Noni Purnomo
    Category: Inspiring Women 2014 By : Jeffrey Hutton Read : 5882 Date : Monday, March 10, 2014 - 06:53:23

    Ahmad Zamroni / Forbes Indonesia

    Noni Purnomo, president director of Blue Bird Group Holding, doesn’t mind getting her hands dirty. She learned car repair and how to change a tire from mechanics at her family’s taxi company. In the early days, when her family’s home was also the office, she would eat and chat with the drivers as a child. Even today, she enjoys sharing a drink or a meal with the drivers. She was three when the company was officially launched in 1972, so she and the company grew up together.

    While attending college in Australia, she would return on her academic breaks to work in the company. Once a year, she drives a cab for one day, and did so last year just before she was promoted to president director. “It was stressful. I can say I now better understand our drivers,” Noni says recalling the traffic and impatient passengers. “My mother taught me to gain respect you have to respect others. I learned from the mechanics and drivers. They taught me. I saw it as a privilege,” she says.

    That respect for the drivers is at the heart of the strategy for one of the country’s most successful companies. With its ubiquitous blue Toyota Limo and courteous drivers charging by the meter, Blue Bird has set a benchmark for a domestic cab industry in which drivers for lesser companies can flout traffic rules, overcharge, get lost and have accidents. “People don’t think taxi drivers are respectable. And the drivers themselves didn’t think they were worthy of respect,” says Noni. “We changed that. We told them that the lives of your passengers are literally in your hands. This is hard work.”

    Founded by Noni’s grandmother, Blue Bird has grown from 25 cars in 1972 to about 22,000, making it easily the largest taxi service in the country. The group fields roughly 13,000 more vehicles for its trucking, executive limousine, rental and charter services—all told well over 30,000 different vehicles. It is also focused on growing its logistics arm as well. Blue Bird has room to grow. According to a Euromonitor report, Jakarta has 1.4 taxis per 1,000 residents, compared with 5.3 in Singapore and 10 in Bangkok. Its closest competitor, PT Express Transindo Utama, is about one third the size of Blue Bird, so it has a wide lead on any rivals.

    Blue Bird keeps its edge through superior service and quality. When U.S. President Barack Obama visited Jakarta in 2010, the U.S. government engaged Blue Bird to ferry many of his entourage. Many would-be drivers come from poor villages and have never ridden in a taxi as a passenger. “New Blue Bird drivers go through five days of training spread over six months to brush up on etiquette, driving techniques and, in Jakarta and major tourist areas, basic English,” says Myrta Harapsi, director of training. “We get them to talk about the troubles they have and how to fix them. We try to get them to put themselves in the passengers’ shoes.”