Lion-Sized Ambitions
    Category: Main Features By : Ulisari Eslita Read : 1246 Date : Friday, January 16, 2015 - 14:58:30

    Ahmad Zamroni / Forbes Indonesia

    With an estimated net worth of $1.7 billion, Rusdi Kirana, the chief executive of Indonesia’s Lion group, can fly now in his own chartered jet. But on a recent trip from Batam, his jet got a flat tire. Rather than wait for the tire to be fixed, Rusdi hopped on a Lion Air flight and sat in a regular economy class seat. Rusdi’s adaptability has served him well in the volatile airline business. Starting with just $900,000 in 1999, he and his brother have built Lion Air as the largest airline in Indonesia, by passengers flown and fleet size. Rusdi is planning to take the private airline public soon and the most recent indicative value of the airline is about Rp 30 trillion, nearly double the value of the listed national flag carrier Garuda Indonesia.

    And there’s plenty more to come. “We have a 250 million population, 17,000 islands, with 5,000 miles in a straight line from east to west, but less available seats per kilometer compared to other Asian countries in the region. We still have a huge room to grow,” says Rusdi in a rare in-depth exclusive interview. He’s planning for that growth with the largest-ever single commercial order from Boeing in its history, at $21 billion placed in 2011 for 230 planes (with an option for 150 more). He followed that up in 2013 with a $24-billion-order for 234 airplanes from Airbus, also the largest-ever single order. A few months ago, he did a relatively small $1 billion deal with Italy’s ATR for 40 turboprops. Thus, in the last four years, Rusdi has committed to spend $46 billion to expand Lion, which will propel it into a major force in the global airline industry. For such stellar achievements and huge ambition, Rusdi easily takes the title of businessman of the year.

    The early days were tough, especially getting the license for the airline. “When I went to the Transportation Ministry office, one of the registration staff mocked me. He advised me to set up a condom factory rather than an airline,” he laughs. But in 2000, the license came through. Some $650,000 of his initial $900,000 capital went to lease his first plane, a Boeing 737-300. To save money, Rusdi designed the airline’s logo and the stewardess uniforms, both of which are still in use today.

    The 51-year-old Rusdi says he never dreamed that he would have a multi-billion dollar company and the largest privately owned airline company in the country, now with another seven companies under its wings, known collectively as the Lion group (Lion Air is officially PT Lion Mentari Airlines). In 2013, Lion group booked Rp 20 trillion revenue, and flew about 38 million passengers. While Lion doesn’t give out profit figures, Forbes Indonesia estimates the Lion group may have had at least Rp 2.5 trillion in net profits in 2013. In 2014, Rusdi forecasts the Lion group to have flown at least 43 million passengers. The company lives up to its motto, “We make people fly.”