Johnny Widjaja, "Crisis Also Brings Opportunities and Creates Resilience"

Dec 04, 2020

Johnny Widjaja is known as a trading and distribution business entrepreneur who has partnered with a number of multinational companies since the Soekarno era. Through PT Tigaraksa, which was founded in 1959, Johnny and his brother, Robert B. Widjaja, developed their parents' rubber plantation into a thriving company. Today, his leadership is continued by his daughter, Shinta Widjaja Kamdani, who manages the holding company, Grup Sintesa.

At the age of 86, Johnny is still healthy and active, maintaining a healthy lifestyle and exercising regularly. Here are some excerpts from his thoughts and advice for fellow businesspeople on the current crisis situation:

There are many lessons we can learn from the economic crisis of 1998. As business owners, our courage is tested to make bold decisions so that the crisis does not drag our business into worse conditions. At that time, the rupiah exchange rate had plummeted by as much as 80%, and many companies had loans denominated in US dollars. It was a difficult situation for many entrepreneurs.

My principle is that during a crisis, we must have cash on hand and pay off all of our business loans. This is to ensure that we have enough money reserves for operations. That's what I did during the 1998 crisis. At that time, I made the decision to sell some of my shares in one company, so that I could continue to run operations amidst the crisis with less burden.

For me, with crisis comes opportunity. A crisis is not always bad; in fact, it provides motivation to map out business development opportunities after the crisis has passed.

Even the 1998 crisis was a turning point for us to modernize our business. A year after the 1998 crisis, my eldest daughter, Shinta Widjaja Kamdani, came to me with a proposal to integrate all of our scattered companies under one big umbrella, the Sintesa Group. It was also the right decision that emerged after the crisis, as Sintesa then evolved into a holding company, managing a business portfolio through four pillars: consumer products, industrial products, property, and energy. Under the Sintesa umbrella, there are 17 companies.

The 1998 crisis was a predictable monetary crisis. This coronavirus crisis is different. So far, there is no vaccine found, and there is no exact prediction of when it will end. This crisis has paralyzed social, economic, and business life.

Therefore, the business community must be very careful in making business decisions. Schedule business debts. That's the most important thing. Don't spend all the cash money to pay off business debts because this crisis is different from 1998. Also, be careful in making new business investments. It is not wise to take additional risks by making new investments quickly. Postpone long-term projects, better focus on short-term small projects even though they are not worth much to ensure the company's cash flow is maintained.

In my opinion, crises should give birth to resilience. Crises can drive innovation and the development of civilization. Currently, the business community must carefully predict how health and economic crises can affect society and life in the future. Find opportunities amidst change.

Manage capital wisely, especially for those who are starting a business. There must be cash money availability used for capital, then change the way of sales and marketing to get new customers.

During this crisis, our mental fortitude is tested to weather the storm. One lesson I learned since the 1998 crisis and the next crisis in 2008, when we were at the lowest point, we must be brave to keep moving forward, not stay silent. We must think creatively and innovatively.

Diversify the business. See what changes in needs occur in society due to changes. Seize the opportunities that arise.

This pandemic is truly a surprise for all of us. Only those who are able to adapt will survive. Currently, our business sector may be the winner, but with dynamic changes, we must be able to read which business sector will survive, erode, or become a new winner.

Of course, we need to reinvent our vision and mission. The world is constantly changing. So, as business actors, we must have a vision for the future. So that if we want to be flexible in adapting to the dynamics of the world and society, companies need to change their vision and mission to shape the future we want.

Since founding Tigaraksa in 1959 and consolidating it under the Sintesa Group umbrella in 1999, my business has continued to grow since my son took over and expanded through Sintesa. One important thing I always emphasize to him is that before making any business decisions, he must know what kind of future he wants for the company.

When it comes to values and what we should do now to move forward, we should all live and work with concern for the environment, which has blessed us with extraordinary gifts. We cannot only pursue profit, but how to become part of preserving nature, not damaging it.

Crises can be a turning point for all of us to shape the future by preparing ourselves to face the unexpected. I reflect on my experience and journey of building a business, every era will change and have its own challenges of change. How our future will be determined by our small steps today.

Even if the Covid-19 pandemic ends, it will feel like it has changed human life. What used to be normal will become outdated. Therefore, as leaders, executives, or employees, we must be able to think creatively, be resilient, and turn problems and challenges into a driving force for progress. Always do what we love so that we do it wholeheartedly. And lastly, always make ourselves a visionary, looking far into the future.