The garage has long been the birthplace of many great companies — Apple, Google, Hewlett-Packard, to name a few. Even Walt Disney got his start producing his first animated series, “The Alice Comedies” in his uncle’s garage before forming his own studio.
The business caused many to raise their eyebrows, because not only was the person behind it a woman, she was also a direct descendant of the royal Javanese family, one who was actually raised within the walls of a kraton (Javanese palace).
It was unheard of for someone of her status to work, let alone start a business and as Dr BRA.  Mooryati Soedibyo readily admits, the reaction from her family was far from encouraging. “Initially, my family did not support my decision to become a business woman as it was against our ancient traditions,” she recalls.
“Only through my own determination and hard work was I able to persevere and overcome this challenge, which actually helped motivate me to become successful on my own.”
Despite not having a background in business, she drew on what she had been taught during her formative years in the palace, and started making jamu, a traditional Indonesian herbal medicine that has a long-standing place in royal Javanese history. She bottled beras kencur, an Indonesian herbal drink, at home with the help of two maids.
Later, she expanded her range of products to include herbal pills, shampoo and cosmetics, and founded her company PT Mustika Ratu proper in 1978.
Today, PT Mustika Ratu is a brand with a domestic and international presence which products can be found in Africa, Eastern Europe, Latin America as well as several countries in the Southeast Asian region. In addition, Dr Soedibyo’s business empire also includes a spa business, Taman Sari Royal Heritage Spa, which has operations in nine countries including Canada, Japan, Bulgaria, and Malaysia.
Like any entrepreneur, Dr Soedibyo has experienced her fair share of challenges, stiff market competition being just one of them. However rather than compete on price, she has always been adamant about letting the quality and heritage of her company’s products do the talking.
“[Though] there were other products similar to mine that [were] priced five times cheaper, I didn’t compete on price. I have preserved the traditions of indigenous ingredients derived from local experience,” she says, adding that the company works closely with local farmers to ensure that its raw materials are derived from sustainable sources.
Given her background, one would be forgiven for assuming that it has helped given her an edge over the competition. She is quick to point out that this couldn’t be further from the truth.
“When conducting business, the foundation of the company should not be based on the image of the founder’s family background,” she says.
“When running the family business, a good businessman or woman must be able to meet the requirements and criteria of good manufacturing practices, have a basic entrepreneurial competence and attitude, and be innovative, creative and [attuned] to future competition.”
Though she is now in her eighties, Dr Soedibyo shows no signs of slowing down and apart from grooming her daughter Puteri Kuswisnuwardani to succeed her as head of the Mustika Ratu brand, she is also turning her attention to social work.
She now plays an active role in helping draw up initiatives to help women, working closely with the DNIKS (National Institution for Social Welfare), a non-government institution engaged in the empowerment of women and the poor, as vice chairwoman. She also founded the Women Entrepreneurship Academy last year to offer non-degree entrepreneurship courses.
Considered a living legend in her home country, Dr Soedibyo has received numerous awards in honour of her achievements, among them the Best of the Best Entrepreneur award from Ernst & Young in 2003. She was also named one of the top 100 next-era CEOs in Asia by The Japan Times last year.
“Women in Indonesia are still being left behind in various fields of education provided to men,” she observes candidly, adding that apart from the lack of networking opportunities, the roles open to them are mostly limited to domestic functions. As such, the local government needs to step up its efforts to support the progress and advancement of women.
According to Dr Soedibyo, there are laws in place to help them but these statutes must be made a priority. To this end, governments have a role to play not only in creating policies to help minority groups but also in ensuring that they are implemented.
She also stresses the importance of educational initiatives in a variety of formal and informal areas” to support entrepreneurial efforts by women. By expanding their roles, society can only benefit as they work, together with their male counterparts, to “[fight for] the welfare of the nation.”
 BRA: Bandara Raden Ayu, an Indonesia honorary title given to Dr Soedibyo to denote her status as the granddaughter of SunanPakubuwono X, king of Surakarta Palace.
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