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06 Feb 2024

Steel Trailblazer: Lita Hudianto’s Journey Redefining Indonesia’s Industry Norm

With a successful career in an Australian bank, Lita Hudianto never envisioned entering the challenging, male-dominated steel industry until her father requested her return to manage the PT Steel Pipe Industry of Indonesia (Spindo), her family's steel pipeline factory, in the late 1980s.

Transitioning from a system analyst role, Lita immersed herself in Spindo’s second steel pipe plant for seven years. Initially overseeing all operations, from raw materials procurement to addressing labour concerns, she acquired a deep understanding of the intricate steel pipe manufacturing process. Her responsibilities extended to remote locations like mining sites due to the diverse nature of her role.

“While the steel pipe industry was not my initial choice, I thrive on challenges and continuous learning. Over the seven years of operating the plant, I gained insights into factory operations, systems, and much more,” said Lita, currently serving as Spindo’s Deputy Director of Sales.

Spindo, established by Lita’s father in 1971 in Surabaya, East Java, has evolved from a single steel plant to six, employing over 1,000 workers. The publicly-listed company exports steel pipes worldwide, catering to diverse needs such as water pipes, structural pipes for construction, and oil and gas pipes.

“Managing a factory is intricate. For example, preparing raw materials three months in advance involves acquiring a multitude of materials, a task many young people find unattractive,” she said.

In 1988, Lita was assigned to the company’s Surabaya headquarters, undertaking various roles before assuming her current position overseeing sales. 

It’s a Man’s Man’s World

Leading with empathy, Lita navigates a male-dominated corporate landscape without feeling discriminated. She sees the presence of women leaders in the manufacturing business as an asset, fostering better communication with workers, a crucial factor in business success.

During her tenure managing the plant, Lita became the go-to person for workers to voice their concerns.

"The workers approached me with bottled-up problems, such as family issues. Perhaps, as a woman, I could empathise and genuinely care for their feelings, willing to listen to them. In return, they also treated me with respect," she noted.

Lita’s open communication approach facilitated the resolution of labour issues, such as wage disputes, often a source of tension between workers and company management.

A Journey from Canada to Australia

Lita went to high school in Canada and secured a scholarship for a computer science degree at Ottawa University in 1977. After completing her first year, however, she opted to continue her studies in Australia, earning a bachelor’s degree in computer science from the University of New South Wales (UNSW) in 1980.

Following university graduation, Lita worked for a year at a company in Sydney that developed software for jackpot machines before joining Westpac Bank in various roles, from programmer to system analyst.

Despite the steep learning curve from banking to manufacturing, Lita credited her Australian study and work experience in Australia to ease the shift. Her time at Westpac proved invaluable when Spindo implemented Systems Application and Products (SAP), a software that integrates and automates key business management, a decade ago.

“Your knowledge from studying never goes to waste. I used the computer science skills learned from the university during my time at Westpac. Although not in IT, I learned to set up a system, and those experiences later helped my work at Spindo,” she explained.

Strengthening Indonesia-Australia Trade Relations

With extensive Australian experience, Lita was appointed by the Australian Embassy to become an independent facilitator for Austrade in East Java Province from 2008 to 2010. In this role, she assisted Indonesian companies importing Australian products, such as wheat, food products, and seeds, fostering collaboration between the two nations.

“I assisted Austrade in getting to know the Indonesian companies and helped them if they faced difficulties. In the end, I also learned a lot about collaboration between Indonesian and Australian companies,” said Lita.

Lita’s expertise as Austrade’s facilitator proved invaluable during her tenure as the President of the Indonesia-Australia Business Council’s (IABC) East Java Chapter. The chapter organised events covering various aspects of doing business in Australia, including property, education, medical, and taxes.

“We held seminars about property tax and banking in Australia, so people know how to seek loans to buy property or invest in Australia. We also connected them with Australian accountants and legal teams to ease communication,” Lita explained.

In addition to seminars, the IABC East Java Chapter organised factory visits and Australian education exhibitions.

Tapping Indonesia’s Rising Steel Demand

In response to Indonesia’s increasing steel demand, Lita said Spindo is constructing a new plant with greater capacity. Lita emphasised the vast prospects for steel in Indonesia due to infrastructure needs like bridges and ports.

“We see that steel’s prospect in Indonesia is still huge. Many areas in Indonesia need infrastructure, such as bridges and ports. So we still want to invest in Indonesia,” she said.

Lita remains focused on her commitment to developing PT Spindo.

“I enjoy my work. My principle is working to find solutions, make friends to build a network, and maintain the quality of our products,” she expressed.

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