Relatives pay their last respects to Sinar Mas Group founder Eka Tjipta Widjaja at the Gatot Soebroto Army Hospital in Central Jakarta on Sunday. (Antara Photo/Akbar Nugroho Gumay)

Sinar Mas Founder Eka Tjipta Widjaja Passes Away; Here's the Story of His Path to Fortune


JANUARY 27, 2019

Jakarta. Eka Tjipta Widjaja, founder of the Sinar Mas Group, one of Indonesia's largest conglomerates, passed away on Saturday, one month short of his 98th birthday.

Eka, born Oei Ek Tjhong in Quanzhou in China's Fujian Province on Feb. 27, 1921, was known as a tough and proven entrepreneur, which saw him become one of Indonesia's richest tycoons, despite his humble origins.

"He will be buried in his family's cemetery in Marga Mulya village, Karawang district, West Java," Sinar Mas managing director Gandi Sulistiyanto Soeherman said in a statement on Sunday.

Eka passed away at his home in Menteng, Central Jakarta, at 7.43 p.m. His body was taken to the Gatot Soebroto Army Hospital in Senen, Central Jakarta, for a funeral service.

Gandi said colleagues, relatives and friends were expected to express their condolences on Sunday, starting from 7 p.m., after the funeral service.

The statement did not specify the cause of death, but Gandi mentioned in another statement to local media that Eka's health had been deteriorating due to his advanced age.

Eka's family controls a widely diversified business through the Sinar Mas Group, which he founded in 1962. The group's interests span palm oil, pulp and paper, real estate, financial services, agribusiness, telecommunications and mining, represented by various entities listed on the Indonesian and Singaporean stock exchanges.

GlobeAsia's 2018 Rich List estimated Eka's net worth at $13.9 billion.

Moved to Indonesia

Eka and his mother migrated to Indonesia in 1931, during the Dutch colonial era, to join his father who had already settled in Makassar, South Sulawesi. There he helped his father run a small shop.

Eka, who according to his biography only had an elementary school education, became a door-to-door salesman, peddling various goods, including candies, biscuits and various products from his father's shop.

He experienced both success and failure in various businesses, which included sales of coconut oil, biscuits and sesame oil, during the Japanese occupation, the early period of Indonesia's independence and the rule of the country's first two presidents, Sukarno and Suharto.

King of Copra

His business empire started in 1955 when he became a copra trader in North Sulawesi, which earned him the title, "king of copra."

Through the Sinar Mas Group, which he founded in 1968, Eka managed to expand his business into various areas, including banking, vegetable oil and real estate. He became well known after the establishment in 1969 of Bitung Manado Oil, which catered to up to 50 percent of demand in the Indonesian cooking oil market at the time.

In 1972, Eka acquired caustic soda producer Tjiwi Kimia, which he transformed into the Sinar Mas Group's first pulp and paper manufacturer. In the same year, he started Duta Pertiwi, a property developer and real estate business, and 10 years later, Sinar Mas Multiartha, an integrated financial services company.

The group started operating its own industrial forest in 1986 through Sinar Mas Forestry, while it also has interests in communications and technology, including mobile phone operator Smartfren.

Some of the hundreds of flower board and wreaths, from among others, former President B.J. Habibie, Jakarta Governor Anies Baswedan and National Police chief Gen. Tito Karnavian, seen outside the Gatot Soebroto Army Hospital on Sunday. (Antara Photo/Akbar Nugroho Gumay)

Eka overcame many downturns during his nine decades in business, with the largest being the $14 billion default by his crown jewel, Asia Pulp and Paper, due to the 1998 Asian financial crisis. The crisis also forced him to relinquish control of many of his businesses to the government, including his flagship lender, Bank Internasional Indonesia, now known as Maybank Indonesia. 

However, Eka bounced back and his Singapore-listed Golden-Agri Resources has since become the world's second-largest palm oil producer.

"Despite only having completed elementary school, there was no hope or ambition too high for him," Gandi said in the statement. "The philosophy of being honest, credible and responsible, toward family, work and social affairs, became his life's compass."

The tycoon spent millions in scholarships to Indonesian students over the past decade through the Eka Tjipta Foundation and also distributed necessities to disaster-affected areas across the archipelago. 

The patriarch is survived by six children and dozens of grandchildren, who now run the family businesses.