Q&A with Leadership Network member Harry Gibson

We chat to Leadership Network member Harry Gibson about moving to Jakarta, Indonesia, and reconnecting with the country he called home as a child.

Who: Harry Gibson

Where: Jakarta since - since October 2019 

Job: Mechanical engineer at Beca

Leadership Network member since: 2018

Leadership Network member Harry Gibson

Harry says he had dreamed of returning to Asia for work since moving back to New Zealand in 2009

What took you to Jakarta?

I had always wanted to work somewhere in Southeast Asia. I was born in Thailand and spent most of my childhood and teenage years in Thailand, Japan and Indonesia [where his father was the New Zealand Ambassador], so since moving to New Zealand in 2009 I’ve been longing to return.

This influenced my wanting to join the Leadership Network, and is also a reason why I aspired to work for Beca after finishing my engineering degree, as they have several offices in Southeast Asia and have worked on many notable projects in the region.

After three years of working for Beca in New Zealand, I was in the right place at the right time in terms of having enough experience, and there being the project opportunities to justify a move to Indonesia. Everything happened very quickly.

How did you find settling in in Jakarta?

Given that I’d lived here before, I felt right at home coming (or should I say, returning) to Jakarta. The energy and scale of the city is something I enjoy, though I’m aware that it can be overwhelming for many.

My ability to speak Bahasa Indonesia had all but disappeared while in New Zealand, so I’ve been making a conscious effort to pick up the language again with limited success. It’s amazing to see how much has changed in the 10 years since I was last here.

Tell us about your work

Currently my work in Indonesia revolves around nickel processing and refining, specifically the engineering and construction of furnaces and process facilities.

Traditionally used as a feed material in the production of stainless steel, nickel is also a major component in Lithium Ion batteries for Electric Vehicles (EV’s).

With the EV industry set to take off over the coming decade as technology improves and vehicle prices come down, as well as a looming ban on raw nickel ore exports by the Indonesian government to catalyze sustainable downstream investment within the country, it is an exciting time to be involved in the industry.

The majority of my work in New Zealand was focused around food and beverage manufacturing, so I’m really enjoying this opportunity to work on something different.

Has any of your Leadership Network experiences helped you with work/life in Jakarta?

Absolutely. I’d say that one of my top motivations for joining the network was to help myself to look beyond “just” engineering and to appreciate the greater social, economic, and political landscape in Asia.

Getting to meet LN members from a diverse range of career backgrounds, and rubbing shoulders with visiting young business leaders from Asia through the foundation’s YBLI programme has certainly made me more conscious of things like export markets, trade policy, and Asian business culture, all of which are becoming more and more relevant in my own field of work, especially in Indonesia.

Leadership Network member Harry Gibson

Later this year Harry will relocate to Luwu Timur, in South Sulawesi

Was there anything that really surprised you about Indonesia when you first arrived?

Not so much in Jakarta, as I’ve spent plenty of time growing up here, but I’ve what I’ve found really interesting to experience is the multiculturalism across different islands of the archipelago.

Previously, I’d only really spent time in Jakarta and around West Java; however, my work now requires me to travel a lot to Luwu Timur, in South Sulawesi, and I will relocate there later this year.

The food, language, culture, and customs are noticeably different, and admittedly this is something I hadn’t appreciated as much during my previous tenure in Indonesia.

I love the reaction I get from the locals there when conversing (in my broken Bahasa) and I add a few colloquialisms and slang words that I’ve picked up that are unique to South Sulawesi. Instant smiles and laughter.

What do you do in your free time in Jakarta?

In the weekends you can find me exploring the gargantuan malls and shopping centers dotted around Jakarta, as well as eating copious amounts of ayam geprek or nasi rendang.

Every once in a while, I’ll look to have a long weekend and travel somewhere further afield. I’ve recently travelled to Lombok and the Gili islands over New Year holiday period, and I have several trips planned to various other islands in coming months.

What advice would you give someone thinking about upping sticks and moving to Asia?

If the opportunity is there and the circumstances allow, I’d say go for it! The experience is invaluable, and there is so much to be learned from living and working in a new culture. Just think about the food!

If there was one thing that you could have magically transported from NZ to Jakarta for a day, what would it be?

My trusty 4WD! Not only would it be great to have for Jakarta flooding (which is a regular thing), but when I’m in South Sulawesi for work, a capable 4WD would be amazing for exploring the surrounding jungle in search of waterfalls and swimming spots. There’s quite a large 4WD community in the area and so I’d love to go on a day trip through the bush at some point. I’ve recently obtained my Indonesian driver’s license too!