Five Indonesians shine
on Forbes billionaire list

Everybody is affected by the present global financial crisis. But not Indonesians Michael Hartono and brother R. Budi Hartono, owners of the country’s second-largest cigarette company, who made it into the annual list of billionaires, as published by Forbes magazine.

Though the wealth of the Hartono brothers was trimmed from US$2 billion in 2008 to $1.7 billion in 2009 due to the global financial crisis, they jumped to 430th position on the 2009 Forbes World’s Billionaires list from 605 last year.

Forbes magazine released the names of the world’s 793 richest people on Wednesday, five of whom were Indonesian businessmen. Topping the list was computer czar and Microsoft Corporation founder Bill Gates, followed by property and casualty insurance company Berkshire Hathaway chairman Warren Buffet, both from the United States.

Michael, 69, and Budi, 68, who ranked 605 on the list last year with a wealth of $2 billion each, now have only $1.7 billion apiece. Besides owning clove cigarette company Gudang Garam, they also own shares in Indonesia’s largest bank – Bank Central Asia (BCA) – and the Grand Indonesia luxury shopping mall, office building and hotel complex.

The brothers have surpassed Singapore-based tycoon Sukanto Tanoto, 59, ranked 450th on the list with $1.6 billion in wealth. Forbes listed Sukanto, owner of paper, construction and palm oil industries under the Raja Garuda Mas Group, as the richest man in Indonesia in 2008, with $3.8 billion in wealth.

“The cigarette business has shown greater resilience since the 1998 economic crisis, and the trend has continued to date. It can rely much on domestic consumption, at a time when the export-driven sector, such as commodities, has slowed down as global demand shrinks,” said University of Indonesia economist Berly Martawardaya.

Forbes also listed Martua Sitorus, 49, owner of palm oil company Wilmar International Group, in 522nd place with $1.4 billion in wealth. The next Indonesian on the list is the 701st-ranked Peter Sondakh, 57, with $1 billion in interests in the telecommunications, retail and hotel businesses.

“It’s a great thing that we still have Indonesian businessmen in the list, despite the crisis,” said M.S. Hidayat, chairman of the Indonesian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (Kadin).

“Gudang Garam has shown that it can maintain its market of consumers from the middle- to lower-income brackets under any condition.”

This year, the world’s billionaires have an average net worth of $3 billion, down 23 percent in 12 months. The world now has 793 billionaires, down from 1,125 a year ago, Forbes reported.

The top 20 in the list are still mostly Americans. Bill Gates lost $18 billion, but regained his title as the world’s richest man, even as the world’s richest are also a lot poorer, the Forbes website said.

Warren Buffett, last year’s No. 1, saw his fortune decline $25 billion as shares of Berkshire Hathaway fell nearly 50 percent in 12 months, but he still managed to slip just one spot to No. 2. Mexican telecoms titan Carlos Slim Helú also lost $25 billion and dropped one spot to No. 3.

Forbes said, “It was hard to avoid the carnage, whether you were in stocks, commodities, real estate or technology. Even people running profitable businesses were hammered by frozen credit markets, weak consumer spending or declining currencies”.

The biggest loser in the world this year, by dollars, was last year’s biggest gainer. India’s Anil Ambani lost $32 billion – 76 percent of his fortune – as shares of his Reliance Communications, Reliance Power and Reliance Capital all collapsed.

Ambani is one of 24 Indian billionaires, all but one of whom are poorer than a year ago. Another 29 Indians lost their billionaire status entirely as India’s stock market tumbled 44 percent in the past year and the Indian rupee depreciated 18 percent against the dollar. It is no longer the top spot in Asia for billionaires, ceding that title to China, which has 28.

Russia became the epicenter of the world’s commodities bust, losing 55 billionaires – two-thirds of its 2008 crop. Among them: Dmitry Pumpyansky, an industrialist from the resource-rich Ural mountains region, who lost $5 billion as shares of his pipe producer, TMK, sank 84 percent.

Also gone is Vasily Anisimov, father of Moscow’s Paris Hilton, Anna Anisimova, who lost $3.2 billion as the value of his Metalloinvest Holding, one of Russia’s largest ore mining and processing firms, fell along with his real estate holdings.

Twelve months ago, Moscow overtook New York as the billionaire capital of the world, with 74 tycoons to New York’s 71. Today, there are 27 in Moscow and 55 in New York.

Post Your Say

Selected comments will be published in the Readers’ Forum page of our print newspaper.