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A younger generation of newly crowned entrepreneurs of the year said that classic entrepreneurial traits of perseverance, team spirit and innovation were keystones that buttressed their ventures against the downturns all businesses see.
“We have been through tough times, but we have always managed to get back on our feet,” Budiarto Halim, CEO of PT Erajaya Swasembada, said recently. Budi was named Entrepreneur of the Year by audit firm Ernst and Young.
Erajaya is a distributor and retailer of leading cell phone brands such as Samsung and BlackBerry. The company became a member of the bourse in 2011 when it conducted an initial public offering (IPO) last November.
According to Budiarto, his company experienced trouble back in 2009 when the company handled the distribution of only a few brands. One of the brands, which the company largely relied on, began to lose popularity, and as a result, sales dwindled.
The circumstances, however, propelled the company to form partnerships with more brands to mitigate the cyclical effects of rising and falling popularity of brands in the market, he added.
“This is where our team played a critical role because they did not abandon the company just because we fell on tough times,” he said.
He added that instilling a sense of pride and ownership in the company was what made his staff stay.
“Business decisions are mostly in the hands of management, not mine. And that is why I am committed to management and my staff,” he said.
Sugianto Tandio, president director of PT Tirta Marta, added that innovation was the linchpin of his company, which manufactures biodegradable plastic bags made of cassava. Sugianto won an award for innovation in the annual contest.
According to him, his company was the first of its kind to manufacture cassava-based plastics, while other companies in the West manufactured biodegradable plastics made of corn.
“I chose cassava because unlike corn, cassava grows fairly easy in Indonesia. So, using cassava is also a way of helping out the cassava farmers,” he said.
He said that it took approximately 10 years of trial and error to finally manufacture the plastic, which he has marketed to modern retailers, such as Alfamart mini markets for the past two years. He added that the trend to “go green” has eased his entrance to the market as well.
“We now manufacture 10,000 tons of cassava-based plastics annually. As many as 50 percent of the production goes to overseas market such as the US, China, Vietnam and Colombia,” he said.
He added that he planned to expand the company’s products to include biodegradable plastic spoons.
He further said that innovation through research and development had yet to be a strong part of local companies given that failure was still a social taboo.
“We have to change our cultural mindset to one that sees failure as a part of success,” he noted.
Meanwhile, founder of Sokola Butet Manurung who was named social entrepreneur of the year, said that people had to see education as a form of investment too. Sokola is an organization that provides education to indigenous communities.
“Investing in education is, in a sense, investing in the future,” she said.
She added that education empowered indigenous communities to protect not only the environment around them, but their culture as well.
“There has not been much attention paid to the field of education for indigenous communities when in fact, people in these communities have the right to receive education that will enable them to make key decisions in their lives,”
Hari Purwanto, country managing partner of Ernst & Young, said that leadership was one of the criteria for candidates during the judging process. Past winners include current State-Owned Enterprise Minister Dahlan Iskan, former CEO of Jawa Pos, and Dato Sri Tahir, executive chairman of Mayapada Group.
“This year, the candidates are markedly younger than candidates in previous years,” he said.
The Entrepreneur of the Year recipient will represent Indonesia at the World Entrepreneur of the Year awards gala. Last year, the awards gala was held in Monte Carlo.