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As the daughter of business tycoon Johnny Widjaja, business is in Kamdani’s blood. She started young, selling books door-to-door at the tender age of 13. Today she manages day-to-day operations at the family-owned Sintesa Group, an Indonesian conglomerate that is made up of 17 distinct companies: consumer goods distribution, prefab concrete, energy production, steel manufacturing and real estate.
Kamdani always knew she would be handed the reigns to the three-generation family business which has grown to 6,000 employees. Her only other sibling, her sister, is an artist with no interest in running operations. Kamdani was given full control of the company in 1999 after the Asian financial crisis. She shook things up by not only changing the name of the company from Tigaraksa to Sintesa, but also changing the corporate structure.
In the corporate world, Kamdani is breaking just about every glass ceiling. She was recently asked to be an adviser to Indonesia’s vice president. She says it’s a huge honor especially considering who she is.
“People say I am a triple minority in Indonesia. I am a non-Muslim. I am a Chinese. I am a woman.
That is an important journey for me.”
While Kamdani manages her own business, she also has her eye on the landscape for Indonesia’s entrepreneurs. She doesn’t want to be alone at the top. She wants others to join her – especially women.
“Actually a woman entering the labor force at the moment has been progressing very well. The problem is they don’t want to go into the leadership positions. And why is that? It’s because they don’t want to impact their family life,” lamented Kamdani, a mother of three. “We need to create more women leaders. Women sitting on boards right now (are a) very small (minority) in Indonesia. So we are trying to create a network and support system.”
Kamdani believes there are three major obstacles for entrepreneurs: access to markets, access to financing and limitations to building out their ideas. Several years ago, Kamdani and other business leaders started an angel investment fund in which they listen to start-up business pitches and decide which entrepreneurs to fund.
Kamdani has also focused on helping women in rural areas. She says it’s often difficult for poor women to get personal financing because they need their husband’s formal approval. Essentially, it’s a cultural mindset that needs to change.
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- No. 13 on GlobeAsia’s Top 99 Most Powerful Women 2017
- Commander of the Order of Leopold awardee from Belgium government (2017)
- Order of the Star awardee from Italian President, Giorgio Napolitano (2017)
- Asia Power Women 2016 by Forbes Asia
- Chief Executive Officer Sintesa Group
- Vice Chairwoman of Indonesian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (KADIN)
- Deputy Chairwoman of the Employers’ Association of Indonesia (APINDO)
- President of Indonesia Business Council for Sustainable Development (IBCSD)
- Executive Board Member of World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) International
- Founder of Angel Investment Network Indonesia (ANGIN)
- Board of Advisor of Indonesia Business Coalition for Women Empowerment (IBCWE)