Hubert Burda Media

Power Titan: Carmelita Hartoto

In our Power Titan series, the leading lady in one of Indonesia's biggest shipping companies shares why the chaotic Tanjong Priok port was her "business school".

Carmelita Hartoto

“I never had it in mind that I would have such important responsibilities. Even my father thought this industry was not for women.” Carmelita Hartoto is talking about her rise to the position of President Director of Andhika Lines, a shipping company established by her late father, Hartoto Hadikusomo. It is now one of the leading shipping companies in Indonesia.

Carmelita is also Chairwoman of the Indonesian National Shipowners Association (INSA) and Vice Chairman of Transportation at the Indonesian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (Kadin).

Carmelita’s career in the shipping industry started in 1994, when she was taking a break from her job at a trading company in London. After receiving an MBA in Finance at Webster University at St. Louis, Missouri, she wanted to start a career in the financial industry. But life rarely goes as planned.

Carmelita Hartoto

“It wasn’t a coincidence, but a destiny,” says Carmelita, who is known to her colleagues by the nickname of Meme. “When I was returning to Indonesia for a vacation, my father had a heart attack. Soon after that, he passed away. Since the beginning, he had never had any intention for us (Carmelita and her two sisters) to work in the company. 

He only wanted professional managers. Even when I was ready for an internship, he asked me to work for another company. So after he had gone, we were kind of lost. But eventually, after giving it some consideration, we decided to take over. I took the position of Director and my sisters became Commissioners.”

Established in 1973, Andhika Lines offers shipping and marine logistic services that focus on coal shipments. Hadikusomo started the company with a single ship. It grew to become one of the leading shipping and logistic services company in the region with a total of more than 30 vessels. In 2002, eight years after Carmelita took her position as a leader, she found that some of the shareholders didn’t share her vision for the company. The assets were split and she was left with only two vessels: a tanker and a cargo ship. 

At first, she felt desperate. But there were loyal customers who supported her, so she kept on going. Her determination and hard work eventually paid off. Now, the company has several vessels and going stronger.

Carmelita Hartoto

“I’ve learned everything about the industry from scratch. It wasn’t easy, but with the help of seniors eventually everything went well,” says Carmelita. The chaotic Tanjung Priok port in North Jakarta was her “business school”. She worked there for a long time before being reassigned to headquarters.

“I learned to become a leader when I was assigned to our subsidiary company in the port. I worked alongside the labourers. In the early years of my career, you would often find me at the port. Either I was doing my job or just hanging around with the workers. Making friends with them opened up my mind. I used to judge them if they were not fasting during Ramadan. One time, I was asking them why and they said: ‘Mam, compared to your job at the office, our job in the field is way more difficult if we’re not able to drink or eat.’ From a small thing like that, I’ve learned to not be judgemental and to understand their situation. Today, if you want to succeed as a business leader, skill and knowledge are not enough. You should be honest, wise, open-minded and trustful as well.”

As the eldest of three sisters, Carmelita might have grown as a natural leader. “But still I have to learn from my mentors and seniors,” she adds. During her early years as the leader in the company, Carmelita admits that there some people questioned her abilities, but she never let herself be drowned in doubt. “The key is just being confident,” she says. “Listen to your seniors and don’t be afraid to ask questions. Listening is very important, though, because when you do you show people respect. And when they’re being respected, they won’t hesitate to help you.

Another important thing is let them do their job. I know when I have to hold back and let them play their role,” says this mother of three, who listens to slow music or says a prayer when she’s feeling stressed. 

Read more on Carmelita’s leadership style in the August 2016 issue of Prestige Indonesia.