Jesslyne Widjaja: Changing the face of Asia’s palm oil industry

Jesslyne Widjaja was born into Indonesia’s famous Widjaja family, one of Southeast Asia’s wealthiest families.

But despite being born into immense wealth and having an abundance of opportunity to do anything she wanted, anywhere in the world, Jesslyne Widjaja has been drawn back to the family’s roots.

Agriculture is the 39 year old’s great passion.

“Food security cannot be taken for granted. The role of farmers as essential service providers has perhaps never been more clear. Our food security relies on farmers’ well-being and resilience,” she recently said in a AVPN presentation.

Jesslyne Widjaja’s family

Jesslyne Widjaja is the daughter of Franky Oesman Widjaja.

Franky Oesman Widjaja is one of five sons of the late Eka Tjipta Widjaja. Eka Tjipta Widjaja moved with his parents to Indonesia from China in 1930.

As a teenager he sold biscuits and candy on the streets of Makassar in South Sulawesi, before getting into commodity trading and palm oil production.

Despite many setbacks including Indonesia’s War for Independence, he persevered in his various business ventures and founded the Sinar Mas Group, now one of Indonesia’s largest conglomerates.

Today, the Sinar Mas Group has interests through various subsidiaries in financial services, agribusiness and palm oil, paper, real estate, telecommunications, and mining.

The conglomerate is controlled by Eka’s sons, including Jesslyn’s father, Franky, who is Chairman and Chief Executive Officer at Sinar Mas Agribusiness & Food.

The Widjaja family’s net worth is estimated at around US$12 billion.

What does Jesslyne Widjaja do?

In 2011, after around five years working in corporate finance in New York, she answered a call to return to Asia to join Golden Agri Resources (SGX: E5H) (a subsidiary of the family’s Sinar Mas Group).

Based in Singapore, Golden Agri Resources is one of the world’s largest palm oil producers. With operations across 12 countries, its annual palm oil output is around 2.2 million tones.

At Golden Agri Resources, Jesslyne Widjaja serves in the role of executive director, strategic business development.

She is also chair of the company’s sustainability committee – an area in which her true passion lies.

She has led the ongoing development of the company’s No Deforestation Forest Conservation Policy, a first for the palm oil industry.

More recently, her focus has been in strengthening the business and financial wellbeing of the farmers in which Golden Agri Resources partners with.

“At the heart of our approach is the recognition that we need to care for the immediate needs of our farming community, such as ensuring decent livelihoods, access to healthcare and education,” she says.

“We work with farmers to provide secure, decent work as palm oil growers, but we have also gone further through various alternative livelihood programs which aim to diversify farmers income streams.

“Only when the basic needs of the farming communities are met and secured are farmers more willing and able to work with us on things like forests and biodiversity conservation.”

Jesslyne Widjaja’s education

Jesslyne Widjaja achieved a Bachelor of Science (Hons) in Chemical Engineering at the University of California, Los Angeles.

She also has an MBA, concentration in finance, from the Wharton School. In her MBA she graduated in the top 5% of the class, earning the distinction of being named a Palmer’s Scholar.

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