Jacobus Busono is owner and president of Indonesia-based Pura Group. Having demonstrated “exemplary achievement and distinguished contributions to the business community”, Mr Busono was recognised by the Who’s Who Historical Society as one of the members in the edition of International Professionals. His company is a highly diverse group of companies active in various sectors, such as printing, paper making, converting and engineering and has emerged as the largest and most complete and integrated facilities of its kind in south-east Asia. The company is a supplier to domestic and international brand owners, among them also various leading cigarette manufacturers.
Mr Busono, You took over the company in 1970 when it was a print shop with around 60 employees. Today, Pura has developed into a group of companies active in various sectors. The group sustains 20 production units with a total workforce of around 8,500 employees, generating a turnover of US$ 150 million in 2001. How did you achieve this vast success?
Jacobus Busono: My guiding line to achieve this success has also been quality, as I consider quality the only assurance to survive. Ongoing innovation and breakthroughs occurred as Pura’s corporate culture was implemented at all organisational levels. As a result, the company currently has 18 patents, and more will follow. The company, for example, was the first in south-east Asia to manufacture security holograms and it was even the first company in the world to manufacture holograms on blister packs, a common feature today in the packaging of pharmaceutical products. Another factor which has made the company so strong is that Pura’s investment strategy is highly effective since the company produces, modifies and installs its own production machines, and this is an enormous saving in capital. The company’s expansion strategy proved to be healthy, focusing on vertical growth within its core business. The picture of the company as it is today is the result of a consistent interrelated development in paper, printing and converting. Of course I am proud that the company has grown to such a scale, but I never anticipated this development when I took over in 1970.
In the late 1990s, Asia experienced a devastating financial crisis, a development which many of the leading companies did not survive. Pura obviously has mastered this crisis successfully. What has been your recipe for success to protect your company from the economic free fall?
One of the main reasons why Pura was able to prevent being lost in the whirlpool of events was the fact that the company, unlike those conglomerates that had to file bankruptcy, had no loans in foreign currency. Pura only had a small sum loaned in Indonesian Rupiah allocated for just a small part of the running capital. All fixed assets were and still are today 100 per cent equity, fully owned by Pura. In addition, Pura never received any kind of special facilities or privileges from the past government, which was the case with other companies which fell victim to the crisis. The leaders of most of the latter conglomerates in Indonesia were traders and some of them even speculators. Their main interest was to achieve as much profit as possible within a minimum period of time. And this is where Pura differs. Our prime motivation is to develop highly innovative products. We care about the game, not the profit.
Ms Megawati Soekarnoputri took over as president in July 2001. Has the domestic economy experienced any beneficial changes in policy introduced by the new government?
Of course it is difficult to judge the achievements of President Megawati after only one year. When she took over, Indonesia had almost totally collapsed in almost all aspects – politically, economically and socially -– so she had a difficult heritage. However, although she is still facing so many obstacles, democracy is being encouraged more during her administration than before and the economic situation has started to ease slowly. For example, at the beginning of her administration the currency exchange rate was around Rp 8,500 to US$ 1. Owing to many problems, the value dropped to Rp 11,500 per US dollar. But now the Rupiah has strengthened, and the exchange rate is back to Rp 8,500. This cannot happen automatically, and that means that some progress has been achieved. Judging her personal qualities, I think she can take severe actions when necessary, but at the right time, involving the right persons and for the right purposes. In my opinion she is wise, quiet and able to listen. Yes, she does a good job since her actions speaks louder than any words.
With a workforce of more than 8,500 employees active in the production process you rely to a large extent on manual labour. Doesn’t this fact inevitably lead to limits in quality?
The list of our customers includes brand owners such as L’Oréal, Revlon and Unilever and this tells you a lot about the quality of our products. Among them, Pura is rated as the best packaging and printing specialist in south-east Asia. One should also consider that manual work does not necessarily lead to lower quality. If you take a closer look at the electronic automation systems developed after 1985 in so-called high-tech countries, such as Germany for example, you will see that the main improvement was not in the quality but in the higher degree of rationalisation. This of course was driven by the aim of replacing cost intensive labour. However, given the fact that the cost of one employee in Germany corresponds to the cost for 15 to 20 employees in Indonesia, this achievement is not that relevant in Indonesia. And besides, the unemployment rate in Indonesia is at 40 million and my intention is also to support the government especially in creating job opportunities.
During the past years the volume of Pura’s exports has risen by 25 per cent annually – an increase of which other companies can only dream. Where do you think this success comes from?
Actually, our sales volume meanwhile is increasing by more than 25 per cent annually. The reason for our success is mainly based on the fact that we manufacture various kinds of customised products that cannot be rationalised even in Europe or the USA. One example for this is laser-perforated cigarette tipping paper, which still needs to be done roll by roll. Pura’s strategy is to be active in high labour sectors at competitive prices. For this reason Pura would never become active in the field of commodity products, such as commodity papermaking, which is very risky because it depends on highly volatile pulp prices. Our business will be concentrated on developing high added value products only, such as for example holograms, hot stamping foil, diffraction or metallised paper, laser perforated cigarette tipping paper, security paper or banknotes. And again our success is also based on the creative power of Pura’s employees who enjoy the development of innovative products at superior quality. Again, it’s the game not the profit that dominates our actions.
So far the manufacture of Pura’s entire product range is located in Kudus, Indonesia. Are you considering any expansion to other production locations outside the country?
Indonesia and especially Kudus is a perfect location to supply our core market south-east Asia. For this reason I do not see any need to build up new production sites in any other place. In addition to that, Pura is a family-owned company with a long tradition, having its roots in Kudus for three generations. It is the place where I belong. I have a moral obligation to develop this town to become a business centre.
You have been leading the company for more than 30 years now. What have been the most unforgettable moments – positive as well as negative – during that time?
Of course there were many positive and negative moments, whereby I generally consider it as negative if I cannot solve a problem. For ordinary problems I consider them routine, they are my daily meal and some of them even are a ‘blessing in disguise’. Believe me, I have fell many times, but I got up again. And success is like falling 100 times and getting up 101 times. If you look at life that way, failure is only success postponed.
When visiting your company and talking to your staff, one becomes aware of a special pioneering spirit. Do you see that as a product of your management strategy?
Yes, I do. Management in the true sense of the word is part of my philosophy of life. A wrong system can still be rectified, but a wrong philosophy is fatal. I am convinced that the best minute you spend is the one you invest in people. Human resources are one of Pura’s main corporate assets and they are the core of the company’s strengths. This is what you need to have in mind when thinking about management.
Your job is very demanding and time-consuming. Is there a life beyond Pura?
Sport is an important aspect in my life, also travelling. However, Pura is my life. I don’t see work as a burden, I enjoy it and I love it. I do have various projects on the run, which are privately motivated but still related to my work. For example, I am planning to install a private academy for management philosophy and strategies. There is a fundamental principle behind Pura’s success and I see it as a useful contribution to my country to spread that knowledge.
Owner and president of
Indonesia-based Pura Group