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BREAKING THE GLASS CEILING

Imelda Fransisca’s career trajectory is an inspiration for more female-focused leadership

“The best way that industry can support women is by providing more opportunities,” Imelda Fransisca says. “We need more women in leadership.” she declares decisively. Minutes into our meeting, I am keenly aware that I’m seated across from a  woman who straddles several fields, juggling different responsibilities and holding multiple achievements, all with aplomb.  She certainly is emblematic of women today who have the ability to wear multiple hats—often all at once, and it is immediately apparent it won’t be easy to define her in one swift moniker. 

Indeed, the labels that one could use to describe this personable business leader include entrepreneur, writer, model, mother, and wife, in no particular order. Born to a family of business owners (her family owns Olympic Furniture, the pioneer in knock down  furniture in Indonesia) there were expectations that Imelda, like her siblings, would continue the family business. But her streak of independence would see move, after school in Singapore, to pursue undergraduate studies in Psychology from The  Ohio State University in the United States. Returning immediately after at the behest of her family, she wasn’t quite ready to join the family business and set out to develop her own career path. 

First up -- trying out at beauty content. “I had no background in modelling or pageants,” she recalls “but I won [the Miss Indonesia contest in 2005] and after that I took on other things” she continues, talking about her career in the media, being a Master of Ceremonies and taking pen to paper. Her first book, You Can be Anything and Make Changes is based on abuse she experienced as a child in Singapore. Written in Indonesian, the book encourages readers to learn from the past and view education as a means to change one’s world. Focusing on teenagers, Imelda went on book tours speaking to students around the country.

Later as a mother of two, she wrote Modern Mama, which discusses enhancing the values held by modern women. “It addresses the feminist movement now. There are a lot of great books from Sheryl Sandberg and other great women leaders but I wanted to put my foot in it and say that we are moving forward with leadership but we are also mothers and we have kids and we have to inspire them and set values in the family,” she says, fleshing out the adage ‘healthy family, healthy nation” which matches her focus on morals and family values.  The book also provides advise on time management and investment strategies which Imelda hopes helps women in high positions become smarter about investing.

“Writing is my hobby, my self actualisation,” she says. “I  am passionate about inspiring people because of what I experienced as a child,” she notes about her work with education via her roles in media until 2013.

Focus on Family

A year later, after exploring various professions,  she took a major career move  and joined the family business. Her father, who has always been a major influence in her life, invited her to consider taking a place at the company. “I thought about my future. I knew I was going to  inherit it eventually and  rather than waiting 20 years from now, I would get started now,” she says of the decision that eventually led to her taking on a role at Olympic Furniture.

By the time she came on board (her siblings were involved for many years having joined the business since finishing college) she notes that she “had to start from scratch. learning everything from the basics, the organisation, the business, all of it”.  But she has successfully weaved her way in. In May 2017 the holding company was listed on the stock exchange.

Her focus now remains on strengthening  the foundation and its fundamentals. With her background in working with various humanitarian efforts she also hopes to build on the company’s CSR prorgammes. With the company expanding into the property business as well, these are exciting times for both her individually and the company at large.

Giving Back

Imelda has been working with various charity organisations since she was 21 when she had her own foundation. Through her work, mostly with education, she says she has learned the importance of supporting efforts to better educate the population on various issues. With her current involvement with World Vision, she focuses on community development and how local government, economic development, mother and childcare and better access to health care can better support it.

She also recently had the opportunity to travel to a ‘green school’ in the Sambas region of West Kalimantan. The effort it took to get there was worth it, she notes, of the school where everything from building material to school supplies is environmentally sustainable and students study a curriculum similar to the International Baccalaureate.

Women on Top

Imelda bemoans the fact that globally only 20 per cent of women are in top leadership positions. Considering it a privilege to count herself among this group she attributes her leadership skills to her upbringing, in particular her father’s determination in encouraging her and her sister to never hold themselves back from doing what they felt was right. “Don’t underestimate yourself because you’re a woman,” he often told them. “ As a woman means you have more strength and potential in terms of how you do things in a different way than men.  But always keep yourself strong and always have targets and goals in life,” he intoned.  These messages have clearly been instilled deep in Imelda’s psyche.

For her part, Imelda has encouraged female-focused leadership in her company, too. Some of the architects at her firm are women and in the week we met for this interview, she noted that she had just met with a woman who was structural engineer who held a prominent role too. She notes that it’s imperative for women to have a support network given the multiple roles they hold in society. Over the years she has had many role models and maybe her career trajectory has reflected this too, she notes counting media mogul Oprah Winfrey having a strong influence on her decision to go into media, and later her mother as she took on this role as well. Currently her husband, who is also a business leader, inspires her to succeed and supports her in her ambitions too. Family values are very important to her and she hopes to instill these values in her children too.

Perhaps the opportunities in industry are heading in this direction, albeit at a speed that hopefully picks up tempo.

“I think we as women should not just back down but be persistent and serve as a role model for the younger generation. The government for its part must open more opportunities for women in industry and create an environment that’s easy for women to grow into.”

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