How Dessy Prihatiningtyas FCPA leads with compassion

Dessy Prihatiningtyas FCPA, finance director at PT Indonesia Kendaraan Terminal.

There are plenty of examples of CPAs who start out in accounting, finance and treasury roles and use their varied skill set to advance to the C-suite. However, not many would count compassion among the essential tools in advancing their career.

Dessy Prihatiningtyas FCPA believes her humanity has served her just as well – if not better – than her financial training in reaching the current senior role of finance director with one of Indonesia’s major ports.

Prihatiningtyas is one of the very few women to hold a senior management position with PT Pelabuhan Indonesia II (Persero), better known as Indonesian Port Corporation (IPC).

Although she has been with the same company for over two decades, Prihatiningtyas’s career progression was hardly conventional, which is part and parcel of working for a state-owned enterprise (SOE).

That’s because SOE staff don’t have an option of saying “No” to a role – they can accept the position they are being offered or resign.

“I knew it was always part of the deal,” Prihatiningtyas says. “When I first applied to be an SOE employee, they told you to be ready for any assignment. It was like a lottery. You might find yourself in Jakarta or working on another island. Indeed, you can work anywhere they tell you to go.”

Accepting new challenges

Prihatiningtyas started out in the port’s treasury department, and then found herself running the pension scheme unit. She was then involved in restructuring the IPC’s entire business, and running the port’s hospital company, PT Rumah Sakit Pelabuhan, and its energy arm, PT Energi Pelabuhan Indonesia.

“The senior directors kept telling me, we know that you can run this or that. They just told me, we know that you can do this kind of role and there was no argument. I just did what I was told,” she says.

She admits she often felt underqualified for the role she was given – she had no special knowledge of how to run a hospital, or any experience running an energy division. Each time she was dropped into a new role, she was encouraged to take on the challenge and assured that she was quite capable of succeeding.

It may have been a wild ride, but Prihatiningtyas is not complaining – she is now director of finance and human resources at the IPC’s critical international car terminal – PT Indonesia Kendaraan Terminal Tbk.

Finding her niche

In 2010, the IPC was restructuring and forming new subsidiary companies – 16 of them. Aptitude tests have marked Prihatiningtyas as being especially capable of working in different conditions, and she consequently became one of the main architects in reshaping the port’s many different activities.

“I suspect that I was seen as a potential HR person when I was first assigned to IPC’s transformation,” she says. “We were being asked to change the culture from a public service organisation into a corporation with business principles. It was a massive process.”

“At the time, I asked the CEO of IPC, ‘Why am I being assigned to this job in strategy?’ He told me: ‘Why not? You can do it, Dessy’.”

It was encouraging to know that her superiors had so much faith in her, Prihatiningtyas says. She was being seen more as a strategic asset than a financial one.

Part of strategic management is change management, and this is where Prihatiningtyas seems to have found her niche. While still owned by the government, the port was told to be profitable and the previous public service mindset had to be rooted out.

Career game changer

With IPC restructured, Prihatiningtyas was appointed (or rather “assigned”) as senior manager of human capital development and career management. The job was, essentially, to not only put the right people up for the right roles, but also to guide their development.

For all intents and purposes, she was now chief talent scout and people nurturer.

This, Prihatiningtyas says, was a game changer. She now had oversight of how the company engages with its people, how it drives change in the organisation, and how talent is matched to business opportunities.

“I learnt a lot from people around me – from my colleagues, and also from my subordinates in the HR division.

“My approach was to make sure I chatted with them every day – I would ask questions and always assume that I have an ‘empty glass’ that I have to fill with HR knowledge. I’d get information as much from the people at the top as those at the bottom.

“I read a lot of books about human capital and leadership,” she says. Other influential books that would guide her were by Bill George, senior fellow at Harvard Business School and author of Discover Your True North and Authentic Leadership: Rediscovering the Secrets to Creating Lasting Value.

Despite the steep learning curve and initial reservations, Prihatiningtyas eventually came to relish the job, but that was not the end of the new assignments.

CPA Library resource: Getting change right: how leaders transform organizations from the inside out. Read now.

Humanist approach

By 2015, Prihatiningtyas was asked to run the health and welfare section of the company. Doctors and hospital administrators resented her non-medical background and lack of administrative qualifications – Prihatiningtyas knew she had entered a lion’s den.

She admits that the first six months were very difficult, but her experience with, and passion for, developing people came to the fore and helped her through.

To help improve her team’s performance, Prihatiningtyas began studying to become a professional coach and is working towards her qualification as Associate Certified Coach with the International Coach Federation.

“When I first arrived, most of the senior management and many of the hospital administration staff didn’t want to listen to me. It was a female thing, and, of course, I was not a doctor. I led with my heart. It was about showing empathy. It revealed to me that you can fix business problems with a humanist approach.”

There is no doubt that her open personality has been part of her success. Prihatiningtyas has a cheery, never-say-die attitude. In time, her strict but humanist approach gained her the respect of her colleagues.

Continuous learning

Prihatiningtyas came to Australia in 2005 to study for her masters of commerce degree at the University of Queensland, after winning the Australian Development Scholarship. She loved the course, choosing a double major in applied finance and professional accounting.

Two years after completing her degree and returning to Indonesia, Prihatiningtyas began studying for her CPA qualification.

“It was the CPA that allowed me to continue the learning progress, and I always knew that it would help accelerate my transformation from pure accountancy to other things,” she says.

The “ethics side” of the CPA qualification was the most important for Prihatiningtyas – it stands for trust and honesty, she says.

Prihatiningtyas is now an FCPA and a member of CPA Australia’s Indonesia Office Advisory Committee, contributing high-level strategic advice and new ideas to CPA Australia in Indonesia.

The COVID-19 pandemic has been a difficult period for Prihatiningtyas and for her employer, but she sees the period as one in which the company can consolidate and test its procedures for when things return to normal.

Through this difficult period, Prihatiningtyas has embraced change with a kind of intuitive knowledge of how to deal with it – and how to help others to deal with adversity. “I lead with my heart,” Prihatiningtyas says. “Your heart knows the way. Always run in that direction.”

One piece of advice

“Your heart knows the way. Always run in that direction. To paraphrase [author] Paulo Coelho, ‘If you want something that much, all the universe will conspire in helping you to achieve it’.”

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