Like Sukanto Tanoto, head of the $15 billion RGE Group, Anthony Salim is ranked on Forbes magazine’s list of the 10 wealthiest men in Indonesia. While Mr. Tanoto built up his small family business into one of the world’s leading manufacturers of agricultural and forestry products, Anthony Salim took over the chairmanship of the Salim Group conglomerate from his late father, founder Liem Sioe Liong, who was widely known by his Indonesian name, Sudono Salim. The Salim Group encompasses a wide array of industries, from agricultural production and palm oil processing to comestibles and communication.
At the time of Indonesia’s economic crisis of 1998, the Salim Group lost major portions of its assets and business interests in banking and multiple other sectors, but 15 years later had rebounded to again become a leading conglomerate. The 2014 book Liem Sioe Liong’s Salim Group: The Business Pillar of Suharto’s Indonesia, written by Richard Borsuk and Nancy Chng, credits Anthony Salim’s business acumen and strategic problem-solving skills with helping his father’s company stay afloat, and later thrive, in those tumultuous years.
The resignation of long-time Indonesian president Suharto in 1998 created further negative ripples throughout the country’s business community, which was already hurt by the larger Asian economic crisis. According to the Economist magazine, Indonesia was the worst-hit of all the region’s economies during that time. In 1998 alone, the nation’s economy shrank by 13 percent, with the rupiah falling at one point during the turmoil from an exchange rate of about 2,000 per United States dollar to close to 17,000. The country’s banking network disintegrated, with dozens of banks closing and large numbers of people becoming impoverished.
During the crisis, Anthony Salim was instrumental in negotiations to settle the Salim Group’s enormous debts, which partially stemmed from the collapse of its Bank BCA. He focused the conglomerate on maintaining and developing its Indofood division, which manufactures instant noodles and flour products. Anthony Salim held firm to fight for the Salim Group’s interests against multiple members of the Indonesian government cabinet, who were calling for the government’s confiscation of the company. Thanks to this shrewd maneuvering, the Salim Group was able to build back most of the assets it had lost in the 1998 crisis, and today it oversees operations across Southeast Asia and the Middle East.