Business values of Sudono Salim: Manny Pangilinan’s boss

“To have lived a meaningful and productive life is such a wonderful thing, but to live a life that will be remembered for the wisdom it shared with others is admirable, and a blessing to the people it has touched.”

The late Sudono Salim also known as Liem Sioe Liong’s legacy remained for the world to emulate, and having been such an influential patriarch, the family members of the third generation remember his teachings. His grandchild, Axton Salim said, “He taught us to be humble, honest, disciplined, diligent, hardworking; also being wise, big-hearted, respecting of others and always keen to learn.”

Liem Sioe Liong (July 16, 1916 – June 10, 2012) was a Chinese Indonesian businessman. Also called by his initials LSL, Salim was born in Foochin, Fujian and emigrated to Kudus, Central Java in 1938.He was once considered the richest individual in Indonesia and was the head of the conglomerate Salim Group before turning over its management to his youngest son Anthony Salim (now number 5 of Indonesia’s 40 richest people) in 1992.

His first business was coffee-making and trading, then quickly moved to importing and selling cloves for the popular Kretek cigarettes. The company also ventured in the peanut oil business. In a span of more than 60 years, the Salim Group made investments in over 500 companies employing 200,000 employees.

It acquired several businesses as it moved to expand to greater heights. Industries like textile, cement, flour milling, distribution, hotel and resorts, automobile, infrastructure, food, agribusiness, chemical manufacturing, retail, telecommunications and banking are now included in Salim Group’s profile – Indofood, IndombilGroup, Gallant Venture, BCA, Indomilk, Bogasari, Nestle, TigaRodaIndocement, lonsum, SegitigaBiru and Hilton Hotels and Resorts.

Pangilinan described “Oom Liem” (Dutch for “Uncle Liem”)

In an email interview after learning of the death of LSL, businessman Manuel V. Pangilinan hailed the late Soedono Salim—his boss in Hong Kong-based First Pacific Group—as “Indonesia’s first industrialist” who never forgot his humble beginnings as an immigrant from China. The First Pacific Group is chaired by Salim’s son, Anthoni and Pangilinan serves as the firm’s managing director and CEO.

Pangilinan recalled that he first met the elder Salim in 1978 while working for the American Express Bank in Hong Kong. “I was then syndicating a term loan for Cement Line # 6 of Indocement—the Salim Group’s first foray in the international financial markets,” he said. “LSL was not embarrassed to admit that he has failed at least twice in his business, only to recover eventually,” Pangilinan said. “As a result of his large, asset-heavy businesses, LSL is considered Indonesia’s first industrialist.”

LSL’s deeply-rooted principles

A combination of connection, serendipity and personal charm propelled him to become the wealthiest tycoon in Southeast Asia. But without the glamour and all, the man himself was deeply-rooted in his principles – a great quality he possessed that brought his business into fruition and made it successful. He valued hard work, perseverance, planning, and appreciation of others’ point of view.

He explained that he had a strong management team that saw opportunities; however, his approach was to choose the right people who also practice professionalism. LSL believed in teamwork and not dictatorship. He also believed in honesty. He said, “In business, you have to be honest; don’t lie or cheat, if people are good to me, I will remember it, but I do not like if people are not honest to me. If you cannot be straightforward, it can be troublesome.”

Indonesia’s top conglomerate

With a market cap of IDR 172.03 trillion, the Salim Group is ranked among the top five biggest conglomerates in Indonesia as of July 2014. Some researchers have estimated the groups market cap at $32 billion to $40 billion. In the Philippines, the Salim group has majority interest in a number of blue chip corporations from telcos PLDT, Smart and Sun, utility provider Meralco and Maynilad, tollways, hospitals and media.

The Salim Group is headed by Liem’s youngest son Anthony Salim.His second son Andree Halim is the main shareholder of Singapore-listed bread maker QAF, which has a market value of more than US$350 M and makes and distributes Gardenia and Bonjour bread.

Part 2 will tackle the successor Anthoni Salim’s management principles.

(My sincerest thanks to a dear colleague, Mr. Rudy Balmater, ex SGV and AIM Alumni, and a 30-year finance practitioner/director in Indonesia. Pak Rudy, thank you for generously sharing your research material about the Salim Family.)

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