Indonesian Connection
[Indonesian Connection]

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INDONESIA-a tropical nation of 13,667 islands-is far removed from the University at Buffalo, 12 time zones away.

Yet it is home to at least 100 UB alumni, many of whom are now key contributors to that nation's economic and social development. Several hundred Indonesians have studied at UB in the last 30 years, and an informal network of UB's Indonesian alumni is now helping to attract a new generation of students to the university.

A stalwart promoter of this connection is Tanri Abeng, M.B.A. '69, now president and CEO of Indonesia's third-largest publicly held firm.

Abeng's life is a classic success story. As a boy selling bananas in a poor farming village in East Indonesia, he had already acquired the beginnings of his personal credo: "To learn continuously, think ahead, work hard and use my time wisely and effectively." The first in his village to complete school, Abeng won an American Field Service (AFS) scholarship to the United States in 1961, and spent his high school senior year with the Wallace Gibson family in Clarence, N.Y.

After earning an undergraduate degree in Indonesia, Abeng returned to Buffalo, earning his M.B.A. from UB in 1969.

What followed was a rapid climb up the corporate ladder: Union Carbide hired him to help establish an Indonesian plant shortly after he received his M.B.A. Two years later, at age 29, he was made a director of that operation. In 1976, he was named marketing manager for Union Carbide's operations in 52 countries. In 1979, the Heineken Company recruited him to run its Indonesian subsidiary.

Abeng's success at Heineken brought him to the attention of Aburizal Bakrie, who offered him the managing directorship of P.T. Bakrie and Brothers. Bakrie is a family-owned conglomerate, with core business in steel pipes and infrastructure fabrication, rubber and palm oil plantations, mining and telecommunications.

Ronald H. Stein, UB vice president for advancement and development, says that Abeng has become a role model for other Indonesians, because of his entrepreneurial talents and business acumen.

"Other Indonesians are now coming to UB's School of Management, returning as leaders in both the private and public sector," Stein said. "So now we have UB identified as the key to success, in many respects, for these distinguished emerging leaders of Indonesia."

A second generation of UB alumni are now contributing their entrepreneurial talents to Indonesia, the world's fourth most populous nation. Abeng's son, Emil, for example, and two other UB alumni reportedly have the exclusive rights to the Fuddruckers franchise in Southeast Asia.

Although many Indonesian students are following Abeng's lead by pursuing management degrees, Indonesian alumni and current students represent a variety of disciplines. Last summer, 18 Indonesian master teachers began a two-year postgraduate program in the Graduate School of Education. They are part of an extensive teacher-retraining program undertaken by the Indonesian government to help transform the country into an indus- trialized nation.

These teachers "are the cream of the crop, representing Indonesia's 27 provinces," comments Irid Farida Agoes, M.A. '82, who heads her own intercultural consulting firm in Jakarta, and is now studying for her Ph.D. in UB's Department of American Studies.

GOES, whose husband, Asmir, earned his master's degree in international trade from UB in 1982, describes an informal network of Jakarta-based alumni, who enjoy recalling the campus-and the snow-during frequent get-togethers. The Jakarta UB group includes Abeng's AFS "brother," Michael Gibson, J.D. '68, now chief consul to the largest privately held company in Indonesia. Two other UB law graduates are now in leading legal-corporate positions in Jakarta, Mark Conti, J.D. '93, and William Sandler, J. D. '88 & M.B.A. '88.

Laksmi D. Haryanto, M.B.A. '93, now works in Jakarta as a product promotions manager with Standard Chartered Bank, a multinational banking company based in London. She also reports regular gatherings of UB graduates "to discuss many things." Why did she choose UB? "I learned from some publicity that this university is actually good, the cost of living is affordable, and the environment is safe and nice.

"UB is a best-buy university," she adds. "The city is nice, the people are friendly, the snow is wonderful, and the professors are excellent." Her husband, Haryanto, also received his M.B.A. from UB in 1993 and now works for American Express in Jakarta as manager, business partners, marketing and sales.

The UB-Indonesia connection is sustained despite profound cultural and geographic differences. "It is the biggest country in Southeast Asia, with 190 million people," emphasizes Mirhan Tabrani, a UB social studies education major. "It stretches from west to east as long as from L.A. to New York, with two seasons, dry and rainy," he says.

Not surprisingly, the opinions and values of current Indonesian UB students reflect the influence of two cultures. Many major in fields like computer science or civil engineering, taking advantage of UB's extensive computer resources and "advanced technologies and up-to-date references, which are common at UB but not in Indonesia," says Frederik Putuhena, a civil engineering doctoral candidate.

The majority of Indonesian management students are concentrating in Management Information Systems (MIS), the school's most technical area.

An informal E-mail survey of Indonesian students reveals a strong allegiance to their heritage. They may want to learn western technology, but most are eager to return home to implement what they have learned. Overall, they see themselves as valuing close family ties more dearly than do Americans.

Their chosen fields of study tend to be practical. They are here for a reason-to acquire the skills necessary to help develop their country. Putuhena, who is pursuing his Ph.D. in water resources and environmental engineering, came to UB because "this is an industrial area, with environmental problems that I will study. Jakarta, the city where I come from, will have the same environmental problems, as it also has been developed as an industrial area."

The students perceive interesting cultural differences between Indonesians and their new friends at UB. Sandy Sukarto, a joint MIS and international trade major, says, "The people of Buffalo could learn about hospitality, high family values, and tolerance from the people of Indonesia. On the other hand, the people of Indonesia could learn about openness, freedom of speech, and friendship from the people of Buffalo."

"All I can say is Buffalo is a better place to study than Jakarta," remarks Ruby Soediono. "There are too many distractions and obstacles-like the traffic-in Jakarta. You really have to plan the time that it takes to get from one place to another."

....."Buffalonians should also see that cultural integration is not a bad thing," says Dicky Agustiady, an industrial engineering major. Because Indonesia is an island nation comprised of more than 300 ethnic groups speaking over 200 languages and dialects, cooperation and tolerance are practical necessities.

ARKETING and psychology student Fecacio Hanafi comments, "That is the good thing about UB; there is a place for everyone, if the person is willing to spend time to look for it. Being a passive student could be a miserable occupation.... I guess, the most important thing is that each culture must have an open mind and the motivation to learn, understand and tolerate the differences between them."

Tanri Abeng cites discipline as an important lesson that Indonesians must learn from Americans-discipline in applying management systems rather than relying on personal taste. "Most Indonesian companies rely on the personality and the culture of the family environment as well as social environment," he notes, "which are not necessarily conducive to effective management practices." On the other hand, American business practice "tends to be too bureaucratic, particularly at the multinational corporations, where the management structures are overextended."

Like many of their American colleagues, Indonesian students regard UB as a good value, but are concerned that the financial edge may soon be lost because of sharply rising tuition and fees.

Indonesians enjoy the advantages of student life, said a number of E-mail correspondents. "Well, one thing for sure that Indonesians could learn from Buffalo is to taste the famous Buffalo chicken wings," says Hanafi. "Actually, there was one that opened in Jakarta, but nobody really knew where it came from and never tried it! The poor soulsŠ." Other Buffalo favorites include the Bills and the snow, something of a novelty to students used to year-round tropical weather.

What does the future hold for UB and Indonesia?

"UB will be a more prominent player, not only in Indonesia, but throughout Southeast Asia in the years ahead," says UB's Stein. "We certainly will have a very active chapter there, and continue to build that relationship in both directions; to have alumni help recruit students for us, and have new graduates work with (established) alumni when they go back to find professional positions."

In July 1995, Stein led a delegation to Hong Kong, Korea and Indonesia to promote relations with UB alumni in Asia. Seventy percent of UB's international alumni live in Pacific Rim countries. "Not until I was over there with our alumni did I come to appreciate how important they see the university, how valuable they see the education that they have received."

During Stein's visit, Abeng hosted a gathering of Indonesian alumni at his Jakarta home, attended by 65 Indonesian alumni and other friends of the university.

"The purpose was to tell them how important they are to the university and how much we want to build this relationship," Stein said, "to recognize the accomplishments of Tanri and others, and to thank them for sending their very best and brightest students to the university."

In mid-January, a group of UB alumni met at Irid Agoes' Jakarta home to plan a more formal alumni organization.

This summer, Stein will return to southeast Asia to continue to strengthen UB's ties to the area. Also on the agenda is the formation of an alumni chapter in Taiwan.

Another important connection to Indonesia is at the Center for International Leadership. One means of furthering its mission to "advance leadership excellence within an international business context" has been the formation of a partnership with Indonesia's nonprofit Center for Corporate Leadership, chaired by-who else?-Tanri Abeng.

Two years ago, Abeng invited School of Management Associate Dean for International Programs John M. Thomas and management professors James Meindl and Jerry Newman to Jakarta to take part in the inaugural symposium on leadership and global economics attended by 200 high-level Indonesian managers and government officials.

Thomas anticipates returning to Indonesia in May 1996 to "develop a larger (seminar) program in cooperation with businesses out there." The university can also build on its exchange agreement with the University of Indonesia, negotiated in 1994. Since 1992, faculty in the natural sciences and dentistry from that school have been visiting UB to conduct research. Several visiting Indonesian scholars have collaborated on research in the Photonics Laboratory at UB's Department of Chemistry. In the future, students in UB's Asian Studies Program will pursue studies in Indonesian language and culture in Jakarta.

OWEVER UB-Indonesia relations develop in the future, Tanri Abeng will certainly be a part of it. He is chair of the recently formed advisory group to the international alumni organizing effort. In 1994, UB President William R. Greiner appointed him to the board of visitors, the first international alumnus to serve in that capacity.

Abeng looks to UB to help solve what he considers "the real challenge leaders and entrepreneurs are facing today in Indonesia, which is the development of qualified and professional human resources. As is commonly known, businesses can be acquired or established in a relatively short time (a matter of months or days), but developing people with professional depth and leadership with vision and wisdom takes years."

Abeng believes that UB "can certainly provide the avenue for Indonesians, both students and executives, to pursue further education and, perhaps, establish linkage in Indonesia with major corporations.

"This will require a certain degree of creativity and entrepreneurship, which I think UB has. I would like to personally help make this happen."

Christian Miller, B.A. '92 and M.B.A. '94, is a Buffalo-based freelance writer.