It takes imaginative minds to conjure up ideas that lead to the creation of high technology machines. General Electric, a company originally established by Thomas Alva Edison in 1890, has been present in Indonesia for over 70 years. Handry Satriago, GE Indonesia CEO, spoke to The Jakarta Post’s Mariel Grazella on how a calculated vision provides solutions to problems from health to energy.
Question: Why does GE tout imagination as a central theme of its company and products when the US-based firm mainly deals with heavy, high technology equipment?
Answer: A good product starts with imagination. We begin our work with an instilled confidence that we should be able to make anything we can imagine.
This is exactly like what Thomas Alva Edison did.
Healthymagination is our health-related initiative that focuses on the three aspects of improving health quality by creating access to health care, creating tailored health equipment and reducing the price of this equipment.
Before Healthymagination, we had Ecomagination, which focused on products that were environmentally friendly.
And what should the process of bringing imagination to life be like?
We have research and development centers located in the US, Germany, Brazil and China.
Ideas, however, comes from everybody, including those who are directly in contact with customers.
We must develop products that answer problems faced by the market.
Every year, we hold growth playbook (GPB) sessions between May and June, during which we plot our three-year business plans.
The questions revolve around how to create growth in our business. The questions are usually asked of employees who will then sound out ideas.
We collect those ideas at the country-level and make a rough market versus cost calculation to measure what it takes to realize the ideas.
Then, I will represent Indonesia in a discussion at the regional level during which ideas from every region battle it out. Normally, only around five ideas from every region will go forward to the headquarters, which will eventually decide on the ideas that will be executed.
How has Indonesia contributed to the global company in terms of ideas and products?
An idea that several countries — most notably Indonesia and India — had in common was the portable ultrasonography (USG) scanner and the V-Scan that became part of our rural healthcare initiative in 2012.
Healthcare in Indonesia is highly concentrated in cities where most of the hospitals exist.
Our team found out that health care problems were abundant in rural areas.
After digging deeper, the team realized that problems had acutely affected mothers and children, especially at child birth.
That was where the idea of making a portable scanner, intended to aid midwives, came from.
We have released more than 100 units of this product and have donated around seven in relation to a campaign for the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) program.
Our biomass gasifier was another idea born in Indonesia that was part of our 2013 GPB.
We saw difficulties in linking every island with electricity cables leading to power plants.
So we came up with the idea of making compact biomass gasifiers, which run on materials such as compost and wood chips.
Biomass gasification technology is not new. But we wanted to come up with biomass gasifiers that can work with low rank coal, which Indonesia has heaps of.
Unfortunately, power plants cannot utilize this coal, which makes the coal unsellable, because of the coal’s low calorie content.
Ideas from around the world battling it out is a huge challenge. How do you get your ideas accepted?
Benefit and cost calculations aside, you need to have passion. It is the same way around the world — whoever believes in an idea must fight for it.
Success may not be guaranteed because sometimes, our ideas pan out and we have to revisit them. However, we always work with the rationale that not only the numbers are taken into account, but also the strategic importance of adopting a specific idea.
If we can draw the attention of the government or other stakeholders with this idea, we will go ahead.
I think we are lucky because innovation is already part of the GE culture. What I keep telling colleagues is that thinking out of the box is like swimming — you have to practice.
We hold informal meetings and share ideas.
People are the bed of ideas. Does GE have an initiative to stir ideas in people?
The learning curve is critical, which can come by clocking practice hours. We conduct leadership development programs because we need leaders who can drive change.
GE has the Crotonville learning center where we work with customers to develop training.
Some of the training goes on here in Indonesia where we base training on the best practices in the US. We train more than 200 people annually here.
But we are very specific when it comes to choosing people to bring to Crotonville because we want to send future leaders.
Last year, we sent 13 people and the year before, 21.
GE’s Crotonville alumni include Emirsyah Satar, PT Garuda Indonesia president director, and other board members of Garuda, board members at PT Perusahaan Listrik Negara (PLN) and business tycoon Chairul Tanjung.
During sessions at Crotonville, we invite professors from the best universities to share ideas and hold discussions with other customers from Nigeria to Japan.
This global customer summit programs is held for 7 days.