Cover Story / March 2019

Returning to Her Roots

Despite working in different fields, and with different responsibilities, this mother of two has managed to accomplish multiple achievements. She is the epitome of a modern woman, who can wear multiple hats – often at the same time. It is therefore obvious that it will not be easy to simply put her into one box.

Born in Jakarta in 1982, Imelda grew up in a wealthy and respected family, which runs the Olympic Group, a pioneer in knock-down furniture in Indonesia. Like her siblings, she was taught to continue the family legacy, but her independent streak took her on a different journey.

After completing school in Singapore, Imelda attended Ohio State University, earning a bachelor’s degree in psychology. But upon her return to Indonesia immediately after graduating, she was not ready to join the family business and decided to embark on her own career path.

After she was crowned Miss Indonesia in 2005 and went on to be the first runner-up in the Miss Asean beauty pageant, her career took off, with regular appearances on local television and her face adorning a plethora of magazines.

“I had no background in modeling or public speaking. It challenged me to be a better speaker, to have better presentation skills and most importantly, to create a brand image for myself,” she says.

Along with that, she also became involved in the literary world, writing two books, “You Can Be Anything and Make Changes,” released in 2006 and “Modern Mama: Wake Up, Fight, Repeat!” in 2015. “Writing is like meditation to me. It has always been my dream to share my stories with other women and I hope I could inspire them through my writing,” Imelda says.

But being as strong and successful as she is now did not always come easy for Imelda. In an exclusive recent interview in South Jakarta, the 36-year-old businesswoman shared her experiences of the abuse she suffered while attending junior school in Singapore.

Her parents sent her to the city-state at a young age to live with a host family, but little did she know what hardships would await her. “Being a 10-year-old old kid and being beaten up, like 70 times a day, really leaves a mark on your character and mentality,” she says.

Growing up in a violent environment left deep scars on her psyche, which would eventually result in her suffering from anorexia. “Food was the only friend I had. I became somewhat overweight and I couldn’t control myself,” she says.

But Imelda says her unpleasant experiences and painful past also shaped her to become the woman she is today.

“It made me a stronger person and it made me humble. I believe that everyone, including me, deserves a second chance. My past made me believe that everyone had a chance to grow and actually, it made me believe that a dark past was no excuse for failure in life,” she says.

After exploring many professions, Imelda returned to joined the family business. Her father, who has been one of her biggest inspirations, invited her to consider a role in the group’s new property subsidiary, Olympic Bangun Persada. “I knew I would sooner or later continue the family business, so I joined the company in 2015,” she says.

Being the last member of the family to join the company, Imelda says she had to learn everything about the business from scratch. “I can say that the first and second year were quite challenging, but I think every job has its own challenges. Even now, I still face many new challenges, but I’m really up for it,” she says.

With a background of involvement in various humanitarian efforts, she also focuses on corporate social responsibility programs, as her focus has always been on strengthening both the foundations and fundamentals of the company.

Olympic Bangun Persada is currently involved in the development of a massive mixed-use project in Bogor, West Java. Last year, it sold 20 percent of the residential units in the project, while another 40 percent will be delivered this year. Imelda says the company is also planning to launch a new development in Sukabumi, West Java, within the next three to five years.

“We have about 600 hectares of land ready to be developed there, but we are still waiting for the government to review the sites,” she says.

Women in Leadership

Groomed to eventually take over the family business, Imelda was taught leadership skills from an early age. “My father has been the greatest supporter and role model. He taught me to never underestimate myself and encouraged me to always stay strong,” she says.

On her part, Imelda has been encouraging female-focused leadership in Indonesia. Some of the architects, engineers working her are both professionals and mothers. “I understand that some women are nursing and sometimes the nannies are not available to take care of the kids, so they have to bring them to the office. I definitely tolerate this, as long as the work gets done and delivered on time,” she says, adding that effective time management is key to being a successful working mother.

“On top of being a career woman, I am still a wife and a mother who has responsibilities both at home and at work. So, it’s very important for us [women] to have good time management so we can take care of both,” she says.

Prioritizing family values are very important to Imelda, and she hopes to also instill these values in her children. “With the support of my husband and my family, I am able to achieve success in my career. Women should be successful at work and at home too,” she says.