biggest obstacles to entrepreneurs here.”

Keep an eye out for: Burgreens, a healthy, fast-casual startup that sources sustainable ingredients from local farms.

Beyond Bali: “Indonesia has so many beautiful places. If you visit I would take you to Pulisan in North Sulawesi. There are mountains in the back and the sea in front. It is so peaceful there.”

Dance, dance, decompress: “I love to do choreography and dance: traditional Indonesian dance, ballet, and modern.”

Food, glorious food: “Padang cuisine from the area of West Sumatra is spicy but very good. And if you come to Jakarta you must eat soto betawi—it’s a little like a soup and a little like a curry. That is our signature dish.”

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