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24 Jan 2024

Marissa Salim and the Mission to Nurture Local Talent in Indonesia's Manufacturing Sector

Running her family businesses for 10 years has taught Marissa Salim that human resources are the most important assets.

Marissa navigated her family's companies – footwear producer PT Kharisma Indonesia and coconut manufacturer PT Tri Jaya Tangguh – through the most challenging times of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“My father teaches us that when things aren’t going well, we should at least survive, and adapt to things that we can do to break through the storm,” said Marissa, who is Finance Director and Commissioner of PT Kharisma Indonesia. “In a business where a lot of labour is hired, there should be mutual understanding between workers and business owners.”

She was grateful that workers loved working at the company and even collaborated to learn how to make safety outfits during the pandemic.

“It was critical to retain as many workers as possible until we survived the hardship and to remain in the business when the hardship eased. Even now in 2024, the footwear industry is still struggling to get back to its pre-COVID era levels,” she said.

PT Kharisma Indonesia is a renowned footwear company based in Sidoarjo, East Java, that has been operating for more than 30 years. The company specialises in various footwear items, from daily wear and fashion to safety shoes for industrial use.

Meanwhile, PT Trijaya Tangguh has grown from humble beginnings as a single factory into one of Indonesia’s largest coconut manufacturers. Based in Gorontalo, Sulawesi, the company produces desiccated coconut, coconut cream, and coconut water for both local and export markets. In 2014, it added a second factory.

While the challenge in the footwear business is to be as efficient as possible, a challenge for the coconut business in Gorontalo is finding skilled workers. In many cases, Marissa has resorted to hiring labour from Java or even overseas.

“It’s difficult to find skilled workers, especially in rural areas in Indonesia. We also need loyal engineers to operate the machinery,” she explained.

“We tried to look for local talent, but the skills did not match. So, we had to bring in talent from outside Java. It takes years to build that kind of relationship with local workers.”

From Biomedical Science to Accounting

Marissa initially wanted to work in the health industry, leading her to pursue biomedical science at Melbourne’s Monash University, with a focus on immunology. After finishing her bachelor's degree in 2010 and a short internship at Alfred Hospital, she took a U-turn and pursued a masters degree in professional accounting.

"I initially wanted to establish a diagnostic lab in Indonesia, but upon trying to study biomedical science, I realised it wasn't my path,” explained Marissa, who had studied in Australia since high school in 2002. “I then switched to professional accounting. As an adaptive skill, accounting brings me satisfaction in calculations, balancing the books, and everything else."

Although her parents gave Marissa the freedom to choose her career, running the family business was a natural course for her. Her passion for manufacturing had been encouraged since she was young when she often accompanied her parents to work at the company’s factories.

“In the past, making shoes was manual labour. I have grown up watching how shoes are made from scratch – from drawing the pattern and cutting the materials to assembling all the components to create shoes. So it has grown in me,” she said.

Her parents, especially her father, were Marissa’s inspiration to take on their family business 10 years ago. Her father, now aged 72, still travels across Gorontalo, setting a challenge for Marissa to live an active life when she is in her older years.

Two-Way Learning Approach

Studying in Australia proved to be a rewarding experience for Marissa both academically and personally. Marissa enjoyed the dynamic two-way learning style, involving tutorial sessions with her seniors and projects with real-life case studies. This approach not only enriched her academic journey but also provided a first-hand, real-life working experience.

“The lecturers were also friendly, approachable, and always helpful when we had questions. I never encountered any intimidating teachers there. The students took their studies seriously, creating a very supportive learning environment," Marissa recalled.

Moreover, the educational approach in Australia empowered Marissa to develop essential soft skills, like taking more responsibility, which she said influenced both her personal and professional life.

The words of one particular professor had a profound impact on Marissa.

“I remember she said to me, ‘We only have a couple of hours, but it is up to you how you are using it to be the best of you.' Those words were truly an eye-opener for me, and I try to live by those words every day," she said.

Nurturing Local Talent

The network that Marissa grew during her study in Australia has encouraged her to actively expand connections and open markets for both Australian and local companies in East Java.

In 2015, Marissa joined the Indonesia-Australia Business Council (IABC) East Java chapter, which she said has been beneficial.

“We get information about export business opportunities that open up in Australia. The events that IABC organises create a massive network, and some of these generate positive results with some of the IABC members penetrating the Australian market,” said Marissa.

A notable update is that Western Sydney University will be offering courses in 2024/2025 in Surabaya, marking another breakthrough for the IABC network.

“A lot of Indonesians who are interested in getting a degree in Australia will be able to obtain one without having to travel away from their families,” she said.

According to Marissa, IABC plans to collaborate more actively with Western Sydney University by launching more industry-based courses.

"I wholeheartedly agree with the plan because Indonesian graduates often lack professional skills,” she said. “Having an international branch of WSU in Surabaya will contribute to graduates being more skilled and, perhaps, pave the way for a better future for Indonesia.”

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