Anne Patricia Suntano: Living the Trojan Values

| September 29, 2016

One of Forbes’ “50 Most Powerful Businesswomen in Asia,” alumna embodies courage, ambition and discipline

USC Viterbi alumna Anne Patricia Sutanto, B.S.Ch.E. ’92, Vice CEO in PT. Pan Brothers Tbk., CEO in PT. Bumi Teknokultura Unggul Tbk., and President Director in PT. Indo Veneer Utama. Photo Courtesy: Anne Sutanto.

USC Viterbi alumna Anne Patricia Sutanto, B.S.Ch.E. ’92, Vice CEO in PT. Pan Brothers Tbk., CEO in PT. Bumi Teknokultura Unggul Tbk., and President Director in PT. Indo Veneer Utama. Photo Courtesy: Anne Sutanto.

“I am not really super clever or that smart,” explains Anne Patricia Sutanto, B.S.Ch.E. ’92, when asked about her accomplishments. The USC Viterbi alumna adds, “I make choices. I learn from my mistakes. Most importantly, I never give up.”

Sutanto is by all measures a great success. And she embodies the Trojan values.

She can make you feel as if you can achieve anything once you put your mind to it. It could be said that she has the gift of inspiration. And, as with most exceptional people, she is also incredibly humble and unassuming.

One of Indonesia’s major philanthropists and masters of enterprise, Sutanto wears many hats. She is the Vice CEO of PT. Pan Brothers Tbk., a publicly listed company in Indonesia that is a leading apparel manufacturer. Its clients include Adidas, Northface, and Nike. She is also the CEO of PT. Bumi Teknokultura Unggul Tbk., and President Director of PT. Indo Veneer Utama, a manufacturer of wood products.

Outside work, she volunteers as the president of the USC alumni group in Indonesia. Furthermore, she is actively engaged in various philanthropic efforts, contributing to such organizations as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation as well as her alma mater, University of Southern California. All of this while being a dutiful daughter, devoted wife and a caring mother.

To her, life is a series of choices. For her, limits do not exist. And in her world, impossible is merely a self-imposed construct.

Her life as a Trojan began, somewhat serendipitously, in 1990. She was already admitted into one of the most prestigious state universities in Indonesia where she had planned to study law. However, at the encouragement of her father, she decided to follow a different path instead – her heart. “My father told me that I am not such an easy person to live with so why don’t I follow my boyfriend to America,” she recounts, laughing at the memory of the conversation.

Taking her father’s advice, she followed her high-school sweetheart and now husband, Edmond Setiadarma, all the way to Southern California. They both enrolled in the USC Viterbi School of Engineering. He majored in mechanical engineering, B.S. ME ’93, while she studied chemical engineering with a minor in business administration.

However, while still in her freshman year at USC, Sutanto’s father suffered a major stroke that forced him into early retirement. Sutanto, who was determined to preserve the family business, decided to take over her father’s role. Being the type of person who never leaves anything unfinished, she naturally had her mind set on completing her studies at USC. In her own words, she wanted to be a Trojan alumna, not a Trojan dropout.

My friends would tell me, Anne, you cannot do it! But my professors believed in me, and USC gave me a chance.

To make this happen, she had to finish her degree within a year’s time. This was an unprecedented feat and by some, judged to be an almost impossible task.

She convinced USC to grant her the chance to accelerate her studies. USC agreed, on the condition that she should obtain her professors’ consent and maintain a grade point average of 3.0 or better.

“I still remember the two semesters during the fall of 1991 and spring of 1992. I was taking sophomore and junior classes together, and junior and senior classes together, all at the same time. I had to go to each professor to ask for their waivers,” she recalls. “My friends would tell me, Anne, you cannot do it! But my professors believed in me, and USC gave me a chance.”

Sutanto was admitted to USC in fall of 1990. She graduated from USC with chemical engineering degree in winter of 1992. “USC gave me chances. My professors gave me chances. They gave me support.”

According to Sutanto, coming to USC fundamentally shaped the direction of her life and career. She believes that the decision to come to USC made her into who she is today. “USC means a lot to me. USC gave me an understanding of the world that allowed me to be a more balanced being. Being a Trojan instilled in me greater self-confidence. It also taught me to never give up.”

Sutanto credits USC for teaching her to always aim high, go after what she wants, and work really hard in order to reach her goals.

She remembers when she had returned to Indonesia after completing her undergraduate studies at USC. She was a young woman in her early 20s and planned to head her father’s business. People were not used to having a business leader this young.

“Because of the cultural differences between Indonesia and U.S., people couldn’t understand why I spoke so freely and directly,” Sutanto said. “I was not trying to be diplomatic nor was I trying to prove myself. I was just trying to understand my father’s business.”

She quickly proved to be a formidable business leader. The traits that USC had instilled in her, such as confidence and a sense of purpose, along with the critical thinking skills that she had acquired during her undergraduate studies, paved the way for her incredible success.

“Her success in her subsequent career matched, and even exceeded the promise she showed as a student,” Dean Yannis Yortsos said. “Her selection as one of the Forbes’ 50 Most Powerful Businesswomen in Asia in 2015 is a resounding confirmation of that talent.”

Over the years, Sutanto has kept her strong ties with USC. She is still in touch with many of her professors, including her mentor, Katherine Shing, a professor of thermodynamics at the USC Viterbi School of Engineering, as well as Karen Woo, her program advisor and assistant director of student affairs in the Mork Family Department of Chemical Engineering and Materials Science. Sutanto vividly remembers staying up three nights in a row, working with her study group to finish a final assignment for her then-professor Yortsos.

She has certainly made a lasting impression on the USC Viterbi faculty and staff. Dean Yortsos recalls: “Anne was a very talented chemical engineering undergraduate. Inquisitive, thoughtful and with the maturity to look at the larger context. We are proud that her education as a chemical engineering student at USC Viterbi has helped her with the knowledge and skills needed to achieve such a spectacular career.”

There is a mutual sense of respect and admiration between Sutanto and USC. She feels proud of how much USC has achieved in the last 20 years. “We used to call ourselves the university of spoiled children, but today there is no question that USC is the university of smart children,” she said.

The cardinal and gold legacy runs deep in the Sutanto and Setiadarma household. Her son, Emilio, is carrying on the family’s Trojan tradition. He is currently a sophomore at USC Viterbi studying electrical engineering. “USC was my son’s first and second choice,” she said with great pride.