Jakarta. Lippo Group founder Mochtar Riady revealed his admiration of the Japanese people's impeccable work ethic and attention to detail, and his belief that Indonesia and rest of world have much to learn from the industrious East Asian nation.
Speaking during the Nikkei Asia300 Forum at the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo on Monday (21/05), the 89-year-old patriarch shared his experience on how Japanese partners have been instrumental in helping the Lippo Group grow its multi-billion-dollar business.
The Indonesian diversified conglomerate now counts some Japanese giants, including Itochu Corporation, Mitsui & Co., Mitsubishi and Toyota Tsusho Corporation, as partners in its ever-expanding businesses in the retail, media, telecommunications, real estate, banking, natural resources, hospitality and health care sectors.
But the collaboration did not begin intuitively. Mochtar reflected on one episode of his life when the Lippo Group was to open a cable manufacturing plant in Indonesia with a Japanese partner. The business preparation alone took months to complete.
"They started the project with 260 employees and it took seven months to train them. I thought the Japanese are too excessive; why recruit 260 employees and take seven months to train them?" Mochtar said.
This was in contrast to his parallel experience of opening a similar plant with a non-Japanese Asian company. The plant, despite having far fewer employees, could be operational in just seven days.
"Later however, I did see the difference: 30 percent of the non-Japanese company's products were flawed and had to be discarded, while from the Japanese partners, less than 1 percent was rejected," Mochtar said.
His first visit to Japan in 1967 also left a lasting impression. During a walk in a park opposite the hotel where he stayed, Mochtar saw several groups of children playing and having lunch.
"After lunch, every child carefully cleaned the area and picked up every grain of rice scattered on the ground. After they left, the garden was as clean as before," he observed.
"When I returned home, I said to my own children: 'You must learn from the Japanese, because you can see how they teach their children to always be disciplined and obey the rules.'"
His admiration for the Japanese work ethic continues to this day.
When Japan's leading business daily, Nikkei, sent senior journalist Hiroshi Murayama to interview Mochtar, the businessman was thoroughly impressed with the journalist's keen attention to detail.
Murayama prepared for months before the interview, including reading two autobiographical books written by Mochtar.
"He works very carefully and is very detailed, and after asking questions, he always comes back to check [whether] what [is written] is correct," Mochtar said.
"So I asked this journalist: 'Why do you have to be so detailed?' And he replied: 'I have a responsibility to our customers and our investors.' From Hiroshi, I saw the Japanese dedication to detail and how they focus on staying on task and being very hardworking," Mochtar said.
Based on these experiences, Mochtar said the Lippo Group is keenly pro-active to continue its partnership with Japanese companies in conducting business in Indonesia.
"This time I'd ask for as much staff and executives as possible from our Japanese partners in our joint ventures," Mochtar said.
Arifin Tasrif, Indonesia's ambassador to Japan, was among 180 participants from various businesses across Asia who attended Mochtar's public lecture during the Nikkei Asia300 Forum. The Nikkei Daily dedicated five pages to a review of the Indonesian economy, along with Mochtar's speech.