Lesson from RI's richest man: Don't break trust
Rendi A. Witular
The Jakarta Post
His modesty and low profile may have led to Robert Budi Hartono, Indonesia's richest man, being overlooked by most of the crowd attending Bank Indonesia's (BI) recent prestigious annual bankers' powwow.
Several of the bankers did not even realize that they were speaking to a tycoon with a net worth of US$8.5 billion, according to Forbes, until they were quietly apprised of his prominence.
Seventy-two-year-old Pak Budi, as he is widely known, rarely makes public appearances, let alone grants interviews.
Unlike other, more typical, Indonesian billionaires who have no hesitation in flaunting their extravagant wealth, Budi is more discreet.
He walked into the event at BI headquarters on Thursday evening unaccompanied by a secretary, assistant or even a bodyguard.
Budi, who is ranked 131 in the Forbes global billionaire list, did not arrive in an ostentatious limousine. He was driven in a more modest Toyota Land Cruiser, which costs around Rp 1.55 billion ($133,000) in Jakarta.
He did not carry a lavish gold-and-diamond-encrusted Vertu mobile phone, only an early model Blackberry and his shoes were simple and locally made.
Budi also dislikes golf, which has negative associations here as a sport not only favored by the rich but also by corrupt officials and legislators.
'I've never liked playing golf. I prefer to be on the treadmill to keep in shape,' Budi told The Jakarta Post in his soft-spoken manner.
He said he was still fit, and had no serious illness.
'I don't avoid any particular food. But I don't eat too much,' he said, with a smile.
But when it comes to his business empire, no other local tycoon can compete, not even close.
According to Forbes as of March this year, the country's third richest man was Sri Prakash Lohia with a net worth of $3.4 billion, less than half Budi's wealth. The second richest was apparently Budi's elder brother Michael Bambang Hartono with $8.2 billion.
Budi's flagships include Bank Central Asia (BCA), the country's largest privately owned bank; PT Djarum, the second largest cigarette producer; Kaskus, the largest community website; and Hotel Indonesia and Grand Indonesia shopping mall.
When asked about the recipe behind his success, Budi took some time to think before he answered: 'Trust'.
'Don't ever break someone's trust. Once you do, then nobody wants to do business with you.'
He also underscored the importance of hard work. 'If you ask me about my hobby. Well, it's simple: work, work and work.'
Despite his age, Budi remains active, handing out to fellow guests his business card embossed with his title of president director and CEO of PT Djarum, a company set up by his father in his hometown of Kudus, Central Java, the management of which passed to him and his brother in the 1960s.
It was the wealth accumulated from Djarum's kretek (clove) cigarettes that allowed the family to diversify its business after the 1998 financial crisis, including the purchase of a controlling stake in BCA from the Salim family, once Indonesia's richest.
While refusing to go into details of his businesses, Budi shared a glimpse into how he manages the empire. 'I appoint professionals to do the job,' he said.
'But supervision is key. I always assign auditors to strictly supervise the businesses.'
Although Budi still seems fit for his job, questions naturally arise over the leadership succession.
His eldest son, Victor, has been entrusted with managing Djarum, as well as the group's foundation and charities, while his second son Martin has a penchant for the IT business, with Kaskus as his hallmark and he is also responsible for Djarum's IT. The youngest, Armand, is a director of BCA.
While the prospects for his businesses seem good, Budi has warned of uncertainty in the economy next year caused by the indecision surrounding the US Federal Reserve's plan to taper off its monthly bond purchases.
'There will be a hold put on expansion [because of the uncertainty next year],' he said.
'But I believe, eventually, things will get better, and I am very optimistic about that.'
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