Agus Martowardojo Finds His 'Amakudari' at Tokopedia


JANUARY 13, 2019

Jakarta. Agus Martowardojo, a former Bank Indonesia governor, was appointed as president commissioner of Tokopedia, the country's largest e-commerce company, last week.

Agus became part of a well-established tradition in Indonesia that involves retired government officials taking up positions in the private sector – a practice that is so widespread in Japan that it has its own term: amakudari, or descent from heaven.

It is common for former ministers or army generals to join conglomerates or establish their own new companies in the hope that their extensive networks and regulatory or political experience would be benefit their business ventures.

And this is exactly what Tokopedia seems to expect from the former central banker as the company enters a new growth phase to develop its e-commerce ecosystem into an infrastructure-as-a-service, a sophisticated type of cloud-computing service.

"Agus's presence will strengthen the company's performance as it enters its 10th year," William Tanuwijaya, chief executive and co-founder of Tokopedia, said in a statement on Thursday last week.

Few people can boast of a better track record than Agus. He led state-owned lender Bank Mandiri from 2005 until 2010, reducing bad loans at Indonesia's largest lender by assets in and guiding the financial institution to emerge from the 2008 global financial crisis relatively unscathed.

Agus next became minister of finance in the administration of then-President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, replacing Sri Mulyani Indrawati, who left for the World Bank. In his three years as finance minister, Agus continued his predecessor's reforms and no-nonsense approach to vested interests.

As a central banker, Agus embarked on Indonesia's longest series of interest cuts in decades, to reinvigorate growth in a country suffering from a global commodity slump. He was seen as "a figure who upholds transparency," a quality that saw him receive the award for Best Central Bank Governor in Asia Pacific from GlobalMarkets newspaper in 2017.

"I am pleased to be able to join Tokopedia and contribute my experiences to support the company's aspirations in promoting the development of an inclusive economy," Agus said in the statement, adding that if the e-commerce company consistently empowers people through technology, the Indonesian economy would continue to grow to become even more powerful and balanced.

Tokopedia is regarded as one of nine unicorn startups that secured the biggest funding in Southeast Asia, along with compatriots Go-Jek, Bukalapak and Traveloka. Tokopedia raised $1 billion from several investors, including Japan's SoftBank, according to a Bloomberg report last year.

This saw the e-commerce company become one of the country's most valuable unicorns at $7 billion, according to a joint report by Google and Temasek on the Southeast Asian internet economy.

Examples of Amakudari in Indonesia

Post-retirement employment of senior bureaucrats in private and public companies, or nongovernmental organizations is not only a Japanese phenomenon. Many private and publicly listed companies in Indonesia do the same.

Go-Jek recruited former Bank Indonesia deputy governor Ronald Waas as a member of the ride-hailing firm's board of commissioners, along with Kusumaningtuti S. Soetiono, a former member of the Financial Services Authority (OJK).

Go-Jek's main competitor, Grab, meanwhile appointed former National Police chief, Badrodin Haiti, as president commissioner in Indonesia. He later resigned after his appointment as president commissioner of state-owned builder Waskita Karya.

Ignatius Untung, chairman of the Indonesian E-Commerce Association (idEA), explained that there are several reasons startup companies recruit experienced professionals or former officials.

The first is that companies wish to take advantage of their experience in managing large organizations.

The second reason is that the involvement of former high-profile officials can provide a company with the necessary clout, which makes it easier to deal with regulators and investors.

"As long as top management is still held by young people who understand the nature of the digital business, these should not be any conflict," Untung said, as quoted by

Writing by Kathleen Adelaide Setiawan