Dyah Soewito, a highly regarded Indonesian lawyer and co-founding partner of SSEK Legal Consultants, passed away on 5 August at the age of 67 due to covid-19 complications. In her 29 years with the firm, she mentored many legal professionals.
Soewito, or Mbak (elder sister) Dyah to her friends and colleagues, started her career at Mochtar Karuwin Komar (MKK) in 1977, and established herself as a renowned corporate lawyer. In 1992, Soewito set up her own firm with MKK colleagues Retty Suhardiman, Ira Eddymurthy, and Agustina Kardono. That firm was named Soewito Suhardiman Eddymurthy Kardono (SSEK).
“Mbak Dyah’s death was unexpected,” said Eddymurthy. “She had tested negative twice for covid-19 and was improving, scheduled to be moved from the ICU. Then matters took a sudden turn for the worse. God had other plans for her.”
“She played an important role in the development of my profession. She was a dear friend to me for 37 years, being a mentor, friend and sister for me. She will always be in my heart and my prayers.”
Soewito built SSEK into one of the leading full-service firms in the country. For many, she was more than a boss or colleague, but a role model. Denny Rahmansyah, the managing partner of SSEK, who joined the firm in 2001, is such lawyer.
“She was my mentor and the first partner at the firm who trusted me in handling a big project when I was still a rookie,” said Rahmansyah. “I always admired her for being generous to others, and being a wise person who I look up to. We will continue her legacy, and I am sure she is now happy in a better place, seeing many people loved her so much and sent prayers for her.”
Mohamad Kadri, senior partner of Guido Hidayanto & Partners and a former partner at SSEK from 2004 to 2006, said: “She was considered the mother of all the young lawyers, and she monitored and guided them from junior level up to the point where they became a partner.
“She had the ability to bridge and balance professionalism and collegiality, which made SSEK a solid top law firm in Indonesia.”
Johannes Sahetapy-Engel, a founding partner of AKSET Law, admitted honing his knowledge and skills in oil and gas matters from Soewito when he was a partner at SSEK from 2007 to 2010. “I wouldn’t be where I am if it weren’t for her,” he said.
For Zacky Husein, a partner at Assegaf Hamzah & Partners, SSEK was the firm he spent his formative years as an associate, from 1994 to 1999. “SSEK would not be SSEK without Ibu Dyah Soewito as the first ‘S’,” he said. “She came across as quite intimidating at first, but once you knew her, you could tell that she was a kind and caring person.”
Husein recalled addressing Soewito formally as Ibu (madam), “but she preferred Mbak as it is friendlier and warmer, just like the person she was,” he said. “I think she would like to be remembered as that, a kind, caring and warm person.”
Soewito was also the first mentor for Bagus Nur Buwono, managing partner of Bagus Enrico & Partners, when he started his career at SSEK in 1997 as an associate.
“I learned to understand the work ethic of a corporate lawyer with high integrity from her,” said Buwono. “The experience of working with her became a reference for me in my professional life, including in developing my law office now.
Tjahyono Firmansyah, a founding partner of Arifin Purba & Firmansyah, who was with SSEK from 1996 to 2005, said Soewito was someone he considered a role model, even after leaving the firm.
“Together with the other partners, Ibu Dyah successfully built SSEK’s character inside and outside the firm,” said Firmansyah. “Ibu Dyah had sincerely embraced us as a brother or sister, children or family. She was very compassionate and heartwarming.”
Vera Galuh, vice president and general secretary of Danone Indonesia, shared the same memory of Soewito, her first boss and mentor, when she was an associate at SSEK from 1998 to 2004.
“The legal knowledge and learnings in SSEK with Mbak Dyah really shaped my ways of thinking, and experiences to date,” said Galuh. “There has never been any barriers or walls in connecting with her. She sees us as friends, even more so, as family.”
Richard Pedler, a business development consultant at Hiswara Bunjamin & Tandjung, said Soewito was much more than a mentor to him during his time as operations and communications director at SSEK, from 1998 to 2008. “She made the firm my home for 10 rewarding years, combining the best of human traits – honesty, humility and empathy,” said Pedler. “She will be deeply missed by us all.”
Passing the torch
Soewito graduated from the faculty of law at the University of Indonesia in 1977, and was a visiting scholar with the school of law at the University of California, Berkeley, in 1988. She was a specialist in oil and gas, shipping and foreign investment, and groomed many lawyers in these practice areas, including several in-house counsel.
Indri Khrisnavari, general counsel at Total E&P Indonesie, recollected time working with Soewito at SSEK for six years, particularly on land acquisition for oil and gas projects and resorts. “She was one of my mentors who has contributed to my career, not only the knowledge and experience she shared with me, but also the trust,” said Khrisnavari.
“She was very caring and supportive of my career, and also taught me to be disciplined, to ensure all work was completed on time, and clients were happy with the results. I may not remember everything she told me, but I will always remember that she and other SSEK founders and advisers have made me proud as an SSEK alumna.”
Wijayanto Kusumantri, a contracts manager at Schlumberger who was with SSEK as an associate from 1998 to 2005, is grateful to have worked with Soewito. “Mbak Dyah was always a leading light of SSEK, the torch that illuminated and guided the paths of SSEK associates to embark on their pursuit of professional and personal career achievements,” said Kusumantri. “Farewell Mbak Dyah, and many, many thanks for everything.”
Ade Adamy, an associate director, legal and compliance at Merck Sharp & Dohme Indonesia in Jakarta, remembered her time with Soewito when she was an associate at the firm from 2001 to 2017. “For me particularly, she told me to be a woman who can do everything – be a wife, a mother and a lawyer,” said Adamy. “She showed me that women can be successful in their careers and still take care of the family.”