Capitalism with a conscience
How do you get corporate Indonesia to meet its civic responsibilities and help the disadvantaged?
It sounds like a variation on the old joke: How do you make a small fortune? (By starting with a big one.)
But this question is serious, and a bother to many in business. One way is to invite executives to a training camp so they meet young battlers, many with a sad story to tell, but all demonstrating potential.
Showing the corporate world another universe was the idea of Julianto Eka Putra (pictured, right), head of the Binar Group. He’s set up a curious enterprise based around self-help training that’s hemorrhaging money, yet hoping to heal some of society’s wounded.
For some the US-inspired motivational industry is snake oil, cherry-picking winners; others believe it inspires those needing a hand-up. If you’re in the latter and larger group then Julianto’s your man.
Clearly he’s a hot salesman. He can bang off a stirring speech without notes and lace it with homely anecdotes. Despite a pudgy frame and looking nothing like the archetypal executive he has enough energy to nudge the reluctant and disarm the skeptics.
He also has a powerful belief in himself, a quality vital for any entrepreneur. Apparently it wasn’t always that way for the son of a Surabaya jeweler. “At school I was the ugly duckling,” he said. “I found it difficult to attract girls, I’ve got dark skin around my neck and some thought I was dirty.
“I got into fights but realized I was heading in the wrong direction. Once I’d set myself goals and did better than others through hiking and study I found my self confidence.”
Unlike many who have made serious money in a short time he tends not to be defensive, or dismiss the importance of tertiary education
“About 10 years ago I was ready to retire,” he said. “I was earning up to Rp 20 million a month (US$ 2000). I thought it was time I relaxed and enjoyed life.”
He was just turning 30 and scoring well selling honey through multi-level marketing. As a franchise boss he could afford to slip down the gears. But on the way to checking the world’s top resorts he stalled on his conscience.
“I was praying and suddenly realized God had given me almost everything I asked for – yet I’d given nothing in return,” he said. “I felt I was a very bad person.
“While presenting a motivation session before 2,000 people in Surabaya I announced that within ten years I’d set up a free school. I don’t know why I said that – it wasn’t in the script.
“My wife and staff were angry with me – but I had to keep my word.”
With a no-interest loan of Rp 5.3 billion (US $600,000) from a Singapore business friend Julianto bought almost eight hectares tumbling down to a turbulent river at Batu, the hill town above Malang in East Java.
Some are orphans and have had a tough life. About ten per cent pull out, but the rest seem to be shining and proud to show off their talents, including dance, theatre and high-level English.
Their chance comes on weekends when employees are sent to custom-designed training programs by companies with problems These usually include low staff morale, lack of direction and communication breakdowns.
Motivational speeches, obstacle courses and physical challenges are supposed to build trust and get participants into a different mindset. Meeting the students and hearing their stories opens doors to another world.
Karnaka, the managing director of Malang manpower agency PT Binamandiri sent 15 employees to the two-day course this month (March). He plans to expand his business interests and wants a change in workplace culture.
“Everyone seemed to enjoy it and at Rp500, 000 (US $55) a head I’m getting value for money,” he said after jumping around with his workers to brain-fracturing music. “We’ll wait till later to see if it’s effective.”
The fees for the business training, programs for schools called Kampoeng Kidz, or just taking a break on the property (rates start at Rp 175,000 (US$20) a night, are used to subsidize the free school and its 100 students from across Indonesia.
“We’ve paid back all the loans but need to earn about Rp 350 million (US $4000) a month to meet costs,” said Julianto. “However we’re only getting Rp 200 million (US $22,000).
“The subsidies have to come from my company PT Menuju Insan Cemerlang (MIC), one of five in the Binar Group. We have 160 offices – but we’re not like (prominent politician and rich-lister) Aburizal Bakrie.
“MIC handles financial planning and real estate. We publish and have the rights to translate the works of John C Maxwell (an evangelical American author of around 60 motivational books). These have been best sellers.
“I’ve also written Anda ingin Sukses? (Do you want Success?) and featured in another with (Muslim televangelist) AA Gym.”
Like the easy read self-help books there are plenty of quotes and slogans on the bamboo walls of the teaching areas at the Batu property. Many are in English, like Miracle, Faith, Action and Pray, giving the place a heavy Christian revival theme.
Julianto and his two main colleagues are Catholic so inevitably rumors circulated that they were ‘Christianising’ Muslim students. Julianto said that last year an Education Department inquiry cleared the school.
Then the allegation changed to communist indoctrination; the reality is that it’s pushing capitalism, albeit with a benign nature.
“I accept that some will never become entrepreneurs,” Julianto said. “That’s not their talent. The objective is to train people so they reflect on their lives and realize their potential.
“I ask the students to talk to the business participants. It’s not exploitation, it helps give them confidence and if they have that they can do anything.
“If they share their stories they will bless many people.”