Value Builder
    Category: Main Features By : Gloria Haraito Read : 2248 Date : Thursday, September 05, 2013 - 06:07:15

    At 71, Benny Subianto isn't slowing down and comes daily to work in his office. “My reason to become an entrepreneur is simple. I wanted to keep going to the office even at 71,” jokes Benny, who granted Forbes Indonesia a rare interview. While many of the world's wealthiest got that way from being either an entrepreneur or investor, Benny is a rare exception excelling at both.

    His entrepreneurial skills are beyond question—he helped build the Astra group, now the country's largest business group, from its earliest days. He was the president director of two of its largest group companies, PT Astra Agro and PT United Tractors, for a combined total of 26 years, as well as holding other senior positions in Astra. He has started his own firms, managing many of them through his holding company PT Persada Capital Investama.

    Yet he has also carved out a unique role as a trusted partner and investor, helping support other entrepreneurs in building their ventures. He is a master networker with a stellar reputation for integrity. His criteria for investments isn't always profits, he sometimes invests in what he calls “helping a friend” projects.

    One clue to Benny's approach is on a bookshelf in this office, just next to the entrance. On it are books about his role model, Warren Buffett. “I admire Buffett for his expertise in stock investing and his knowledge of compound interest, which makes him one of the richest men in the world. Unfortunately I learned about these techniques late in life, while Buffett got started earlier,” says Benny.

    Much as Buffett will invest in businesses but leave the founders in place (as long as they are performing), Benny takes a similar approach. He's happy to hold a minority stake when others are capable value creators. This mixed approach—entrepreneurship and investing—has created a $1 billion fortune for Benny, whose formal name is simply Subianto (Benny is a long-time nickname).

    Last year, he enjoyed $26 million in dividends from some 17 different companies in which he has a stake—more than his total net worth back in 1998, when he figures it was a mere $20 million. “He prefers to become an investor in an established company. He's a very prudent investor with a good business sense,” says Johannes Suriadjaja, the president director of property firm PT Surya Semesta Interusa, who did his first business deal with Benny nearly 20 years ago.

    Benny's start came, appropriately enough, through a friendship. The son of a small-time sugar and rice  trader, he graduated from the Bandung Technology Institute (ITB) with an engineering degree in 1969. Benny then followed his college pal, Theodore Rachmat, to Astra International, then still a small company, and worked as a salesman for its heavy equipment division. Astra was on the cusp of fast growth, having been appointed that year as a distributor for Toyota, followed in 1970 with distributorships for Honda and Xerox. Today Toyota is the best selling brand in the country, and selling them is a core business for Astra, now controlled by Hong Kong's Jardine group.