Is gender a factor in success? We asked Bali’s leading femme fatales. Interviews: Karen Donald. Portraits: Ryerson Anselmo for Costes Portrait
FIFTEEN years ago, when I was starting my company Made from Stardust, a businesswoman gave me some advice. “Stay focused on what you’re trying to achieve. Your worst enemy is going to be self-doubt.”
With so many competitive men ahead of me securing positions in the workplace, she emphasized the importance of backing myself and closing the confidence gap.
Years later, I still value advice from business owners – especially from dynamic women who face additional and unique obstacles because of their gender.
Unlike Western issues surrounding female equality, Indonesia has additional cultural and religious structures that have an influence upon women’s rights and self-image. But statistics show that women are now starting businesses at twice the rate of male-majority-owned enterprises.
Gang of four: Pika, Nicolaza, Liat, Alexa.
Strategies that have helped female entrepreneurs to succeed include defying social expectations, building a support network, tackling gender discrimination and balancing dual career-family pressures. Although businesswomen with children experience even more demands on their time and energy, the growing success rate of female entrepreneurs shows that women are naturally resourceful and blessed with skills to succeed –despite the odds.
I asked nine women founders – all of whom I greatly admire – to provide some insight on how to overcome challenges in the world of business. Here is what they had to say.
Susanna Perini, Founder, CEO & Creative Director of BIASA Group
Italian-born Susanna Perini is the founding designer of BIASA Bali – an award-winning and internationally recognized clothing label, art space and lifestyle brand. Her story began in 1994, when she created a boutique inspired by an Indonesian lifestyle and Italian design ethos, offering visitors and residents sophisticated resort-wear collections along with treasures from around the world.
Susanna was awarded an Order of Knighthood from the Republic of Italy in relation to her work within Indonesian Contemporary Art and its promotion through cultural exchanges in Italy.
“I am privileged to be the product of two generations of self-employed women,” she told me. “My early conditioning leans towards self-assurance in a male-dominated world, making my experience unusual compared to the hardships still faced by women in the workforce, especially in Indonesia. Growing my business as a woman in Bali has shed light on the stark diversity in culture experienced here between the sexes. Indonesian women are definitely considered ‘less adequate’ than men to handle top management roles and decision-making in business. For this reason, at times I also personally experience a subtle resistance by male colleagues to fully embrace my lead as a captain.
“My advice to female entrepreneurs would be to draw a clear intention of your own inspiration and share that with others. Be aware of the influence of actions that we directly or indirectly inflict upon our environment. I believe that becoming financially rich, powerful or famous are no longer sustainable goals – those intentions create destruction and suffering. By including compassionate values in our priorities we have the chance to practice an alternative and more sustainable business format than the one we have experienced through the centuries in a male-dominated world.
“Living in Bali, and gaining a true appreciation for its culture has taught me that there is an untouched universe at play between the seen and unseen. As a woman, I believe that being driven by underlying values that may be kept in the realm of the unseen is perfectly okay.”
Navia Ngyuen, Former Model & Founder of Amo Spa Bali
Vietnamese-American model and actress Navia Ngyuen created Amo Spa as a profit-share company with the mission statement: Women’s Rights and Equality through Economic Opportunity.
Currently eighty-five percent of Amo’s work force is female – not managed by male authority figures, but female role models. This is because Navia invested in her local female staff and taught them to rise through the ranks regardless of background or education.
“As a female business owner I have looked into the issue of self-empowerment and how it relates to a woman’s belief in herself and her role in the workplace. My advice for local businesswomen is to seek improved economic opportunities. At Amo we actually only have one male staff member in a management authority position. All other management and leadership roles have been promoted from within the company, which has provided the necessary training and essential personal development skills to make this internal shift possible for our female local staff to assume these positions.
Although we have an old paradigm stating what the good mother and wife should be like – such as careers, economic self-sufficiency, perfect bodies, and not to age or be too powerful – our female staff are now the breadwinners for their families. During 10 years of doing business in Bali we have seen the positive effect training has had on female staff members at work and in interpersonal relationships with their mother in laws, husbands, communities, and being role models to their children.”
Made Yanie Mason, Co-Founder/President Director of Mason Adventures: Mason Elephant Park & Lodge, Mason Sky Tours, Mason Gourmet, & Mason Chocolates.
It has been thirty years since award-winning Made Yanie Mason started her adventures. Ever since she was young Yanie admired her parents and older sisters who worked very hard throughout their entire lives. This inspired her to do something different, with conviction. Not long after meeting her husband Nigel, she decided to open Yanie’s Restaurant, which was incredibly popular and a first of it’s kind in Legian – which would set the foundations and pave the way to the initiation of her first Rafting Adventure Tour in 1989.
“I had many problems to overcome over the years, starting with my marriage to a Westerner, which was heavily frowned upon at the time, as well as the government, which most certainly did not take women seriously in business. During my early years in business I was frequently looked down upon, especially by people who were quick to make assumptions. We had to work extremely hard over long hours just to make ends meet because we had very little money – however we had lots of enthusiasm and made a great team.
It was a struggle back in the 80s and most likely I was being paid the least. However, since starting my own businesses – being paid unfairly based on my gender is no longer a problem. It’s only in this century that Balinese women have been able to overcome the prejudices of the past. Women in Bali are now far better educated and are definitely being taken much more seriously.
“My best piece of advice for businesswomen is don’t ever be afraid to stand up for yourself. Be patient, find your genuine passion in life and always strive to pursue it. Stay strong, determined, and don’t listen to the bullshit along the way – results will eventually speak for themselves.”
Janet DeNeefe, Founder and Director of Ubud Writers & Readers Festival & Ubud Food Festival
Janet DeNeefe is an expert in the business of hospitality, food and spices.
Her creations: Casa Luna Restaurant, Indus Restaurant, Honeymoon Guesthouse sit alongside the Ubud Food Festival and Ubud Writers & Readers Festival – named by The Telegraph as “Among the top five Writer’s Festivals in the World”. Accidently starting her first business in 1987, ‘Lilies Restaurant, Monkey Forest Road’ was acquired from a bankrupt landlord for a ridiculously low sum of money.
“My best piece of advice for female entrepreneurs is do things with integrity and for the right reason and then give it 150 percent dedication and attention. Be in charge, never give up and work hard. It’s also important as a woman to have a support network and loyal friends around you who will listen at all times (and always take your side!).
“Personally, I ignore failure because otherwise I would not succeed. But I don’t really see things as ‘failing’, I simply treat things as experiments, and if it doesn’t work you make it better the next time: It’s all a learning experience. If it doesn’t work, you try another way. Rome wasn’t built in a day!
“There are plenty of Indonesian mentors in Bali. Ubud has a history of successful mentors/entrepreneurs and women have always run our most popular warungs. I wrote about them in The Jakarta Post – Ibu Oka’s, Murni’s, Canderi’s, Cafe Wayan and Oka Wati’s are/were successful because of the women who created them. Customers like to see the ‘face behind the business’– the person with the story: so be prepared to stand up and share the reasons for your endeavours.
My biggest skill is my humour – without it I would have fallen in a heap on the floor. Flexibility and patience is a must in all businesses here. You have to take it as it comes and be patient throughout the process.“
Alexa Genoyer, Founder/CEO of Blue Karma Secrets & The Oracle Luxury Cruises
Alexa Genoyer’s area of expertise is hospitality and luxury cruises. Alexa started her journey into hospitality 14 years ago after vividly dreaming she owned a 10-bedroom guesthouse in a place “where she could hear religious chants far away”. Following her dream Alexa travelled the world from South America, to North Africa to South East Asia and finally found it while visiting land in Gang Bima. The bungalows of an old Pondok Wisata triggered a flashback and that’s how Blue Karma Seminyak started. In 2018 Blue Karma Ubud was named “Number One Retreat Resort, South Pacific” by I-Explore.
“My advice for women who struggle to be taken seriously is to remember all the women who fought, and still fight in many parts of the world for their rights. I make sure that all the women working with me are respected just as men are. While recruiting our female Cruise Director I was concerned that female authority may not be accepted by men coming from different religious backgrounds – actually I was wrong, as it does not depend on the gender but on the personality of the individual.
“My life skills are the ability to multitask, curiosity, adaptability, and willingness to work as a team – to leave space for each person to be creative. If you are starting in business, I suggest that you forget seeing yourself as a ‘woman’, instead feel yourself as being a ‘person who is driven by an idea.’ If you don’t want to experience separation, then don’t think separation. Don’t consider yin and yang, but instead consider a whole in which you have a bit of yin, and a bit of yang. There is not black and white, but thousands of greys. There is never bad nor good: there is something.”
Niluh, Founder & Creative Director of Niluh Shoes
Ni Luh Putu Ary Pertami Djelantik was born in a small village near Kintamani, Bangli. For 16 years she has been running a handmade leather shoes and accessories manufacturing company called Niluh Djelantik. When Niluh was a child, she used to wear a pair of shoes two or three sizes too big for her. Her mother – a single parent – insisted that she get an education and sent her to the best school even though they were poor. At nine years old Niluh told her mom, “One day when I have a job and make my own money I will buy a pair of shoes that fit.” And in 1995, as a receptionist, she bought her first pair of high heels that cost IDR15,000. Winner of many awards including: The Yak Magazine’s Woman of the Year 2015, Denpasar Marketing Champion 2016, and Forbes Indonesia, Rising Global Stars, 2017: Niluh believes in craftsmanship, and creates high quality products that compete internationally.
“In my working experiences, I have always been surrounded by male colleagues. I make sure that my voice is heard and that my professional capacity is also part of the company’s growth. I use special techniques when communicating with my team: since they come from different backgrounds, ages and education levels. It is very effective, and at the same time they feel that you give them the love and respect they deserve.
“My best advice for female entrepreneurs is there is no elevator to success, as everybody has to take the stairs! Each failure is a lesson that will improve your skills and ability to grow the company. Once you have achieved your success, always remember to give back by sharing your skills with those in need so they can follow in your footsteps and reach their own stardom. It will not be an easy journey, but you know why you started in the first place so give it your full attention, and never forget to be grateful. Delegation is important and you need to trust that your team is capable of doing their job well. As for your relationship with clients, and suppliers, consider them your family: at the end of the day they support you and make sure that your company is strong.”
Liat Solomon, Founding Director of Down To Earth, Earth Café, the Bali Vegan Festival, Zula, and Paradiso Theater Ubud
Liat Solomon is founder of the enterprising Bali Vegan Festival, and owner of Zula, Down to Earth, and Earth Café – where focus is on creating a better world through pure, organic foods. Liat has never worked for anyone else: she opened her first restaurant at the age of 19 following her love for the earth, supporting people who wanted to live a healthy lifestyle. For 37 years Liat has been sharing her knowledge with our community here in Bali – bringing clean and organic food to every table.
“My advice for female entrepreneurs is to make sure you have a support team and learn to delegate. Eat a healthy diet, sleep well and make time for love. Remove anyone from around you who is not supportive. Most of all, I think it’s about being true, honest, kind and generous. It’s wonderful to see women in power. Women have the full spectrum of emotions, passions and ideas.
“Being a woman in business is common now, but when I first started I was not taken seriously and was often taken advantage of and exposed to threats and humiliation by men in powerful positions. Coping with the fear of failure is very important because I have faced so many challenges with my business, such as having to rebuild Earth Café Seminyak after it suffered major loss in the recent fire, and with Paradiso Theater Seminyak after it burnt down less than 24 hours after opening. Telling myself ‘better days will come’ is important.
“Being a single mother is also a heavy load. Putting my own needs, wishes, and hopes on the backburner because kids come first. Luckily living in Bali I have the ‘second shift’ duties covered by help, which allows me to spend quality time with my kids and put the troubles of the day behind me.”
Pika Chevillot, Co-Founder of Sardine Restaurant
Pika Chevillot, artist, interior designer and restaurateur, was born in Slovenia. Inspired by her insatiable curiosity for other cultures and places, she began to travel the world at young age. She spent time in Argentina, the Caribbean island of Saint Martin, New York and Los Angeles before moving to Bali with her husband Pascal where Sardine was born. Housed in a striking bamboo structure – overlooking a vista of endless rice paddies – Sardine is a charming restaurant serving healthy, tasty and light cuisine du soleil, ideal for a hot Bali climate.
Pika likes to set the stage and provide the perfect ambiance for people to enjoy their dining experience from beginning to end. Winner of several Yak Awards, Sardine has editorials in The New York Times, Harper’s Baazar, Condé Nast Traveler, Gourmet Traveler, Times Magazine, Luxe, and Indonesian Tatler.
“For me a restaurant is like a theater, everything matters: ambiance, greeting, service, lighting, music and of course good food. The biggest lesson I learned in Bali is patience. My ability to relate to people from all walks of life and cultures helps me to be able to work with men and women, move around the world and start new ventures. I have always worked for myself so it’s up to me to find and create opportunities. In my experience, an individual’s talent, knowledge and reliability are more important than gender itself. At Sardine we have many female employees and both my husband and I try to encourage and empower them equally.
My advice for women starting in business is to choose something that you are passionate about where you can grow and get better with experience. Put your heart and mind into it: get excited and take pride in what you do. Take advice only from people who know the subject, and surround yourself with like-minded people. Be realistic and understand how to get from point A to point B. Keep learning – as knowledge creates confidence. Most importantly, don’t forget to have fun!”
Nicolaza Lupercio, Co-founder/Creative Director of Mexicola Group Bali
Born and raised in Mexico, Nicolaza Lupercio runs Motel Mexicola, Da Maria and Luigi’s Hot Pizza. Her career in hospitality started in Playa Del Carmen during 2002 working for Grupo Habita, one of Mexico’s leading hospitality organizations. Nicolaza has been passionate about food since she was little girl. In 2008, while living in Terrigal, Australia, some influential people tried her food and decided to invest in her skills. Since her arrival in Bali, Nicolaza has won several awards – Motel Mexicola was voted “Top 10 Restaurants in Bali” by Forbes Life Magazine’. Motel Mexicola won “Best Bar” at The Yak Awards, with Da Maria winning “Best Italian Restaurant” by The Beat Bali Awards.
“My life has always been devoted to service, and that’s what hospitality is all about. I love giving people an experience and offering great service. I have never faced gender-based obstacles, although I am aware that it happens. My father was my first boss, and my last boss, and Mr Alejandro Rueda, is still my best friend. I have only worked with men and all my business partners are men. If anything, it’s been really positive – I have learnt the way they think business wise and they have learnt from my feminine touch too.
Within my culture Mexican women are not intimidated by any gender – work is work. That doesn’t mean we are less feminine, but we don’t project fear when it comes to work, as for some work is survival. Here in Bali, people often are surprised that a female is behind such an explosive brand like Motel Mexicola. The reaction is always so positive – I get great satisfaction from it.
“My advice for female businesswomen is to trust your instincts and the process – let go of fear no matter what. Things may not go the way you expect them to go, but you will be surprised that in the end it will turn out even greater than you expected. In today’s world it’s not enough to provide a great product, you have to apply love to everything you do. There is no such thing as luck.
Power is not given – it’s taken. So go for it, it’s up to you!”
The Yak Magazine contacted many women for the purpose of this feature. We would like to thank those who were able to contribute their valuable time.