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Known to many as the adept businesswoman in coal and a charming society lady, Susanti Tio has shown herself as a strong industry leader. With her business beginning as a small-scale mining initiative in 2006, it has grown to be among the most productive companies out of South Kalimantan. However, these past two years have proven quite challenging as the Covid-19 pandemic brought about disruption and slow-down. "As long as I have done coal mining, the years 2019 and 2020 saw a lot of rapid changes locally and globally with prices going down 50 per cent," she said. "Since then, the rate per tonne had steadily risen to a peak of US$215 in November, which is the highest recorded in the last few decades.
"Jack Ma had said that it is an accomplishment for businesses to stay put and survive this difficult time. But, no matter the situation, I decided neither to lay off nor to cut my employees' wages," Susanti said. "I believe that the One above is looking out for us and will bless those who work hard and remain positive." Beyond her ability to foresee market trends, the key is Susanti's perseverance and care for her employees amid current turbulence. For quite some time, she has been reaching out to the communities around her mining sites in Banjarmasin to channel donations and help construct public facilities. "We have to take care of nature and communities there as a way of giving back," she said.

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Nonetheless, Susanti predicts that her coal mining business would last for another five to ten years, at most, and that would be the viability of the mines as well. "As such, I have expanded into the tea plantation business for the past four to five years." Among a few masterplans, she had acquired existing sites in Garut and Sukabumi, West Java, and added technology modernisation. Moreover, she plans to build a factory for bulk tea sacks, which has been imported goods from Sri Lanka to fulfil the quota until today. 

"Many people are confused by the ever-changing circumstances these days, and I advise them to be creative," she said. "What else can I do? What can I develop or change? We have to keep on trying with what's available at hand no matter the difficulties." True to her words, instead of giving in, she saw an opportunity to create new businesses and stay productive during the pandemic. Besides mining work, Susanti is also actively investing in several small and medium enterprises ranging from shoes to health supplies and many more.

Although Susanti is often seen around town wearing the latest couture brand names, her love for local designers is no secret either. As of late, she is working with local brand Rajnik to develop its latest collection. "The owner, Rajnikania Sarwono, has been friends with me for a while, and she saw that I liked wearing high heels. I do admire the quality of her craftsmanship, as previously I had ordered sandals from her brand," she said. "Additionally, with her new line, we will give some of the proceeds to the Maria Lukito Foundation."

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Besides finding a new project from her hobby, Susanti also did so from recent social work. "I used to buy a lot of hand sanitiser, for example, as donations to the Indonesian Red Cross Society, among others," she said. "Then it occurred to me, what about making it as well for a side business?" Susanti worked together with another party at first while looking around to acquire a factory. With the meticulous planning executed in time, her products should be ready when 2022 comes.

Raised in a hard-working family, Susanti had her father as a good role model in business and social work. Working in the timber industry, she started helping out at the age of 13. "He would take me out to see different aspects of the operation, even to the deep jungle to check sites," Susanti said. "Besides working hard, my dad taught me to be honest and not to be arrogant." Her children are slowly continuing the family company, although Susanti had made sure they gained experience elsewhere first. "I advised them to spread their wings wide but also to not forget from where they came and the people around them."

This story appears in the December 2021 issue of Tatler Indonesia. Read our e-magazine and their full story here.