A Man in Full
    Category: Indonesia 50 Richest By : Justin Doebele Read : 76748 Date : Thursday, December 04, 2014 - 01:16:47

    Hidayat SG / Tempo

    Great entrepreneurs are the driving force of economies. In Indonesia, few can match the impact of Liem Sioe Liong, the founder of the country’s largest non-government conglomerate, the Salim group—yet for years he avoided publicity, meaning there was little about this important figure on the public record. Thus the recently published book, “Liem Sioe Liong’s Salim Group: The Business Pillar of Suharto’s Indonesia,” is easily among the most important English-language books ever published on Indonesian business. It fills a vital gap covering an individual who played a major rule in helping transform Indonesia from a struggling poverty-stricken country into one of the world’s largest economies today. It also provides a detailed account of the nexus between Indonesian politics and business communities, through the early years of Suharto’s rule all the way through to the turbulent days of the Asian financial crisis in 1998.

    Much of Indonesia’s history has been written from a political, economic or cultural perspective, often giving scant attention to the role of the business community and in particular the entrepreneurs that drove the country’s remarkable transformation. This book is a perfect storm —in a good way—with all the correct ingredients to make it a truly exceptional work of non-fiction. First and foremost, the authors are experts on the Indonesian business scene. The male half of the husband and wife team of Richard Borsuk and Nancy Chng is widely recognized as one of the best expatriate business journalists to cover Indonesia—he has four decades of journalism experience in Asia, and spent 11 years reporting on the country, during the critical years of 1987 to 1998. Nancy has been involved in Indonesia as a publisher, having published a translation of Pramoedya Ananta Toer, and was part of a study group that included Goenawan Mohamad, Mochtar Lubis and Abdurrahman Wahid, before he became President. She also worked as a journalist for many years and lived in Indonesia. Between them, they were able to conduct the research in three languages (English, Indonesian and Mandarin), and in four places (Singapore, Hong Kong, Indonesia and China).

    They did in-depth interviews with a wide group of sources about Liem and the Salim group. The couple also took their time, spending eight years to complete the book. In the best journalistic tradition, they did the book with no preconditions or vetting by the family, and were free to write as they saw fit. At the same time, they were able to get full access to many sources normally off limits to regular researchers. Most critically, they were able to have repeated interviews with both the late Liem and his son Anthony. The citations repeatedly have as a source: “Interview with Anthony.”  (The book is meticulously footnoted and has an extensive bibliography—something many other business histories fail to provide as well.) Given the two authors’ expertise, the book is an easy read, unlike the often dense tomes on Indonesian history. The book also stands in contrast to other biographies that are simply hagiographies.