Minarta Gallis (H.98)
From France with love

Minarti was Indonesian when she decided to go to HEC Grande Ecole in 1996. Since she graduated in 1998, she became French and lost her Indonesian nationality, had 2 children in France and came back to Indonesia in 2012… as a stranger in her own country. Discover the amazing fate of a working woman coming from a developing country, who became an incredible ambassador of France and feminism. And everything started in Jouy-en-Josas.

Read full transcript…

HU: Hi Minarti, thank you for welcoming us in St Gobain’s office here in Jakarta. As you may know, our little tradition is to start with a little Chinese portrait. So, if you were… a color?

M: White, because it’s a natural color.

HU: An animal?

M: A cow.

HU: A meal?

M: Salad.

HU: A song?

M: Beethoven’s Pathetic Sonata.

HU: A movie?

M: “Seul au Monde”, with Tom Hanks. I don’t know the title in English.

HU: A sin?

M: Gluttony, if it’s a sin?

HU: It is a sin, yes. If you were an object?

M: A computer.

HU: A sport or a game?

M: Yoga, for sure.

HU: A book?

M: There is a book about a trip made by retired journalists, again, I only know the title in French: La Longue Marche, from Bernard Ollivier.

HU: A (super)hero?

M: Dalai-Lama.

“The plasterboard business has a lot of potential in this region of the world and we want to grow the pie, not to eat the existing part of it.”

HU: Great! Thank you very much. Now, we are going to talk a little bit more about your career and your life. First, can you try to sum it up in just 30 seconds?

M: I have been working with Saint Gobain since I graduated with HEC, which is to say for over 16 years now. I worked mostly in corporate finance, internal audit, controlling but also on IT projects. I spent most of my career in France and in 2012 I moved to Indonesia to set up a new plasterboard business here.

This is a greenfield project, not an acquisition or a brownfield project, we started everything from scratch, we built a greenfield plant, which was completed 18 months ago so we are now on the second year of the business operation.


HU: Can you tell us more about this business you came to start?

M: Our company is called Gyproc and it manufactures gypsum plasterboards. St Gobain is the worldwide leader for gypsum plasterboards. St Gogain started this plasterboard business in 2005 after it acquired the company British PlasterBoard (BPB) and it became one of St Gobain’s largest business units, with almost 80 plants and a presence in 60 countries. We call Plasterboard “internal wall” or “dry wall”. We don’t say “partition”, because we don’t want to be sees as a commodity, but plasterboard is used to build these “internal” walls, but also for ceilings in emerging markets. As a result, the plasterboard business has a lot of potential in this region of the world and we want to grow the pie, not to eat the existing part of it.

We were already present in Thailand, Vietnam and Malaysia, but in 2011, the top management of the company decided to invest in Indonesia because we did not have enough capacity to supply the huge Indonesian market through Thailand and Malaysia.

We had several options: the acquisition of an existing plant or a greenfield plant. We decided to go for the greenfield plant and the project started in 2012. The plant was completed at the end of 2014 and now we operate it. Now that the plan is established, it works quite well, but we are facing commercial challenges.

“Indonesia is an archipelago so the entire supply chain has to be specific to Indonesia because no ready-made formula can be adapted from another country.”

HU: What are those commercial challenges?

M: It’s quite an interesting business case actually. Traditionally, St Gobain has been very good at producing and making plants. This plant, for instance, was built by a certified group of engineers: it was very well designed, we were well prepared and we know how to solve issues and so on.

But at the same time, I think we have completely omitted to invest in Sales and Marketing. We should have done this when we were building the plant because when the plant was on, our capacity was too high compared to our size on the market and we are not there commercially. We are only no.3 or no.4 on the Indonesian market and the leader of the market has been present for more than 20 years, so we need to get real brand recognition.

HU: What is your strategy to achieve that?

M: First, we have to do a lot of branding activities, a lot of communication, as well as establishing a real Indonesian Sales policy and adapting our Supply Chain to the specificities of Indonesia. Indonesia is an archipelago so the entire supply chain has to be specific to Indonesia because no ready-made formula can be adapted from another country.

We have been present on this market for only 18 months so we haven’t addressed all its issues yet. But we have identified many of them. Supply chain, sales and marketing policies are our main objectives to address these challenges.

“I have played the piano since I was a kid. I stopped during my studies and but I restarted when my kids started to play the violin because I wanted to accompany them.”

HU: What are the other specificities of the Indonesian market?

M: Another issue for us here is the HR policy: talent development and talent retention. Like in other emerging markets where the economy is booming, retaining employees is not easy. The risk you face is that people you trained leave once they are trained.

HU: Have you coped with a difficult choice in your professional life?

M: Of course, life is never easy. Since I came back for this position in Indonesia, I have coped with many different challenges and it was so tense that I was hesitating to come back to France earlier than expected. The host entity was hostile to our presence. As headquarters sent me, people here were thinking I came here to have an eye on them, but I was just here to develop the project with them. I decided to go through this process because I really wanted to make this project happen. I am happy that I stayed and even if it was hard, it has been a great experience.

HU: What makes you happy to go to work every morning?

M: We face many challenges here and you have to think out-of-the-box everyday to make things happen.

HU: What are your usual tasks at work? What are your days full of?

M: If I don’t go to the plant, I meet regularly with my finance team. I speak to them and we try to overcome difficulties together. Another part of my job is to connect with the company’s other actors: the plant and the headquarters. I act as a bridge between the headquarters and our local business here.

HU: Let’s talk about Jakarta now. You were born in Indonesia, until you entered HEC and stayed in France until 2012. Since then, you have been living in Jakarta for 4 years, right?

M: Exactly.

HU: Where do you hang out on Sunday afternoons?

M: Will you be surprised if I tell you I stay at home and practice the piano? (laughs)

I like to practice my hobby when I have free time. I have played the piano since I was a kid. I stopped during my studies and but I restarted when my kids started to play the violin because I wanted to accompany them. After that I practiced again, alone, mostly on Sunday afternoons.

HU: Are you able to play Beethoven’s Pathetic Sonata?

M: Yes! Beethoven’s sonatas are my favorites, either for piano and violin or just for piano.

“The Indonesian market has a huge potential, but this potential has been slowed down by the lack of infrastructure”

HU: Imagine you only had 24 hours left to spend in Jakarta. What would you do?

M: I would spend time with my parents, who are still living in Jakarta.

HU: It seems like you don’t really like Jakarta! Isn’t there any place that you like and you would like to see one last time before leaving?

M: The downtown, because I never go there. The downtown is the old town.

HU: Why do you avoid this place?

M: It is always jammed and I don’t have any professional interests in this area. There are a lot of retailers and shops in this area but it is in the middle of the junction, all the traffic is coming through this area and you can be stuck there for hours.


HU: Ok, let’s put in differently. What are your favorite places in Jakarta?

M: I don’t really have any. What I like here is that you can find great restaurants. There are different types of cuisine in different areas of the city and I like to try them.

HU: What do you like most about people from Jakarta?

M: I just think they are great, very optimistic and veeeeery patient! Everyday they have to face the traffic. Some people from my team drive 2h30 hours just for 20 kms everyday…and the same thing on their way back.

They are incredibly patient and they don’t complain about it, they live with it, which I think is just admirable.

“I liked the French system more than the Anglo-Saxon’s because it allowed me to make a gap year with internships. And I chose HEC for its reputation.”

HU: What is Indonesia’s main challenge in your opinion?

M: There are many, but in my opinion they are the same as the ones you can find in other emerging countries.

First, there is a big issue in terms of wealth gap, between those who have, and those who don’t. Even inside the middle class there are a lot of disparities. This generates problems regarding social order and education: Those who can afford it will provide a better education for their kids.

Second problem is the infrastructure development. The government is addressing it but it is slower than expected. Our economy is growing and the Indonesian market has a huge potential, but this potential has been slowed down by the lack of infrastructure. It takes us 2 weeks to send a container from Jakarta to the North of Sumatra and the cost of shipping goods inside Indonesia is higher than of exporting to other places in South East Asia.

Another problem we have here is the uncertainty of the regulation and law. Laws keep on changing and they lack clarity. When you are running a business, you need certainty and you need a stable framework. Indonesia’s framework is not certain, it is open to interpretation and the changes take a very long time to be effective. As a result, the low efficiency of public administration and bureaucracy became issues.

Nothing very original in an emerging country.

HU: Maybe it’s more intense in Indonesia because it’s an archipelago…

M: Let me give you an illustration.

When St Gobain wanted to invest Indonesia, we met with the BKPM, the authority for external investments. The were very welcoming and told us they were going to help us but it came to the execution, we realized that all the facilities they were giving us had to pass through different governmental offices that had different sets of rules that created contradictions… The governmental offices were not accepting what the BKPM had decided.

HU: How can you deal with this kind of problems?

M: Due to this lack of clarity, you have to study the Indonesian legal framework before doing anything there and this is very time consuming. You also need to be accompanied by Indonesian consultants, experts and lawyers.

HU: Does it have to do anything with corruption?

M: Not directly but we also have this problem, for sure. Indonesia has been trying to eradicate corruption recently, but it remains a problem. Things are getting much better.

HU: Let’s talk about HEC now. First question, why did an Indonesian student want to study in France in 1996? And why did you choose HEC?

M: I was looking for a Master’s program that could accommodate my needs at the time, because I also wanted to make internships. I liked the French system more than the Anglo-Saxon’s because it allowed me to make a gap year with internships. And I chose HEC for its reputation. The school is maybe not very-well known around the world, but it remains a very reputable institution.

HU: What was you favorite place on the HEC campus?

M: The lake.

HU: What is your best memory from HEC?

M: The friends I made there I think. At the time, HEC was just opening to international students like me and we were only a few to get into HEC’s “Grande Ecole”. There was a real “camaraderie” (i.e. companionship) among us and I made great friends.

HU: You told us earlier than one of these friends was actually Jing Legrand (H.98), we interviewed in Shanghai! Tell us about this story! Did you meet on the campus?

AAEAAQAAAAAAAAHMAAAAJGI2YTA3NDU0LWQzNDQtNGFiZi04YjY1LWI4YjhmN2Q4MzAwOQM: We met on the campus in 1996, she was an international student coming from China and we celebrated our 20 years of friendship this year. We stayed 2 years together on the campus. She could speak a great French so she was part of a French track when I was in the international track. All courses were in English in the international track.

Both of us stayed in France after graduating from HEC and both of us started in finance and we have stayed very close since then.

HU: Would you like to tell Jing something?

M: Yes! Hi Jing! I was very surprised when I learnt you participated to this project too! Here I am too! (laughs).

HU: Were you part of any associations when you were on the campus?

M: No. I studied French during my free time. My did my internship and I wrote my “mémoire” in French and I didn’t know a word of French before coming to HEC, so I had a lot of things to catch up and I only had 2 years!

HU: You wanted to stay and work in France after?

M: I didn’t know it at the time but I didn’t want to come back without speaking French. It would have been a shame not to learn the language!

HU: Would you advise someone to go to HEC today? If yes, why?

M: Of course, because I think it provides academic excellence, the programs are very interesting and the atmosphere on the campus is great! There is a real life going on there, which is hard to find in other business schools.

HU: For which reasons would you like to be contacted by an HEC alumnus?

M: I am willing to be contacted if I can be of any help because I am proud to be part of this network. We all share this common moment in our lives, which is studying in HEC.

HU: Do you think women are sufficiently considered in the HEC network?

M: In 1996, I already had a lot of female “camarades” on the campus and we were no longer minority, but we still need to be recognized in the professional world, not because we are different, not because we are women, but because we have competencies!

This recognition is still not there and I also think that women don’t believe in themselves enough. Changes need to be done in organizations as well as in women’s minds.

HU: Do you think there are things women can do better than men?

M: Maybe our intuition. We can feel things and see things in a different way; this is why men think we are not rational sometimes. In fact we are very rational!

HU: HEC’s motto is “The more you know, the more you dare”. What would be your own motto?

M: “Be yourself and give the best of yourself!”

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