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Sugi Hadikusumo, a self-proclaimed “nerd,” was born and raised in Jakarta, Indonesia, and eventually settled down in the US with dreams of becoming a scientist.
“I never in a million years thought that I would be a lawyer, ever,” Hadikusumo declares. “I had a fairly conservative family and upbringing, and it was pounded in my head that I should be the typical doctor, engineer, or scientist—something very ‘practical.'”
In college at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, he triple-majored in biochemistry, chemistry, and molecular biology, graduating in 1999.
“Science was always a big focus for me, and I was on that career track through and through,” Hadikusumo notes.
While in college, he had done some independent studies in food science, and one of his mentors suggested he go to grad school to further his education in that field.
He moved on to get a master’s in food chemistry from Rutgers University and started working at a flavor company. At the time, he still had no interest in the legal field, nor was he familiar with the field.
A close friend of his, a paralegal who was working at a patent law firm and was applying to law schools, convinced Hadikusumo to go to law school. He argued that Hadikusumo’s background would be great for patent law.
After obtaining his law degree from Fordham University, Hadikusumo’s first job out of law school was for the firm Fitzpatrick, Cella, Harper & Scinto, doing mostly patent prosecution.
Hadikusumo’s original ambition was to become a partner at the firm, but then he realized he wanted to expand his work experience and be closer to the clients he supported. That realization led him to wanting something new.
Hadikusumo soon took an in-house role as intellectual property counsel at AkzoNobel, a Dutch chemical company. He was still doing patent prosecution but also started branching out into some transactional work and contract work. Soon, much to his excitement, he embarked on a six-month stint in the Netherlands.
“European patent attorneys are highly technical people; they have to go through a training program and pass a tough exam in order to qualify,” he explains. “However, a law degree is not a requirement to become a European patent attorney, so many of them do not have formal legal training. The idea was to have me there as someone who they could consult with on important legal issues.”
While Hadikusumo was still in the Netherlands, the company announced it was closing its New York-based office and transferring all personnel to Chicago. Wanting to stay in the New York area, he started searching for a new job.
“When the finished product comes out and I see it, it feels good. But it’s not something I do alone.”
In 2014, after three years at AkzoNobel, he joined PepsiCo as legal director for global IP and was eventually promoted to his current position of senior legal director for global IP law in 2017. He started his career at PepsiCo supporting the beverage equipment R&D team; his responsibilities have since expanded to supporting the global beverage R&D team, including the beverage packaging and ingredients R&D teams. He no longer does much day-to-day patent work, though he manages the outside counsel who perform that function for the company.
What Hadikusumo enjoys about his job is seeing a product go from an idea to fruition—and knowing he played a role in having it come together. He’s always excited to point things out to his friends when they see something he’s worked on for what could be upward of years.
“Something like using a camera for interaction in a vending machine and looking [to see] if there’s anything we can protect and how we can execute the design effectively. I get to see things go from the beginning to end,” Hadikusumo explains.
An example is the company’s recent release of its new redesigned two-liter bottle—its first redesign in more than three decades. It took PepsiCo almost three years of research, development, and consumer testing to get to the new designs.
“I knew the pains that they went through at the beginning and the changes that were made in the design along the way,” he says. “When the finished product comes out and I see it, it feels good. But it’s not something I do alone.”
As another example, PepsiCo just partnered with the Boston Beer Company to produce a hard cider, and Hadikusumo was instrumental in those negotiations from both the R&D and the IP side.
Working for PepsiCo has allowed him to dip into the food chemistry biz he was once interested in—Hadikusumo reveals he wanted to apply for a position at PepsiCo way back in graduate school—and he’s happy to be part of such an amazing organization.
In addition, he is excited about the journey the company is going through, specifically the company’s plastic sustainability journey. “I’m excited to see how our sustainability journey goes and where we will wind up. We are working industry-wide with peer companies to address this, and I’m happy to be part of the solution.”