In October 2014, Indonesian President Joko Widodo appointed the first-ever high school dropout to his country’s cabinet. At the time of her appointment, Susi Pudjiastuti, the new Minister of Marine Affairs and Fisheries, was one of eight women among Widodo’s cabinet ministers, another first for the rapidly developing Southeast Asian nation. The self-made businesswoman is known for starting a small fish-selling business after leaving school and building it into a multi-million-dollar operation, with sales to Asian and American markets. She also started her own airline, Susi Air, in order to fly her products more easily to market.
In her first days in office, Susi Pudjiastuti has shown that her experience as an entrepreneur has honed her decisiveness and her ability to take action, qualities much in-demand in a nation often described as mired in bureaucracy and gridlock. Soon after taking office, she issued an order forbidding foreign or formerly foreign vessels to fish in Indonesian waters; illegal trawling has posed long-standing problems for the country. She has additionally spearheaded new measures to protect Indonesia’s own fishing industry, with a focus on promoting increased maritime exports. She wants to support the growth of integrated fishing communities with streamlined access to markets for their products, and to better the lives of people in her industry.
Her history of taking her own business from nothing to become a major force in her nation’s economy highlights Susi Pudjiastuti’s similarities to Sukanto Tanoto, the Indonesian entrepreneur at the head of the $15 billion RGE Group. Mr. Tanoto also had to leave his formal schooling at an early age. However, like Ms. Pudjiastuti, he used hard work, initiative, and drive to achieve success for himself and his family. He, too, is concerned about the wellbeing of Indonesian society. Through the Tanoto Foundation, he and his family fund a wide range of social welfare and educational initiatives, among which is the Tanoto Entrepreneurship Series of lectures. In December 2014, Ms. Pudjiastuti attended a session in this series as a special guest speaker.