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Biography

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Early Life
Tanri Abeng was born in an isolated, rural village on the island of Selayar in South Sulawesi on 7 March 1942. His parents were poor, like most of the people in his village, they were farmers and so were reliant on the small income that they earned from selling their produce at the local market. Because his parents did not have enough money to put him through junior school, Tanri had to sell bananas from his village to fellow students in order to pay for the books and other materials than he needed.
By the time he was 10, both his parents had died and he was sent to live with relatives in Makassar. His relatives were not very well off either, so to finish his education, Tanri sold stenciled copies of his school notes to other students. He realized early on that that he would need to do well in school to better his circumstances, so he studied hard and was able to earn money by tutoring students whose grades were not as god as his. At that time, Tanri’s main goal in life was to become teacher; he admired his school headmaster and one of his class teachers and wanted to be like him.
After finishing school Tanri was selected for an American Field Service (AFS) Exchange program, which gave him the rare opportunity for someone of his background to spend a year living in the United States. This was to be a formative experience. He learned to speak English and was exposed to the openness, creativity and achievement-oriented nature of American culture. He also developed a close bond with his host family, the Gibsons, something that prove crucial when he returned to the United States a few years later. Indeed, it would not be an exaggeration to say that Tanri’s subsequent success has been due in part to the assistance and encouragement provided by the Gibsons during his time in the United States.
At the end of the AFS program Tanri returned to Indonesia to continue his studies at Hasanudin University in Makassar. In the United States he had been told that a career in business would be a good way to achieve personal satisfaction and contribute to society, so he decided to enroll in courses in business administration and economics. Again, he had to find a way of funding his education, so he worked part-time as a manager at a local commodity export business and taught English at local high school.
Because he was busy trying to support himself, he spent little time at university but was able to complete his studies by borrowing friend’s notes and reading the prescribed textbook at home. Tanri studied hard and gained a scholarship to study for Masters of Business Administration degree at the State University of New York in Buffalo. Consequently, he returned to the United States and to the home of the Gibsons, who graciously offered to support him while he was studying. Eighteen months later, he earned his MBA.

Early Career
Following his belief that professionalism is a function to continuous learning, Tanri has also attended many international management development program over the years. Of particular note was the Advanced Management Program at Claremont Graduate School of Management in California, which he attended in 1984,where Dr. Peter E Drucker, known as one of the world’s foremost management thinkers, was (and still is) a professor. Over the years, Tanri has maintained contact with Professor Drucker and continued to be a staunched advocate of Drucker’s management thinking.
Within one day of finishing his MBA studies, Tanri was hired as a management trainee by Union Carbide Corporation, a large multinational company. At that time, Union Carbide had decided to open up operations in Indonesia and was looking for well-qualified Indonesians to set up manufacturing and marketing operations in that country. Once Tanri had complete his training in early 1969, he was the obvious choice to send to Indonesia in order to manage operations there as chief accountant for Indonesia Union Carbide.
In September 1971, at the tender age of 29, he was promoted to finance director and corporate secretary, making him the youngest executive in the company. After five years in that position, he was transferred to Singapore to direct Union Carbide’s consumer good marketing operations for the Middle East, Asia and Africa.
Initially, Indonesia Union Carbide had virtual monopoly in the battery market.  Combined with the government’s allowance of a lucrative tax holiday, Indonesia Union Carbide performed extremely well. One year after starting full production, the company was able to recoup its initial investments and expand into other industries, such as chemicals and agribusiness. Tanri’s tenure with the company in Singapore was equally successful. For each of the three years he was there, the Singapore operations posted record sales and profits.
Nonetheless, eventually he became frustrated working at the Union Carbide. By the late 1970s the organization had grown too large and become too bureaucratic. There were regional offices in New York for the Far East, sub regional offices in Hong Kong and then country offices, and it took six months to get a decision. At the same time, Union Carbide’s business philosophy had become focused increasingly on short-term goals, something that did not sit well with Tanri. As an Indonesian, he felt that he had to be concerned with long-term goals.
In 1979, he decided to move on. Dutch beer manufacturer Heineken was looking for someone to turn around their Indonesian operation, PT Perusahaan Bir Indonesia (Indonesian Beer Company), which had been making little money and losing market share. Although he did not drink beer or speak Dutch, Heineken offered Tanri a job as a CEO of this operation after a 15 minutes interview.
To large extent, this company’s difficulty stemmed from organisational and labor related problems. For instance, despite being a large, internationally competitive enterprise, it was not doing basic costing such as the cost to produce its beer. Nor did it have personnel policy, budget or other basic management structure in place. One of Tanri’s first step as CEO was to revamp the organisational structure by bringing in new people and introducing a proper cost accounting and budgeting system. The company also had problems with bad debts because its distribution system was too complex, involving well over 100 different distributors. Tanri slashed the number of distributors to 12.
Finally, the company was also vulnerable because it was too reliant on single product, and one that was off-limits to a large proportion of the country’s population for religious reasons. Tanri dealt with this problem by diversifying into nonalcoholic drinks, leading to the introduction of Green Sands shandy and an arrangement for the company to bottle and sell Coca Cola corporate image by changing the name from PT Perusahaan Bir Indonesia to Multi Bintang Indonesia, thus eliminating the word ‘beer” from the company’s name. He also took the company public by1982.
With these changes in place, the company soon began to make money again. In 1982, it recorded a profit of Rp. 4 billion, up from barely Rp. 500 million when he joined. In the 1983, this rose to Rp. 7 billion, despite the onset of recession caused by the collapse of international oil prices. The Green Sands label did particularly well, quickly becoming one of Indoneisa’s most popular soft drinks.

Entrepreneurial – Managerial Alliance
In 1991 Tanri stepped down as Multi Bintang ‘s CEO to take the top job at Bakrie and Brothers, Indonesia’s leading indigenously owned conglomerate. His reason for leaving Heineken was not, as was widely alleged in the press, due to the offering a lot of money to do so, but rather that he felt it was time to direct his skills and knowledge to the development of an Indonesian company. Tanri had spent all his professional career working for foreign interests and thought that he should now do something to help domestic interests. Heineken was not pleased about his plans to leave but eventually agreed to compromise, Tanri became CEO of Bakrie and Brothers but stayed on as Multi Bintang’s non-executive chairman, a position he retained until March 1998.
At Bakrie and Brothers, Tanri repeated much of what he had done at Union Carbide and Heineken, the latter example in particular. The Bakrie Family wanted to take their company in public in order to take the advantage of a recent deregulation of the Indonesian stock market and the relatively cheap funds that were available through it. They needed someone who could restructure their company to make it more efficient and profitable and ultimately more attractive to stock market investors. They also needed some who would be acceptable to foreign investors. Tanri’s experience with two multinational companied meant that he fit the bill in this respect. For Tanri, the new job offered more of a challenge; at Heineken and Multi Bintang things were already running smoothly. By contrast, Bakrie and Brothers needed considerable work to turn it around.
When he started at Bakrie, the company had more than 60 subsidiaries that operated in a diverse range of industries; some represented its core competencies, others did not. One of Tanri’s first step was thus to restructure the company to focus on three main industries – telecommunications, infrastructure support and plantations – as well as strategic investments and alliances in mining, petrochemicals and construction.
He also persuaded the Bakrie family to get out of those industries where it was reliant primarily on government licensing or other forms of government assistance, such as coffee – trading and garments. If Bakrie and Brothers was to be transformed into an international standard company, it needed to cut its ties to the government and learn to compete in the open marketplace. He also tried to increase efficiency by reducing the head office staff from more than 500 employees to approximately 200.
Perhaps most importantly, Tanri put in a place a management system that was much stronger, more sophisticated and more efficient than the one that he had been used previously. Each unit within the company was given considerable autonomy and was placed under the control of an executive who had both domestic and international experience.
A management development division was set up which reported directly to Tanri as CEO and was headed by someone with international human resource experience. Finally, Tanri looked more closely at the company’s recruitment and training procedures, launching a program to attract the best graduates from around the world and more closely match company requirements with the skills of applicants. He also introduced an extensive training program to develop the skills of recently hired graduates and other managers and to create a solid corporate culture. In modernising Bakrie and Brothers’ management system, Tanri was strongly supported by Aburizal Bakrie, the company’s President Commissioner. Aburizal was internationally oriented and a clearly appointed leader for Bakrie family.
With these reforms in place, Bakrie and Brothers’ performance improved considerably. When Tanri joined the company annual sales were about US$ 50 million. By the end of 1996 sales was closed to US$ 700 million. At the same time, the company began to expand in its areas of core competence, especially telecommunications, with investment in Uzbekistan, Autralia and Vietnam and in rural telecommunication technology.
This strategy worked effectively until the latter part of 1997 when Indonesia was overcome by the regional economic crisis that effectively paralysed all Indonesian conglomerates. Like most of Indonesians conglomerates, Bakrie and Brothers had borrowed too much overseas and had done too little to earn foreign exchange. Too a large extent, this was due to expensive telecommunication investments which was financed primarily through foreign loans. Despite this, some of Bakrie and Brothers’ subsidiaries remained profitable throughout the crisis, especially those in areas such as plantations, and there is thus a strong likelihood that the company will remain a going concern.
While Bakrie was Tanri’s main focus during his time as its President Director, he also held a number of non-executive senior positions in other large corporations. For instance, he was a Director of Asia Pacific Brewery, Singapore (1981-1991), Director of Bata Indonesia (1993-1998), Chairman of B.A.T Indonesia (1995-1998) and Mitratel Indonesia (1994-1998).
He also served in many governmental and non - governmental civic organizations, including the National Education Board (1993 – 1998), the National Research Board (1990 – 1998), the Tourism Promotion Board (1990 – 1996), the Foundation for Environmental Protection (1993 – 1998), The Indonesia-Netherlands Association, the Indonesia-British Council and the Asia-Australia Institute. He was also a Commissioner of the Jakarta Stock Exchange between 1992 and 1995.
Businessman in Bureaucracy
In 1991, Tanri made a limited move into the world politics when he was appointed to represent Golkar, the government political party, in the Supreme Deliberative Council (MPR). And in January 1998, when the economic was in full swing, he was appointed to the National Economic Resilience Council to advise President Suharto on economic policy.
In March 1998, Tanri made a much more substantial move in the world of politics when he was appointed the first Minister of State Owned Enterprises . In this position his focus changed from turning around particular private business groups to turning around almost the entire state-owned enterprise sector. By March 1998, Indonesia’s State-Owned Enterprises were in dire straits as a result of years of poor management, political interference and the severe economic recession brought about by the collapse of the rupiah in 1997 – 1998.
To turn these enterprises around, Tanri launched a reform program that took its guiding principle the need to enhance overall value. In line with this principle, he oversaw the introduction of a variety of company specific restructuring measures; pursued a range of regulatory reforms; privatised five leading state-owned enterprises; and formulated a detailed and coherent plan for future state owned enterprise reform.

The Legacy
Since leaving government, Tanri has been active in various non-political fields and sits on boards of a number of both regional and multinational corporations. However, closest to his heart has always been education and he has since initiated the establishment of a new Executive Center for Global Leadership (ECGL) institute on the resort island of Bali. This institute’s primary role is to develop cross cultural leadership skills for both the public and the private sectors in an increasingly dynamic global environment. Tanri is committed to bringing to the institute his lengthy and in-depth practical experience, for the benefit of the future private and public sector leaders of Indonesia and the region.


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