Building International Bridges With Erdina Oudang
One Indonesian Woman's Road To Successful Business In Japan
The inspiring story of a woman who came to Japan to unlock opportunities — and hasn't stopped ever since.
A few years ago, Erdina Oudang was just a financial professional who loved traveling to Japan. She would frequently tour Tokyo on seasonal breaks from her work at a bank in Singapore, exploring the country’s cuisine and culture. Today, she is the owner of two flourishing businesses based in Tokyo — a consulting company and a popular Indonesian restaurant. And she juggles all the work with positivity, lots of laughter — and most of all, dedication.
“I’ve always known that I wanted to do something that bridges my home country with the world — but I wasn’t sure what and when exactly to start,” she says. “I knew, however, that I first needed to obtain an MBA and learn all aspects of business, not just finances,” in which field she was by then — with a degree in Economics and nearly seven years of experience as a banker — an expert in.
A Path-Changing Encounter
After living in Switzerland as a boarding school student, spending ten years as an adult in Paris and seven in Singapore, Erdina knew it was time to settle down in Asia and return to her roots. “I wanted to be close to home,” she says. “I was familiar with the education in Europe and so I began searching for MBAs in Asia — somewhere I could receive a quality-level education, but also somewhere that allowed me to easily travel back home.” It was only when by chance she met with representatives from Globis, a business school based in Tokyo, at an MBA forum in Singapore that the road ahead started getting clearer.
“The Globis MBA program fitted my lifestyle well — it was only for a year, during which I was to learn all aspects of business in a very safe and professional environment,” she recalls. Persuaded it was the right choice, soon after, Erdina found herself quitting her bank job and packing her luggage for a new adventure — in the very heart of Tokyo.
I’ve always known that I wanted to do something that bridges my home country with the world— but I wasn’t sure what and when exactly to start.
In September 2012, Erdina joined Globis’ full-time MBA program, where she found herself surrounded by like-minded professionals, studying the A to Zs of business in a modern and up-to-date environment. “One of the things I liked most about Globis is that it’s very current — they focus on present-time issues and business models, and we also did case studies unique to Japan.”
For someone who wasn’t familiar with the business environment in Japan, this teaching technique proved to be vital. “It taught me a lot about the Japanese mindset and I was able to understand the business culture here,” Erdina says. “But most of all, the one year I had to focus on my MBA also gave me time to focus on my future plans; to crystalize what I had in mind.”
Building The Business
By the time Erdina wore her graduation gown and bid goodbye to her student life, she had already made up her mind that she wanted to build her business in Japan. “I stood by my mission to bridge Indonesia to somewhere, and I thought Japan would be that kind of place. Once I had the theme in my head, the next was all about when, where and how.”
A year after her graduation, she launched her first business, Unlock Inc, a consulting firm with branches in Tokyo and Jakarta with a focus in Indonesia, which she named in hope of “unlocking” opportunities — just because sometimes the chances are all out there, but we may not know where to find them. Founded on the fundamental idea of connecting Japan and Indonesia through deep understanding of the market, Erdina, with the help of outsourced and in-house consultants, serves as a bridge of intercultural communication and business practice between her home country and Japan.
Once I had the theme in my head, the next was all about when, where and how.
“That’s the soft side (of the business), Erdina smiles. “But I was also looking for a new opportunity; a place that could serve as a tangible platform (to promote awareness of Indonesia). She laughs. “I can’t just put an Indonesian flag in my office.” It was at that time when she started planning further.
The Restaurant Idea
“We sat down with my Japanese business partner and started brainstorming,” she recalls. They asked the big questions: What was Japan still missing? What didn’t the country know about Indonesia yet? What is the universal thing that everyone enjoys? It wasn’t long before they got the answer: authentic, good and still-undiscovered food. “We found out that there weren’t many Indonesian restaurants in Japan,” she says. It was a niche market waiting for a professional to step in.
In March 2016, Erdina and her Japanese business partner opened Angkasa in Tokyo’s Ebisu, a cozy ethnic food restaurant serving authentic Indonesian food. A year into the opening, the restaurant has full seats both at lunch and dinner time and is even visited by Japanese celebrities.
Erdina laughs. “We were featured on one of those Japanese variety programs where famous people compete in how much spice they can stand.” But the signatures on the restaurant walls speak more: Teru from Glay, Horiemon, Judo athletes and others. It is becoming a well-recognized venue for individuals and businesses alike. And it’s busy.
“We wanted to build a place that doesn’t have a too Indonesian vibe as an interior, but serves real Indonesian food,” Erdina says. With a minimal decor and nothing of the typical a-la-Bali style, the restaurant could even be mistaken for an Italian. But you’ll know the difference when you taste the food. With a chef with over 10 years of experience at several well-known hotels around the world, and invited all the way from Indonesia to join the restaurant team, the food at Angkasa is the real thing — if you’ve ever tasted Indonesian food before.
“Angkasa means ‘sky’ in Indonesian Sanskrit language — it means bridging Indonesia and Japan. But who knows, maybe it can bridge to other countries too — isn’t the sky the limit?”
The Key To Success
It isn’t all sunny, Erdina reminds. “But I like to think of difficulties as challenges.” And when you’re faced with a challenge, you just move on — do what you’re best at and unite with people who can back you up. The secret of success in building a business in Japan is simple: “Finding the right business partner is a job completed by half, provided that you trust your partner. But you also need to go out of your comfort zone,” she reminds us. Meeting the right people, putting yourself in the right environment and having a clear theme of what you want to do are the main pillars of a successful business. And if you need support, invest in studying.
“Taking the Globis program was an enormous help for setting up my business in Japan. It gave me extra confidence to work here and I’m able to put my studies into actual practice. There are many times when I say — wait, we did this in class, I read that it in a case study, or I had this conversation with another Globis student.”
[…] when you’re faced with a challenge, you just move on — do what you’re best at and unite with people who can back you up.
And when things don’t go well — let steam off by traveling. Taking time off to travel and clear up your mind is always a positive boost, Erdina says. And she would know: apart from having lived in five countries, she has traveled to 52 more — and has even climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro before making Japan her business home.
“I like challenges. I like building international bridges and connecting people through business,” she smiles as she offers me more Indonesian coffee at Angkasa. I take it, already making plans to go back.
You can hear the story of Erdina and other ambitious entrepreneurs first-hand at an upcoming event, “Empowering Leadership: A Panel Discussion with Women Entrepreneurs,” at Globis University on Wednesday, March 22. Check details here.
Address: B1, Matsumoto Bldg, Ebisu Minami 1-11-1,Shibuya-ku, Tokyo
Business hours: (Lunch) Monday – Saturday 11 a.m. – 3 p.m., (Dinner) Monday – Saturday 6 p.m. – 12 a.m. Closed Sundays.
For reservations call 03-5724-3542 or email email@example.com
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