Shinta Kamdani
Indonesia
Shinta Kamdani
  • Owner and CEO, Sintesa Group (Consumer Products, Energy)
Born Jakarta, Indonesia, 1967. BA, Barnard College of Columbia University New York, 1989; Executive Education Program, Harvard Business School, 2002.
“In my organization, I support [my people]. I am one of them. So the leadership that I create is that I serve and work together with them. And I think that’s part of being humble. You’re the boss, but it doesn’t have to be that you show that you are the boss. Of course the decision-making process is there but, at the end of the day, you are also serving your people.”

Summary

Shinta Widjaja Kamdani, CEO of Sintesa Group, describes the evolution of her family’s business—from its founding in 1919 as a rubber plantation, to its post-1999 transformation into a major consolidated holding company with interests in consumer and industrial products, property and development, and energy.

In the interview, Kamdani reflects on her unique role as one of the few female CEOs in Indonesia. She describes how her father prepared her from a young age to take over the family business, teaching her the values of remaining grounded and humble, and always giving back to the community. Kamdani has always embodied these beliefs in her role as CEO, practicing what she calls “serving leadership”—working with and supporting her employees.

Yet Kamdani admits that her transition into the role of CEO was not easy, especially because of her status as, what she terms, a “triple minority” in Indonesia: a woman, a non-Muslim, and an ethnic Chinese. In the interview, she explains how she had to work hard to prove herself to her male colleagues and gain their respect. The Asian Financial Crisis in the late 1990s prompted Kamdani’s promotion to CEO. Although the timing of her succession was not planned, she stepped into this role not only with years of experience working at the company, but also with a new vision for future growth. Indeed, she saw the crisis not as a setback, but as an opportunity for change.

Kamdani rebranded the company (formerly Tigaraksa) to its present name, Sintesa Group, which means synergy. At the same time, she launched a plan for diversification, seeking to enter more medium- and long-term businesses, rather than the primary short-term consumer goods business that had previously been the foundation of the group. Two new areas for Sintesa group were infrastructure and energy. In the interview, Kamdani describes the rewards of contributing to the development of her country, as well as the challenges of working with state-owned enterprises on some of these new projects.

In addition to diversification, Kamdani also instituted major changes in organizational structure and management, transitioning the group from family to professional management, and in the process bringing in a completely new leadership team. “I needed to have people coming in from different [backgrounds],” she explains in the interview, in order to revitalize the group. In the interview, Kamdani describes some of the other strategies she used to transform the corporate culture of Sintesa Group from its more top-down style under her father, to an atmosphere of inclusion and active engagement with all levels of employees.

Apart from her work at Sintesa Group, Kamdani is also well-known for her social activism. She is the founder of Global Entrepreneurship Program Indonesia, which seeks to promote and support entrepreneurs in Indonesia by providing training, financing, and mentorship. She also started the first Angel Investment Network in Indonesia, which now has 40 angels who invest in 15 different start-up companies. Both of these organizations exemplify Kamdani’s belief that charity is not just about giving money; it is about active engagement with the community in order to address the needs of the people and improve their quality of life. Kamdani concludes the interview by reflecting on the current state of business-government relations in Indonesia, discussing the lack of trust between the public and private sectors, and describing some of her efforts to promote communication and cooperation.

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Shinta Widjaja Kamdani, CEO of Sintesa Group, describes the evolution of her family’s business—from its founding in 1919 as a rubber plantation, to its post-1999 transformation into a major consolidated holding company with interests in consumer and industrial products, property and development, and energy.

In the interview, Kamdani reflects on her unique role as one of the few female CEOs in Indonesia. She describes how her father prepared her from a young age to take over the family business, teaching her the values of remaining grounded and humble, and always giving back to the community. Kamdani has always embodied these beliefs in her role as CEO, practicing what she calls “serving leadership”—working with and supporting her employees.

Yet Kamdani admits that her transition into the role of CEO was not easy, especially because of her status as, what she terms, a “triple minority” in Indonesia: a woman, a non-Muslim, and an ethnic Chinese. In the interview, she explains how she had to work hard to prove herself to her male colleagues and gain their respect. The Asian Financial Crisis in the late 1990s prompted Kamdani’s promotion to CEO. Although the timing of her succession was not planned, she stepped into this role not only with years of experience working at the company, but also with a new vision for future growth. Indeed, she saw the crisis not as a setback, but as an opportunity for change.

Kamdani rebranded the company (formerly Tigaraksa) to its present name, Sintesa Group, which means synergy. At the same time, she launched a plan for diversification, seeking to enter more medium- and long-term businesses, rather than the primary short-term consumer goods business that had previously been the foundation of the group. Two new areas for Sintesa group were infrastructure and energy. In the interview, Kamdani describes the rewards of contributing to the development of her country, as well as the challenges of working with state-owned enterprises on some of these new projects.

In addition to diversification, Kamdani also instituted major changes in organizational structure and management, transitioning the group from family to professional management, and in the process bringing in a completely new leadership team. “I needed to have people coming in from different [backgrounds],” she explains in the interview, in order to revitalize the group. In the interview, Kamdani describes some of the other strategies she used to transform the corporate culture of Sintesa Group from its more top-down style under her father, to an atmosphere of inclusion and active engagement with all levels of employees.

Apart from her work at Sintesa Group, Kamdani is also well-known for her social activism. She is the founder of Global Entrepreneurship Program Indonesia, which seeks to promote and support entrepreneurs in Indonesia by providing training, financing, and mentorship. She also started the first Angel Investment Network in Indonesia, which now has 40 angels who invest in 15 different start-up companies. Both of these organizations exemplify Kamdani’s belief that charity is not just about giving money; it is about active engagement with the community in order to address the needs of the people and improve their quality of life. Kamdani concludes the interview by reflecting on the current state of business-government relations in Indonesia, discussing the lack of trust between the public and private sectors, and describing some of her efforts to promote communication and cooperation.

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Interview Citation Format

"Interview with Shinta Widjaja Kamdani, interviewed by Meg Rithmire, Jakarta, Indonesia, November 28, 2016, Creating Emerging Markets Oral History Collection, Baker Library Special Collections, Harvard Business School."