Ahmad Zamroni / Forbes Indonesia
Imelda Sundoro is one of the few successful businesswomen in the male-dominated world of auto distribution. Her Sun Motor group started 41 years ago buying and selling used cars. Today it is the dealer for seven automotive brands, including Nissan and Toyota, Piaggo’s Vespa and Aprilia motorbikes, and German MAN trucks. Then in 1996 she was able to successfully add property as one of the group’s core businesses. Today Sun Motor has 11 hotels and 15 other properties, including housing estates, warehouses and a mixed development of mall and luxury apartments. Seven other hotels are under construction, including in Jakarta, Malang, Surabaya and Yogyakarta. “It is very hard for us if we just depend on the automotive business. There is very limited room for us to grow in automotive dealerships,” says Imelda Sundoro, founder and owner of the Sun Motor Group. “An entrepreneur has to be creative. If one thing doesn’t work, they have to go forward to other things.”
Even though she turned 72 in May, Imelda remains active in the business. “I work Monday to Saturday every week. I am checking everything and making sure the business is running well,” says Imelda, during a Saturday interview at the Royal Surakarta Heritage Solo hotel. Immediately after the interview, she went to another business meeting with Accor hotel officials.
Imelda’s initial venture was far from a masculine business. She manufactured baby clothes, back in the 1970s. She designed the clothes herself and collaborated with tailors in Solo to produce them, and then sold them in Jakarta. Soon after that, Imelda found another opportunity. “I was selling my car to somebody for a good price. Then I thought selling cars could be a good business,” she recalls. In 1974, Imelda and her husband, the late Sundoro Hosea, started buying and selling used cars in Central Java, which became the embryo of Sun Motor. (Her husband passed away in 2010.)
The family business progressively grew from selling used cars to being a sub dealer, then dealer, main dealer and finally becoming the sole distributor. Sun Motor first became an authorized dealer to sell Suzuki, later adding Chevrolet, Hino, Mitsubishi, Nissan and Toyota. The group has set up 65 branches spread all over Java and Bali. Also, Sun Motor is the sole agent for German MAN trucks, and Piaggio’s Vespa and Aprilia motorcycles in Indonesia. Imelda’s automotive business now includes a car rental services called Sun Rent Car and car financing under Sunindo Parama Finance.
In 1996 Sun Motor entered the property market by developing a hotel called Novotel Solo, managed by Accor. Located in the city center, Novotel Solo has 142 rooms. “I knew I didn’t have any experience in running a hotel, that’s why I asked Accor hotels to help me do this,” says Imelda. After her first hotel in 1997, Imelda opened more hotels in Bali, Jakarta, Semarang and Yogyakarta. In fact, Sun Motor has become Accor’s largest partner in Indonesia.
Imelda’s decision to start a hotel business was not only for profit, but also to express her passion for art and design. For instance, at the Royal Surakarta Heritage Solo, Imelda herself selected almost all the furniture, artwork and interior design of the hotel. From the façade to in-room interiors, the Royal Surakarta Heritage Solo reflects the richness of the traditional Javanese building ornaments. Its façade has batik glass motives and the metal engraftment pillars to the safeguards of ancient kraton arca statues. In the lobby, Imelda put a treasure trove of Javanese cultural references such as wayang, loro blonyo, punakawan, batik motives and many more. Due to her dedication, the Royal Surakarta Heritage Solo is registered as having the most batik elements in its interior by Muri, the Indonesian world records museum.
Her passion for art is also represented at the Phoenix hotel in Yogyakarta, Ibis Styles Bali Denpasar and Ibis Bali Kuta. In the Phoenix, Imelda herself selected every artwork in the hotel, which is a colonial landmark building dating back to 1918. On the other hand, at Ibis Bali Kuta hotel, Imelda uses Bali’s traditional black-white saput-poleng fabric in the hotel, while in the Ibis Styles Bali Denpasar; she used a frangipani flower design all over the hotel.
For the housing estates, Imelda asked the Ciputra group for help. “For me, if I can’t do something, I will ask others to help. Like in the housing estates, I know the Ciputra group has many years of experience, so I asked for its help,” says Imelda. Together with Ciputra, Imelda developed a housing estate in Serang, Semarang and Yogyakarta. Meanwhile, for her mixed development Solo Paragon, Imelda worked with the Gapura Prima group, owned by Rudy Margono.