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RGE Founder and Chairman Sukanto Tanoto was recently featured by international broadcaster CNBC as he shared his five-decade journey as an entrepreneur in the second season of Lasting Legacy, a programme that explores the secrets behind the success of the world’s leading family businesses and business families.
The feature offers a timely retrospective of Sukanto Tanoto’s rise from humble beginnings as a modest entrepreneur to one of Indonesia’s leading businessmen whose companies collectively employ over 60,000 people worldwide and hold assets exceeding US$18 billion—all while holding a philosophy of creating shared value for the community, country, climate and customer at their core.
With Gut and Gumption
Thrown into the deep end as a 17 year-old under trying circumstances, the young Sukanto Tanoto had to take the reins of his family’s spare parts supply business in his hometown of Medan, Indonesia. At the age of 24, the hardy youngster found the big break he had been looking for when he started PT Raja Garuda Mas (RGM) to move into plywood manufacturing.
“The Indonesian government was going through a very big expansion. They needed plywood, so why did they export round logs to Singapore, to Taiwan to Korea, to Japan, but they also imported plywood for their own use? So we noticed it, and we said, why not produce plywood domestically? So that’s how we began building our business in plywood,” reflected Sukanto Tanoto. The Besitang Plywood Mill was officially opened in 1975 by then-President Suharto of Indonesia, with his Cabinet ministers in attendance. The rest, as they say, is history.
The road to success was not without its storms, however. When asked to recount the most severe challenge he faced, Sukanto Tanoto cited the Asian Financial Crisis, which proved to be a tumultuous time for the Chairman and his family. With gut and gumption, and assisted by a core team of loyal staff, Sukanto Tanoto was able to overcome the financial tsunami that hit much of Asia.
The event crystalised the importance of an element Sukanto Tanoto cites as crucial to success.
“I call it AQ, adversity quotient. The ability to take stress, because anything can happen,” said Sukanto Tanoto.
A Legacy to Last
Even as Sukanto Tanoto and his wife, Tinah Bingei Tanoto toiled together to build their business, they kept their four children close to the action by allowing them to spend holidays in the plantations.
“Growing up, we always go to the back to the fields and to the plantation. So we always have this very strong emotional connection to the business”, said youngest daughter Belinda Tanoto, a Board of Trustees member at Tanoto Foundation, the family’s philanthropic arm.
Anderson Tanoto, the youngest of the Tanoto children and also member of the Tanoto Foundation Board of Trustees, said of his father, “What has amazed me is the passion that still drives him; for 50 years, and the same passion still drives him now”.
The episode also covered Founder & Chairman’s philosophy for the business, focusing on his commitment to creating shared value.
As he puts it, “If you don’t care about the community, don’t care about the country, you will not sustain. It’s very simple.” It is as much a wise advice for the future as it is a summation of 50 years of business experience.
Agreeing, Mr Bey Soo Khiang, Vice Chairman of RGE and Chairman of APRIL said, “What I like about the companies here is that they’re bringing these core values to life. It’s not just spoken about, it’s not only discussed or hung on the walls, but it’s also practiced very much in the business itself.”
Ultimately, Lasting Legacy is a series exactly as its name suggests – a look at how the best companies and their leaders create a legacy to last. To that, Belinda Tanoto had much to say about the lessons she had learnt from her father.
“From that humble beginning, he’s managed to build a business that’s grown. From the local level, to the national, to regional, and global. And I think the biggest lesson that I learned from him is that sense of perseverance and hard work; that entrepreneurial spirit is something that we appreciate and we look forward to preserving in the future generations,” concluded Belinda.
For more coverage on Sukanto Tanoto’s feature in CNBC, read the article published by CNBC here