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I grew up in the East of Jakarta, where you still see traditional cycle rickshaws and vegetable cart sellers on the streets. My parents worked for the Indonesian government on modest incomes. They did their best to provide for me and my younger brother; we didn’t go to fancy restaurants, but we always had a home-cooked meal on the table.
I owe my success to having supportive role models as parents who taught me to be both creative and driven. At school, I used to make simple handicrafts like bookmarks and letter stationery that I’d then sell to my classmates for pocket money.
My mother has such a strong work ethic and is hugely inspiring. She always told me to push for anything I wanted and not rely on anyone for my own success. That’s why I’ve always worked hard and not taken anything for granted.
To relieve the financial stress on my parents, I worked hard to be accepted to the University of Indonesia, a heavily subsidised government university where only one in 200 people got accepted onto my degree. It’s ranked first in Indonesia by the QS World Universities Ranking 2019 and I studied Communications there. I was Vice President for the University Senate and the Head of Events, where I was responsible for getting sponsorships from various companies.
I’ve come a long way since then. In my current role, as Associate Vice President, Business Marketing at Mashreq Bank, the oldest bank in the UAE, I handle multi-segment marketing for the retail banking group. It’s a big responsibility and has been quite a journey. I moved from Jakarta to Dubai in 2007, jumping from advertising to in-house marketing consultancy to banking. In two years, I’ve grown from a one-person team to managing seven people and tripling my portfolio. I now head up multi-segment product marketing.
Moving to Dubai was exciting, but I had no friends or connections and had to rebuild my life from scratch. It’s tough being an ambitious woman in business in the UAE, particularly if you’re from a minority ethnic group. But I don’t avoid a challenge. I left OgilvyOne, my first job in Dubai, for a job at a local Dubai advertising agency where there was an opportunity to expand my business development skills. One of my clients there was Emirates NBD, the largest banking group in the UAE at the time. After working for them on a project, they asked me to be seconded to them on a full-time basis. That was the start of my career in banking. At Emirates NBD, I had lots of opportunity to move from segment to segment. During my last year there, I was tasked with managing their biggest segment: cards and digital banking.
Then came an opportunity at Mashreq Bank. I’ve been there since 2017 and it’s been a real rollercoaster ride – in a positive way. When I arrived, I was handling cards and payments and personal loans. By 2018, I was handling personal banking as well, which then expanded to Islamic, SME and digital banking. I’ve repurposed my marketing role from support function to key sales driver for the bank’s various products. Mashreq has also given me exposure to management and strategy, as the bank accelerates its digital transformation. I was chosen to be part of a young leader programme, part of a select group of just 2% of all company staff.
I know I’ll be able to access bigger roles, especially with the skills, knowledge and network gained from my time at London Business School. And that’s down to being selected as one of the first Laidlaw scholars – such an honour. I’d actually applied and been accepted to the School’s Executive MBA programme in 2018 but had to pull out because of financial constraints. The admissions team kept in touch and in 2019, they suggested I look into the Laidlaw Women’s Leadership Fund, set up through a partnership between London Business School and the Laidlaw Foundation.
The Laidlaw Foundation’s vision – to address the gender balance at senior management level and empower ambitious women regardless of their backgrounds – is so inspiring. I share this vision in addressing the global imbalance of women leaders. But I believe that the effort starts with me. By equipping myself with London Business School’s first-class education, I can set myself apart and start bridging the gender gap. As I move upwards, I’ll be able to introduce programmes that will improve the chances of enabling many more capable women to better themselves.
Only a modest 0.02% of the Indonesian population of 270 million are currently studying abroad. As a Laidlaw scholar at a leading international business school, I hope I’ll inspire more Indonesians to venture out and make their mark in the global market.
I wasn’t sure what to expect at the start of the EMBA in Dubai, but the whole experience has been so rich and stimulating. The cohort is really mixed, and comprises people from such different sectors, industries and countries. I’ve really bonded with my multicultural study group, who have shifted my perspectives completely.
I can already see how the EMBA will help me unlock my full potential. I’ll use the knowledge, skills and network from LBS to hopefully become one of the first few female Chief Marketing Officers in the UAE. Women are under-represented in management roles in banking and I’d like to change that by inspiring women with backgrounds like mine. In the longer term, I’d like to get involved with coaching and mentoring in the Emirates, and also, one day, back in Southeast Asia.
The Laidlaw Foundation and its global footprint could help me improve living conditions for women and children in developing countries. I’m currently supporting non-profit movements in Indonesia to improve children’s education in rural areas, but the Laidlaw Foundation’s influence will help me take this further. One day, I’d like to return to where I grew up and share my experiences with young women there. I want to inspire them to have bigger ambitions and rise up beyond traditional expectations.
Learn more about the Laidlaw Women’s Leadership Fund.
Asih Wulansari was a recipient of the EMBAD Laidlaw Women's Leadership Fund