Chairul Tanjung: I Buy the Future at Present Value

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  • The 2013 edition of Forbes magazine listed him among the 1,000 wealthy people controlling the world economy.  According to the magazine, his assets are worth US$ 3.4 billion or about Rp. 32.3 trillion, the fifth richest man in Indonesia.

    At fifty-one years of age, Chairul Tanjung has found the formula to a wide network of businesses: banks, media, shopping centers, supermarkets, name-brand handbags, restaurants, airlines, digital media, television and ice cream, among others. His expanded business comes under the holding company of CT Corpora, once known as the Para Group.

    For the past three years, he has been the 'economic advisor' of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono through the National Economic Committee. As head of this presidential institution, he admitted to spending half his time with the committee. "We give recommendations, but their implementation is not our area, so about their application, better ask the ministers," said CT.

    Two weeks ago, he met with Tempo reporters Hermien Y. Kleden, Agoeng Wijaya and Adek Media Rosa for a special interview at his office in Bank Mega, in South Jakarta. Excerpts:

    How did the National Economic Committee (KEN) advise the president over the fuel subsidy?

    KEN's position is clear: subsidies must be given to needy people. That's what the law says. That's what religion also teaches: give to the poor, never to the rich.  Because private cars are owned by people who can afford them, they should not be enjoying subsidized fuel.

    There are around 30 million poor people in Indonesia, before the fuel price will be raised. What do you think?

    There are 30 million poor people  consuming Rp 275,000 per month. There are another 70 million almost poor people consuming no more than Rp 375,000 a month. Between these two categories, the difference is very little. Then there are another 100 million people who are in between, neither rich or poor. Those classified as relatively rich, or as McKinsey puts it, the consuming class, there are around 50 million people.

    What has the Committee recommended about cutting poverty at the roots?

    In our view, when we speak of the poor, it's best that we not focus only on the 30 million but also the 70 million.  They will never be able to leave, this group of poor and almost poor, unless the state helps them. Why? First, because they are poor. Secondly, they lack access to many things.

    So, what kind of state assistance should be prioritized?

    Access to education! The state must be responsible for the education of the poor and almost poor children. If they are not smart, they will become poor again. They will be trapped continuously in this cycle of poverty.  However, if they are educated, they will be smart, they will know how to get access to work, income, information, business and others.


    Forbes listed you as one of the richest man in Indonesia, in fact, in the world. How does that feel?

    To be honest, I never feel I've become rich. I only have one credit card, from Bank Mega. I only have one pair of shoes and it's my own brand, Hugo Boss. I'm not a consumptive person. For me, money is something nominal, just digits.

    How much cash do you keep in your wallet?

    Usually, not more than Rp 1million.

    Yet you fly your own private jet.

    That's true, it's transportation.

    He also talks about his business growth target, the "simple" formula of his success, and why the future is important.

    "I buy the future at current values," he told Tempo. "That's why you'll never see me go near sunset industries."

    He set straight the rumors saying that his businesses were funded by tycoons that left Indonesia during the 1998 crisis and another rumor that he became rich because he fronted for the Sudono Salim family. He said that such rumors come up because Indonesians can't stand to see people succeed, which he said is not a good culture.

    CT gave his two cents on the subsidized fuel price policy, food security, the upstream problems and about education. He said his reasons for not entering politics--yet--is because his children are still young. But he admitted several political parties have approached him.

    The complete interview is available on this week's Tempo magazine.