Natali Tjahjadi

11 Mar 2015
Natali Tjahjadi

What did you want to be when you were 10 years old? Is the career you’re in now something you ever thought you would be doing?

When I was 10 years old, I wanted to be a doctor or a ‘career woman’. As a 10 year-old, it was considered cool to be a doctor, helping sick people. However, when I graduated from high school, I knew being a doctor was not my calling, so instead I went on to study finance and did part-time work in my family business.

I grew up seeing my parents work in our family business and it was expected that someday I would succeed them. Our company has 20 years of history, with its main business producing resort wear. In the last 10 years we branched out, outsourcing other things to be exported abroad like furniture, costume jewellery, handicraft, etc. So it’s like a legacy that needs to be sustained and developed - I just did not think I would succeed them this quickly, because there’s still plenty to learn.

What was it that appealed to you most about the Master of Business program?

I started off in my family business, so my knowledge was limited as I had worked in just one business area. I wanted practical knowledge that could equip me to do business in various industries. I felt that the Master of Business program at UQ Business School offered that. Some courses were particularly appealing because they offered hands-on experience and involved students in real projects. For example, in the Entrepreneurship and New Venture course, I did a social entrepreneurship campaign to promote awareness for families with special needs children. In Commercialisation in Practice, I was entrusted to research and evaluate the possibility of launching fraud detection software. And in my International Study in Asian Business course, I experienced the dynamic of a virtual team and applied what I learnt to propose realistic solutions to a client. I even travelled to the client’s office in China. That’s what attracted me most, the opportunities to explore and learn other industries while gaining more perspectives. Also I looked up to its teaching team which had a good mix of professionals and experienced lecturers/researchers.

How has your degree helped with your career?

The degree I obtained summed up my learning process at UQ Business School. It widened my perspective and gave me more confidence and networks to build upon. I think I grew as a person too - became more mature. The fact that I have been involved in our business prior coming to Australia also helped a lot, because I knew which inputs could be applied and which couldn’t.

The challenge with a family business, is that sometimes we are content with what we have and lack an ambitious goal to be more, or to explore where the business can evolve. Before I went to UQ Business School, my Mom only wanted to keep the company small and controllable and I went along with that. But having learnt and met many different people during my study, I learnt that the only way to move forward is to keep innovating and creating positive change. So I took the initiative to start the online retail presence for our garment business and to invest more in our employees, like giving them options to do training. Basically I am trying to create a more professional and positive organisation. I wouldn’t be able to do this if I didn’t have this degree.

Could you give us details about your career history? How/where did you start?

I started working full-time when I was 21, just two months after my father passed away. I initially wanted to work somewhere else, like a financial institution or investment company, but the circumstances brought me back to our family business. It was an urgent situation because they needed someone to step up and fill my father’s shoes and that’s how I started.

I have worked there ever since, except during my study in Australia, where I got involved in several projects during my classes and an internship. I also worked at UQ Business School as a Research Assistant for Dr André Pekerti during my last semester, and I truly enjoyed it. Research in cross-cultural management always interests me because it helps me to understand how people from different backgrounds think and communicate, which is a big help for me because now I mostly deal with people.

Could you please describe your current position?

I am the Operational Manager of CV. Widya Triguna, and I am responsible for the supervision of the whole production and procurement processes until the goods are ready to be shipped abroad. I communicate and maintain the correspondence with customers, potential buyers and suppliers. I also look for new suppliers who can provide things that my customers inquire about. In short, I’m the go-to person while my mother handles the finances and supports me from the background. I also recently started a clothing line branded Chic Lily as an extension to what we already have. Our current business focuses on being a manufacturer and I want to expand this into having our own online retail presence because that’s where I think we can grow significantly. It’s still a baby step, but I think in two to three years we will see a result.

What’s the most challenging part of your role?

I think the most challenging part of my role would be managing people, both internally within the company and also externally. In Bali, business runs mostly on familial or friendly terms and sometimes this can be less professional. Mistakes are sometimes treated as expected, and somehow it is often hard to be assertive because of this need to maintain a good relationship. I often need to tone down my expectation and to compromise, while communicating this in a very respectful manner. Also most people in our company are used to just doing their job well and that’s it. I want them to have a say and initiate things, so it can be a two-way idea sharing environment. It is not easy to change behaviour that has been ingrained, but I try to listen to them and find the middle ground.

What is your proudest career achievement?

I guess I don’t have a proudest achievement so far. I think seeing the business move forward and improving the quality of life for our stakeholders is what motivates me to do this everyday. In the last few years our customers in the Caribbean have grown quite significantly - despite the global crisis. We have managed to cater to their needs and it has brought mutual benefits both for their businesses and mine. Also recently one of our employees managed to send his son to university. It is a big deal for him because he doesn’t have a good education. I’m glad that we can help to provide a source of living for these people and hopefully make a positive impact on their lives.

UQ Business School’s tagline is “Challenging the future”. For you, what will be the most challenging business topic in the next ten years?

I think for me, being able to develop local industries and stay competitive will be a continuous challenge in the next decade. Indonesia is a big consumer market, with its growing middle-class as well as massive population (almost ten times that of Australia). Next year, Indonesia will fully implement Asean free trade area (AFTA), so it is a challenge for me and many other local businesses to keep our advantage of being local in competing with many other foreign products or businesses.

Creativity is necessary to innovate continuously in the business so we can remain adaptive to change. For instance, I think the creative use of social media to market products or services can be a unique appeal for the younger age group. As we are moving towards an online marketplace, having an online presence is required too.

What mentor or inspirational figure has guided or influenced your life in a certain way?

I must say my parents, as they inspired me to be an independent person and basically supported me to be who I am today. They didn’t have a university degree nor come from a well-off family, but they taught me to have integrity, to work and pray hard and to be grateful for what I have. In the beginning I was worried that I might not be experienced enough or talented enough to be an entrepreneur. I’m still young and sometimes people look down on me, but my parents encouraged me to just do it and learn from the mistakes.

What advice would you give to someone who was looking to start their own business?

First, I would recommend starting with what you know or what you already have. It is generally easier to capitalise on the know-how you own and the resources or network you have than starting anew. For me, I have the know-how in garment manufacturing, so I started from there.

Then, start the business on a small scale. This way it is easier to pool resources and reduce the risk of failure. I understand being a young person myself that we always want a big result, so we tend to rush into things. Don’t do that. It is a matter of trial and error until you find the right method, the right process and sometimes, the right people.

Lastly, the advice I would give is to believe in what you decide to do and commit to it. Starting your own business is not that hard, but sustaining and developing it is another story. I read in an article that 80% of start-ups failed in their first years. We need to commit ourselves and remember that the process is often more important than the result, so give it time, there is no instant result.

What is your most positive memory of your time at UQ Business School?

There are many wonderful memories during my time at UQ Business School. The people I met, the classes I attended, the projects I did - I really enjoyed them all.

I think the most positive memories I have is of the friends I made, because it is a multicultural environment and the people here are just so kind. We studied together, talked about different topics and shared our experiences and perspectives, so it enriched me as a person. It’s like I have a tiny glance of the world through their lenses. Most of them remain good friends and I often talk with them when I have difficulties.

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