By Gary Dean (Semester 4/Feb 1997)
Murdoch University

In March 2013, past ACICIS student, Gary Dean was interviewed by Jakarta Expat. Below is an excerpt from the interview. Read the full interview here.

JE: How long have you been living in Indonesia and what brought you here in the first place?

GD: I’ve lived in Indonesia continuously since 1996. Why did I come to Indonesia? Firstly and principally, because it was not Australia. Psychologically, Australia was choking me; it is an orderly, over-regulated, self-satisfied country that is in love with its own image. I desperately needed some disorder in my life; and Indonesia delivers this in truckloads! In Indonesia, absolutely nothing can be taken for granted.

JE: So how did you get from studying Animal Husbandry to becoming the director and senior consultant for Okusi Associates?

GD: It may seem incongruent, but in fact I see great logical continuity in my journey to where I am today. But for me, my starting point is not animal husbandry, but rather the trombone.

I attended a ‘special’ government high school where music was a major part of the curriculum. For over 3 years, I spent on average 20 hours a week doing instrumental lessons (trombone), concert band rehearsals, and music theory classes, in addition to regular concerts throughout the year.

During this time I also taught myself the guitar. It seemed inevitable, to both myself and all around me, that I was destined to be a musician. But this was the early ’70s, and times were a-changing in Australia. I left school and hit the Australian hippie trail at age 17, joining bands and trading on my music skills to stay alive.

The back-to-the-land movement was strong at that time, with any hippie worth his/her salt heading to the countryside to live in agrarian communes, or at the very least, talking about doing so! This was the beginning of my interest in agriculture, and livestock in particular. I started raising dairy goats, first in Tasmania, then in Fremantle, Western Australia. I formalised my interest by doing a number of college courses, including a Certificate in Animal Technology, Certificate in Animal Nursing, and an Associate Diploma in Agricultural Technology.

This all led to a few agriculture consultancy gigs using my skills and knowledge in this area, including for the Anglican Church, the WA Conservation Council and TAFE.

However, my agricultural career was cut short: I got a job as a computer programmer with a front-company for the Australian Labor Party. This company was set up specifically to undertake polling and campaign activities for the ALP all over Australia, state and federal. My qualifications? Well, apart from being viewed as politically ‘reliable’ in some sense, it seems I was the among the very few at that time (1985) that knew anything about programming the newly-released IBM Personal Computer. I had developed a least-cost ration formulation program for ruminants (goats, sheep, cattle) for a number of small hand-held computers. Thus was I thrust into the world of mainstream political campaigning as a computer systems engineer, devising programs for opinion polling, electorate management and direct mass mail.

But, by 1993, I was quite burnt out. I liked computer programming, but it was never what I intended to do with my life. I needed to change, and I really needed to get out of Australia, which was suffocating me. I thus formalised a plan. I would move to Indonesia. Why? Because it was close, interesting, and potentially not boring.

I started full-time Indonesian language training in 1994, doing an Associate Diploma in Language Studies a Metropolitan College, before transferring to Murdoch University’s Bachelor of Asian Studies program. My first year in this degree course got me to Universitas Gadjah Mada in Yogyakarta under the ACICIS program. And thus started my Indonesian adventure….

In 1997, while still at UGM, I set up a consultancy in Yogyakarta called Okusi Associates catering to the then-booming furniture industry. I set up companies for foreigners wanting to manufacture and export, as well as assisting with government and community relations.

Actually, 1997 was not a good year to start a business of any sort in Indonesia, if you will permit the understatement. The country was collapsing under the weight of the Asian financial crisis, and the repressive Soeharto regime was teetering. Everything fell into a heap in May 1998, but I had nowhere else to go. Unlike the tens of thousands of sensible foreigners who packed up and left, I stayed.

All the while, I continued my degree studies externally, obtaining my BAsianSt in 2000.

Business was understandably quiet for a few years after the fall of Soeharto. I moved my company to Jakarta in 2000, opening an office in Jalan Kebon Sirih Barat, just off Jalan Jaksa.

By 2003 the consultancy part of my business was starting to get very busy. Foreign investors were entering Indonesia again, albeit slowly. In 2006 I opened a branch office in Bali, and in 2008 in Batam. The Jakarta office moved to Jalan Thamrin in 2011. In 2012, Okusi’s three-storey back-office, Graha Okusi, in Kebon Sirih, was opened.

Today Okusi has 55 employees, and an in-house notary, engaged in company establishment, accountancy and tax reporting, immigration services and research. Okusi has established more PMA companies than any other firm in Indonesia.

So, this is what happens when you take up the trombone. I truly often wonder what would have happened if I had learnt the piano instead.