Lestari Moerdijat is no superwoman. At least thats what she says during a lively conversation with Prestige. Very well known as Rerie to the people around her. Currently, she sits at the top position in Media Group, her day job, and outside of that, she’s highly active in politics. She’s also a breast cancer survivor and she has been raising four children. If superwoman is not the right word for her, it’s hard to describe what is.
Surabaya-born Rerie comes from a well-educated and cultured family. Her father is an obstetrician and her late mother was a housewife who spoke four languages. “I learned how to empower others from her. She used to help local merchants distribute their goods,” says the eldest of four, who was raised in Purwokerto, a small town in Central Java.
Since 2013, Rerie has been Deputy Chairman of Media Group, a group of companies founded by one of the most powerful businessmen in Indonesia, Surya Paloh. Its business lines include media, catering and food, oil and gas, natural resources, hospitality and foundation.
Rerie plays a pivotal role in the subsidiaries. She is President Director of Media Indonesia, Surya Energi Raya and CS Media Investment. President Commissioner at Metro TV, Pangansari Utama and Emas Mineral Murni.
Among those titles, her participation in CS Media Investment (CSMI) is a highlight. CSMI owns Indonesia 1, which is going to be one among highest building in Indonesia. Due for completion in 2020, the two-tower building is located in Jl. MH Thamrin. Its north tower is set to rise to 304 metres.
Rerie started her career with Media Group in 1993 as a marketing supervisor in the advertising department of Media Indonesia, a national daily newspaper founded in 1970 by Teuku Yousli Syah and Paloh. It is Indonesia’s second-largest newspaper.
“How I ended up working at Media Indonesia is a series of unexpected events in my life,” she smiles. “I aspired to become an archaeologist. I studied archaeology at University of Indonesia. My mother subscribed to National Geographic and I grew up reading the magazine. I’ve loved old temples, ancient sites and history since I was little. I never imagined to have a career outside archaeology.
“But the moment I was about to graduate, an unfortunate event happened. Deeply hurt and moved by it, I decided to not to pursue archaeology. So, after finishing my studies, I decided to work as Executive Production Assistant at Royalindo Expoduta in 1992. Knowing I didn’t have any background in this field, I took a public relations course at London School of Public Relations in 1993. That was when I met a group of friends from Media Indonesia, including Paloh’s secretary. Eventually, they offered me a position at the newspaper.”
In 1992, Media Indonesia launched a series of newspaper supplements, an innovation at the time. “They planned to launch one about tourism,” says Rerie. “I was interested because writing is one of my hobbies. During my college year, I worked as a part-time reporter at Editor, a weekly news magazine managed by Tempo, and as a copywriter at Wahyu Promospirit. I also took a report and writing course at International School of English in Cambridge.”
Rerie joined Media Indonesias advertising department in 1993. Her duties included copywriting. It was not until 1995 that her talent and good instinct for business stole Paloh’s attention. That year, she had an opportunity to manage Indocater, a catering company founded by Paloh in 1978. The catering and food production companies, are part of the “bread and butter” of Media Group.
She started her role as Business Development Manager at Indocater and eventually became President Commissioner in 2010 through hard work and dedication. During her tenure, the company received an ISO 9001 2000 certificate in 2008. Now the company has become one of the leaders in the catering industry with clients mostly from oil, gas and mining companies, including BP.
Since then, Rerie has received many opportunities to manage and lead other companies within Media Group. “That’s one thing about me. I’ve always embraced new things and opportunities,” she says. “I use my free time for courses or trainings to enrich my knowledge.
“When I had an opportunity to manage the business development of Indocater, I had no idea about catering industry. So, I took ‘Finance for Non Finance’ for Executive of The Services Industry at Lembaga Pendidikan dan Pengembangan Management. Currently, I am taking a Doctoral Program of Research in Management in University of Pelita Harapans Executive Education Program.
“I’ve been with Media Group for 25 years now and I have learned that being a leader doesn’t mean you have to be great at everything,” the co-founder of Indonesian Philanthropy Society continues. “You have to know your limits and not overpower things. I am aware that I am not an expert when it comes to numbers. That’s why I hired the best people to deal with that. If you don’t know about something, don’t be ashamed to admit it.
“I think a leader should have a helicopter view, which is being able to see the big picture. A leader should be able to see from many perspectives and be able to connect the dots. I am lucky that I studied archeology because I was trained in digging up the past, which is interpreting the meaning of an object from its surroundings.”
Talking about her mentors, Rerie says Paloh has inspired her the most. Their first project together was in 1995, when the Media Indonesia office moved from Gondangdia Lama to Kedoya. “He led the move and that was when I found out about his encouraging personality and great work ethic,” says Rerie.
“As a leader, he’s very hands-on and detailed. He taught me that mistakes should be embraced as long as they’re not coming from bad intentions and dishonesty. He’s a visionary. He established (the first national news television channel Metro TV) and grew Indocater.
“The most valuable lesson I learned from him is not about money. He believes that the sustainability of a company is not solely based on profits, but on idealism and compassion. He’s also a philanthropist by nature. If it wasn’t for him, I wouldn’t be part of Indonesia Menangis (a humanitarian aid programme for Aceh’s tsunami victims of 2004). That disaster completely changed my perspective on life. The following event was creation of Sukma Foundation, which is one of the things that I am most proud of.”
Rerie is the Chairperson of the foundation, which has built school complexes in Bireun, Pidie and Lhokseumawe in 2006. “Paloh said that Aceh had lost one generation and that we needed education to rebuild it. I was stunned by that idea. This foundation has been my focus for years.
“In 2015, we sent 25 teachers to get Master’s degrees in teaching in Finland. How I got the scholarship deals was a funny story. I shamelessly bargained for the price and they accepted it! I believe if you want to do something good, there must be a way.”
What about the classic dilemma for a woman of balancing career and family? “I am not a superwoman. We are not superwomen. We can’t have it all,” says Rerie. “When I chose this path, this career, I was aware I wouldn’t get any best mother or housewife awards. I can’t be the ideal mother to my children. I can’t attend most of their performances in school. But that doesn’t mean I am neglecting them.
“Thank God my husband is very understanding and supportive. We split roles when it comes to school-related matters. I explain what I do for living to my children. I often bring them along to my workplace, including to Aceh after tsunami. Now, as they’re getting older, they understand what I’m doing and they grow to be these independent, smart, and kind children.”
Another unexpected event affected Rerie in late 2016. She was diagnosed with stage-two breast cancer. “I don’t delay things. That’s one of my life principles,” says Rerie. “When the doctor told me, I arranged the operation date and chemotherapy right away.
“I was shocked, but I didn’t feel devastated. My mother survived thyroid cancer for 10 years and she died when she was 51, which is exactly my age right now. And during those 10 years, from I was 9 to 19 years old, I never saw her whine about it. I learned how to be strong from her. It’s also because I have a strong support system, my family. I am forever grateful to have them in my life.”