Passing up an opportunity to take over the running of her family’s batik company, Denise Tjokrosaputro decided to strike out on her own. Aulia Rachmat discovered why.
“Life is now so much more exciting in the capital!” exclaims batik heiress Denise Tjokrosaputro joyously, observing that more and more people have been opening a variety of restaurants, entertainment and media after returning from their studies overseas in the US, Britain, Australia and Singapore.
During her years of study in the US, Denise was amazed at the facilities and amenities that enliven many large American cities. Her entrepreneurial spirit inspired her to move beyond Batik Keris, a leading batik manufacturer and retailer established by her family.
Her bachelor’s degree in textiles from Philadelphia University (1997) and masters in finance from George Washington University (1999) gave her the technical savvy for a leading role in Balik Keris.
Nevertheless, after five years there, she had second thoughts. Her initial move, in partnership with Singaporean Petrina Leong, was to establish a children’s magazine, Inspired Kids, and consulting firm PT Spinner PR & Marketing Communication.
She also entered the entertainment and F&B; business as she owns Black Cat Jazz Supper Club and House of Ipoh restaurant.
Denise, the oldest child of the late Handiman Tjokrosaputro and Liza Sindoro says the success history of her family is rooted in its entrepreneurial spirit.
Her grandfather, the late Kasom Tjokrosaputro, was a pioneer batik retailer. “My grandfather started from scratch in 1920 but did not leave a business legacy for my father. He then had to re-start the business as he had to figure out a way to sell batik,” Denise says.
Her father used to sell his product door to door until his hard work eventually led to the establishment of Batik Keris in 1970, whose label has since become a batik icon in Indonesia.
As something of a “chip off the old block”, Denise used an apt marketing strategy when she first published Inspired Kids magazine. Launched in mid 2005, the magazine was initially distributed free. “It was a strategy designed to penetrate the market,” she acknowledges.
“If a newsstand displays a new magazine next to an established one, then the odds are against many people buying the new one. So, we didn’t put Inspired Kids on newsstands. Instead, we mainly distributed the magazine to parents who frequently visit places such as learning centers, schools and pharmacies.”
The income came only from ads. Once it achieved a circulation of around 30,000 copies in early 2008 the magazine started to carry a cover price. Circulation did not drop.
“The magazine was only available in Greater Jakarta initially, but has been sold nationwide after we charged for it. It’s now available at newsstands and bookstores, or people may subscribe to it,” Denise adds. “Jakarta is still the largest chunk although there’s been a slight decrease in circulation.”
Denise’s own reading includes business and self-improvement books, although she likes novels most of all. “John Grisham is my favourite. The Juror and Pelican Brief are among Grisham’s best. I also like novels by Agatha Christie and Dan Brown.”
Born in Solo, Central Java, on February 4, 1976, Denise is very open-minded when discussing business opportunities available to women compared with men. There are a lot more businessmen than women, but the gap is significantly narrowing compared with the past 20 years, she says.
Nevertheless, Denise believes that, regardless of the progress towards female emancipation, “Women have a different role in that once a woman gets married and has a kid, her focus will be split between work and family.”
Denise married Julius Ruslan in 2004 and is the mother of a-21-month-old son, Marc. Her second child is due soon.
Despite her hectic daily routine Denise realizes that her son needs her attention and therefore proper time management is crucial for her to be able to focus on her business as well.
She’s glad that her husband is very supportive. “I learn how women change over time. In the past two decades, women used to stay at home taking care of the kids while the husband went to work. But now a husband needs someone to talk to for conversation. People learn from their daily experiences. A wife will lack this knowledge if she just stays at home; it’ will also affect negatively the interpersonal communication between the partners.”
FORAY INTO FOOD
It is fortunate to be raised in a well-to-do family that bequeaths its children a promising future. But Denise had her own reasons to move away from the family business. “I’m still helping my family in monitoring Batik Keris’ finances, though not on a daily basis. I would say that I’m more pursuing my own interests as I’m looking forward to getting involved more in the media and entertainment business.
“My parents used to advise their children to expand their own idea on business in order to become true entrepreneurs. At first, my mother and father wanted me to continue the family business, but Batik Keris is already running well.
“My father used to teach us how to lead at a ‘macro’ level and how to delegate to the directors. So, even without the help of my mother and three siblings, manufacturing and retailing under Keris Gallery has run well due to the company’s outstanding management systems,” Denise explains.
Julius has a far-reaching influence in motivating Denise, business-wise. He is the owner of PT Milestone Pacific Group (MPG), which is now in the middle of building LuxeLiving. “It’s a high-end showroom featuring three premium brands in mattresses, kitchen systems and furniture. The showroom is scheduled to open in February 2009,” explains Denise, who is chief finance officer in the company.
Denise has travelled extensively, including to Europe, Australia, the Middle East and South America. “Above all, going on safari is particularly appealing: You see the grassland and the animals living freely. It’s a great escape from the daily grind.”
“My husband and I like travelling and whenever we do so – be it business or pleasure – food is something we always look forward to. Appreciating local cuisine can be a key to learning more about a particular culture,” Denise asserts.
She finds it hard to state a preference as her catholic tastes embrace French, Italian, Chinese, Japanese, Mexican and Arabic cuisine.
“As Indonesians, my husband and I of course like local food. However, cosmopolitan foodies always welcome more variety. So, in 2006 I opened a French restaurant, Brasserie Madeline. After a year, I learnt that Indonesians in general are still not accustomed to the classic dishes of Europe, especially France.
“Then I came up with the new concept and changed the name to Black Cat Jazz Supper Club. Unlike Brasserie Madeline, which was a pure French restaurant, Black Cat is a semi-fine-dining venue that features live jazz bands while serving Continental food, wine and champagne.”
In addition to the restaurant’s warm hospitality, excellent service and friendly atmosphere, the success behind Black Cat lies in the entertainment it offers. For some, dining out is much more than just eating good food, Denise says.
Nevertheless, this is not what happened with House of Ipoh, the restaurant she opened in 2007, named after the Malaysian state.
As Malaysian food is the closest alternative to local cuisine, Denise says it’s easier to run the business as a pure restaurant compared with one selling European food.
“You can eat Asian cuisine everyday, but that’s not true for Continental food, as most locals tend to try it once a week.”
Denise’s enthusiasm for travel and culinary experiences are a reflection of her desire to explore when seeking better opportunities. “That‘s why I moved away from Batik Keris.
I’d like to broaden my business interests away from media, entertainment and F&B; to other areas like furniture or perhaps hospitality.
“Should I not be able to achieve that, Inspired Kids has at least been a success.”
Published in The Peak Magazine Indonesia, May-June 2009.