Sukanto Tanoto had a humble beginning. Unlike others who had a head-start given the previous generation’s achievements, Sukanto Tanoto build his empire from scratch. He did not even have a proper education to serve as his trampoline towards success, all he had was the perseverance, dilligence and spirit of excellence.
Today, his businesses employ more than 60,000 people worldwide and have assets of more than US$18 billion. Collectively, his businesses have a global reach with manufacturing operations in Indonesia, China and Brazil and sales worldwide. Sukanto Tanoto is also active in Corporate Social Responsibility and Philanthropic activities because he believed that in order to survive, businesses must be “good for the community, good for the country and good for the company.” In order to execute his philanthropic activities, Sukanto Tanoto set up Tanoto Foundation with his wife, Tinah Bingei. This Foundation focuses on three main areas in Education, Empowerment and Enhancement.
As part of the Empowerment Programme, Sukanto Tanoto and Tinah Bingei Tanoto believe that one form of sustainable empowerment is giving support to the growth of true entrepreneurs. This is also in conjunction with the launch of the National Entrepreneurship Movement (Gerakan Wirausaha Nasional) aimed at encouraging the growth of entrepreneurs in Indonesia. Ex-President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono launched this movement in February 2011 with the aim to help to create employment in the nation. As such, Tanoto Foundation supports the national efforts to increase the number of entrepreneurs and cooperates with Magister Management Program of the Faculty of Economics of the Universitas Indonesia (MM FEUI) to hold the Tanoto Entrepreneurship Series.
The Tanoto Entrepreneurship Series is a series of Public Lectures which present national and international entrepreneurs as speakers who share experiences, tips to be an entrepreneur and inspire young generation to be entrepreneurs.
In entrepreneurship, Sukanto Tanoto believes that there are three stages to a business development from the infancy stage to the mature and stable stage of the organisation. The transition from one stage to the next is crucial to determine the success of the organisation and smooth transitions are only possible with dynamic and flexibile human capital.
The first stage is infancy when pioneers create businesses without too much bureaucracy. The second stage is called project execution where the organisation requires people who are able to act fast in an accurate manner, and when it comes to the third stage, it is called the marathon game, with systems and procedures. It is difficult to expect these diverging skills and systems to co-exist in a single person or in a single team. One size does not fit all. Speaking from experience, Sukanto Tanoto shares that a successful entrepreneur needs to know how to reward people accordingly when running a mature consolidated business. The type of compensation system should apply differently to the three stages of business development in order to align people’s behavior with the need of the business.
Sukanto Tanoto’s advices to young entrepreneurs is never to be scared of failure or making mistakes. But one should not enter a business that they don’t know, and have not done enough homework. That is just a recipe for disaster. Before engaging in a venture that you don’t know, you have to spend time to learn and to ask questions: “why it is like that?” This way, many mistakes can be prevented. However, usually inexperienced entrepreneurs are often blinded by their dreams and too eager to achieve them, such that they have forgotten the basic check of reality and practicality of their ideas.
There are two quotes about Entrepreneurship that Sukanto Tanoto adores. The first is by Winston Churchill, ‘A pessimist sees danger in crisis, but an optimist sees opportunity in crisis.’ This simple means that entrepreneurs see solutions when people see problems. Another quote is a Chinese quote by ‘I Ching’, ‘A crazy idea becomes a vision if it is successful; it becomes a day dream if it fails.’ To put these ideas into reality is what defines Entrepreneurship.
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