Sukanto Tanoto – In an interview with Sukanto Tanoto, he was asked ‘What does it take to be successful in pioneering: create something out of nothing and what kind of people we need to lead this kind of business?" His reply was "people who take calculated risks".
Many businesses experience financial success in their field, but it’s important for them to realize that they don’t get there alone. Once a company reaches the goals that it set for success and begins to grow, it shouldn’t forget those less fortunate. Such is the sentiment of a few highly successful business owners, including Mr Sukanto Tanoto.
Big business needs to get involved in the community
It’s no secret that Mr Sukanto Tanoto believes in enriching the lives of others by sharing his success to the extent of being involved in innumerable community projects and philanthropy. He is considered a highly successful entrepreneur in his own right and has shared many tips on how successful business men and women can and should give back when they attain their goals. Here are just two ways in which your business can be economically and socially responsible:
Get involved in sponsoring local events. The Tanoto Foundation is involved in many local environmental clean-up events, student educational events and more.
Scholarships. These are a great way to give back to the community and to also ensure the future of your community. Without student funding, skilled and talented youth will never realize their potential and bring economic relief to your community. Mr Tanoto bestows the Indonesian community with many scholarships, particularly for inventive students or those with an interest in paper production.
Keep up to date with community events and scholarships hosted and provided by Mr Sukanto Tanoto by visiting the Tanoto Foundation website regularly. Students are also invited to apply for the scholarship program offered by the foundation.
With the stack of complaints and protests from people and the society in Indonesia due to the company’s operation that allegedly damages the environment, Anderson Tanoto, the next-generation leader of the company stated the company’s intention to work on the issue. This future leader of Tanoto’s business empire gives hope to the Sumatran environment by taking different approach to the environmental concerns that have long overshadowed the family’s business.
Commitment for the environment
Anderson Tanoto, 24, is now pledging the long-term commitment of the company towards Indonesia’s environment. He stated his willingness to reset the company’s relationship with the green activists who have protested and criticized the company’s practice in pulp and paper business sector. In a gathering held July 2013 in Kerinci, Riau, Anderson told the media about the importance to give second generation leaders an aspiration to become more interactive and value the role of environment while keep the business running. It is also one of the ways towards a better world.
RGE to be More Transparent
Tanoto’s businesses have suffered lots of accusations when it comes to environmental matters. The youngest son of Sukanto Tanoto is currently serving as an assistant manager at Asia Pacific Resources International Limited (APRIL), which focuses on pulp and paper production.
In accordance to his statement, some business analysts said that Anderson is the favorite successor to continue Tanoto’s family business by widening the business focuses from pulp and paper to agriculture. As we already know, the pulp and paper business has become a regular object for the green activists to voice their protest because its business activities considered damaging the environment, due to the massive deforestation in order to get the primary materials for the production.
However, instead of remaining silent, Anderson took the chance to speak up about the company’s intention to fix the relationship, and avoid pointing fingers at the campaigners. The company has also prepared budget for Kampar restoration for about $17 million.
Being successful in establishing and managing his business kingdom, Sukanto Tanoto, the chairperson of Raja Garuda Mas (RGM) is listed in the Indonesia’s richest tycoon. According to Forbes magazine, by 2012, Sukanto ranks the seventh as the richest businessperson with assets more than US $2.8 billion or equal to Rp 26.6 trillions. Although his net asset has fallen by $500 million from 2011, Sukanto is still capable of recording fantastic revenue values, derived from his companies.
The decrease was mostly due to the low estimated profit margin at one of his companies, Asia Pacific Resources International Limited (APRIL). With his assets, Sukanto Tanoto also sits in the 503rd wealthiest person in World Billionaires List. Born in Medan, North Sumatra, Indonesia, Sukanto Tanoto accumulated his assets, worth of US $2.8 billions, through some of his companies with offices in some areas in Indonesia and abroad, including in Singapore, Jakarta, Hong Kong, Beijing, and Nanjing.
Starting his career as an underdog, Sukanto Tanoto continued his family business at the age of 17 by supplying spare parts to the oil companies and construction industries. After the death of his father, he took over the family business and managed to establish the main and foremost pulp and paper company in Asia. Not only that, Sukanto also managed to make his company enter the New York Stock Exchange, which makes it such an extraordinary achievement. His companies are playing in various sectors at the present, such as palm oil, paper, construction, and energy resources.
Lots of Hardship, Lots of Gain
Mr. Tanoto is capable to reach his position today through hardships and hard works. His mother’s strong character is the one that helped shape his character and led him to become a decisive businessperson today. In addition, Sukanto Tanoto also has a great willingness to help the community by establishing Tanoto Foundation, which focuses on the development of human resources in Indonesia.
The hardship of his past is what shapes Sukanto Tanoto today. His father is an immigrant from Putian city, Fujian province, mainland China. Born 65 years ago, young Sukanto was not able to finish his high school at the age of 17. It was because all local Chinese schools were shut down in the New Order Era by Suharto, due to his obscurity of hatred towards the Chinese ethnic people. He also was not able to continue his study to national school because his parents held Chinese citizenship. In this sense, he tried to learn Bahasa Indonesia and English independently, using the dictionary.
The Childhood of Sukanto Tanoto
Sukanto Tanoto claims that he inherits his mother’s harsh character. In his childhood, Sukanto often sneaked quietly to play on the beach, and her mother was not happy about that. His tough and bold character also plays important role in shaping his attitude in business. That is what takes him into his place right now.
Young Sukanto had a dream of becoming a doctor but he could not pursue his dream due to financial constraints. Instead of continuing his studies, Sukanto chose to continue the family business to sell oil, gasoline, and automobile equipments. By this experience, Sukanto learned business management and and problem solving skill. These contribute to his never-give-up attitude.
The Beginning of Success
In 1972, he started his own plywood company. He was the pioneer in producing plywood while at that time; Indonesia still imported plywood from other country. His ability to see the market’s potential turned into his first company, CV Karya Pelita, which is then changed its name into PT Raja Garuda Mas (RGM). Once he succeeded with his first business, Sukanto Tanoto established other business in various sectors; now, he owns more than 10 companies in Indonesia and abroad countries. His struggles against poverty; and hardship turns him from zero to hero.
Still in the series of posts about Sukanto Tanoto’s keys to success in business, the recent post focuses on his “think, act, learn, read, listen, and see,” principles. He thinks two steps ahead his competitors. He acts immediately to realize his visions. He learns from mistakes. He reads every kind of books. He listens to what people say about his business, and he sees the condition of other people surrounding his business enterprises.
A Lifetime Student
Having been successful in running his business does not make the man, who can speak in both English and Mandarin, satisfied with himself. He keeps seeking for more knowledge and learning new trends in business. This is evident from the fact that he ever took a course in Insead, Paris. He was also a regular member of a Management Education and Development Institution in Jakarta.
Even currently, he often takes a leave to participate in short course or seasonal course. “I have another career in my life: a lifetime student,” he said. One time, he took a three-week course in Harvard, another time in Tokyo, or in London School of Economic. “If I don’t know about something, I find the answer by asking to the expert,” he said further.
“Do the right thing, do the thing right”
This is another principle Sukanto Tanoto always holds in every aspect of his business. “Do the right thing” refers to how he manages his business. He utilizes and develops the existing resources. He is responsive to the changing market demands, and he is responsible to the environment and the society. “Do the thing right” means that he puts emphasis on immediate action. “Never waste your time in futile; do the thing right by listening and getting involved in it,” he said. Finally, Sukanto Tanoto is never interested in confusing business and politics. This shows that he is a pure businessperson and that is why he succeeds.
The previous post discussed that three of Sukanto Tanoto’s keys to success are eagerness to read, learning by doing, and creativity to find opportunities other people may not recognize. In fact, Sukanto Tanoto still has some other keys to success in his business “think, act, learn, read, hear, and see”. They include competition strategy and learning from mistakes.
Two Steps Ahead the Competitors
This is the competition strategy applied by Sukanto Tanoto. “I take two steps ahead before other people think about an opportunity.” He successfully applied this competition strategy when he established palm tree plantation in Sumatera. At the time he established the company, there was no large-scale private plantation in Sumatra, even though there had been some large-scale foreign plantations there. When the other investors followed his path, his business has been established.
Learning from mistakes
Even a successful businessperson is not free from mistakes. The same thing applies for Sukanto Tanoto. However, for him, mistake is no something to regret. Instead, it is something to learn from. He admitted that he made a mistake in running PT. Inti Indorayon Utama (IIU). The company focuses in reforestation to produce pulp, paper, and rayon. It also supplied superior seeds of pulp-producing timber. The company was subject to rejection from the surrounding society and environmental activists due to alleged pollution on Toba Lake. As a result, UII was temporarily shut off.
Sukanto Tanoto got meaningful learning from the mistake and he promised not to do the same mistake in the future. He proved it when establishing his second pulp company in Riau – PT. Riau Pulp, one of the world’s largest pulp factories. To minimize the risk of public rejection, he works with non-governmental organizations to design a community development program for the surrounding community. What we did was “giving the seeds and we educate the community on how to cultivate them in a proper way.”
One of the richest businesspersons in Indonesia, with investments in more than 10 countries in the world, Sukanto Tanoto was not born and grown up in a wealthy family. His father, Amin Tanoto, passed away when Sukanto Tanoto was 18 years old. After his father’s death, as the oldest child in his family, he then received the burden to support his family. It was another reason for him to quit going to school, in addition to disadvantageous government’s decision at that time.
The question is how could he become a rich person without formal education? The following are some keys to Sukanto Tanoto’s success in business.
Reading every time possible; since his father was still alive and he was still going to school. Sukanto Tanoto spent much time reading, while helping his father selling fuel oil, gasoline, or automobile spare part. He has been reading much since the age of twelve; he read any books, including those about American Revolution and World War I and Two. Later, he is interested in finding out how the American companies survive the Great Revolution and the World War.
Learning by doing, he learned business for the first time from how his father managed the family business. He learned how his father dealt with various challenges; and he learned not to give up to any kinds of problems and to find the right solution.
Being smart in looking for any opportunities, Sukanto Tanoto was smart in looking for opportunities other people might not think of. For instance, when plywood import from Singapore disappeared in North Sumatera at the beginning of 1970s, he thought that it must not have been a problem since Indonesia is rich in timber. “If we have much plywood, why should be depend upon import from another country?” he said.
Sukanto Tanoto is an example of rich businessperson who began his business from zero point. He did not inherit his wealth. These are only three keys to his success in business. More will be discussed in the next post.