Self-made Indonesian entrepreneur Sukanto Tanoto heads the RGE Group, a $15 billion family of companies focused on the manufacturing of pulp and paper, palm oil products, cellulose, and other natural resources-based goods. His companies also deal in energy production and distribution, with a recent interest in delivering liquefied natural gas from western Canada to Asian markets.
Working with a by-the-bootstraps philosophy emphasizing hard work, constant self-education, and practical insights about best practices in business and market strategy, Mr. Tanoto has earned a place among Southeast Asia’s leading CEOs. He has attended classes at The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania in order to increase his own knowledge and abilities, and is an advocate for education and support for Indonesia’s new generation of entrepreneurs.
Some authorizes in the field write that many Asian entrepreneurs in recent years have received advice telling them to quit school and immediately start their own companies. There are many successful entrepreneurs who are school drop-outs but are performing extremely well in today’s world. Bill Gates dropped out of Harvard to focus on building Microsoft, Mark Zuckerberg dropped out of Harvard to promote his social networking platform Facebook and became the youngest billionaire in the world, and Steve Jobs dropped out of Reed College to start Apple Inc. This is in contrast to conventional thinking which tends to emphasize the value of formal business education, particularly the programs of prestigious business schools before embarking on the journey of entrepreneurship. There is a much higher risk appetite in recent years as compared to the old way of thinking.
In the past however, Asia-based entrepreneurs generally have different reasons for dropping out of school even when they may want to continue. Usually, family circumstances such as financial difficulties are the main contributing reasons to the drop-out rate. Sukanto Tanoto is one of these entrepreneurs who faced such family circumstances but was able to overcome difficulties and achieved what he has today.
Over the years, a number of these aspiring businessmen and women may also go on to develop their businesses and become successful through the support of community-based lending organizations, or philanthropic organizations such as Mr. Tanoto’s own foundation. One of the Tanoto Foundation’s goals is to provide continuing education to Indonesian students and potential entrepreneurs through special events, skill-building opportunities, and mentorship programs.
While entrepreneurs in the U.S. can access a far wider and deeper formal network of support and infrastructure to help them launch and sustain their businesses, their Asian counterparts have become some of the biggest drivers of economic growth in the developing world. Asian entrepreneurs’ passion for learning and gaining practical experience make the future look bright for emerging small companies in the world. Of course, this does not come without challenges – one of them includes taking entrepreneurial companies to the next level as larger corporations known world wide, such as Sukanto Tanoto’s efforts in transforming RGE into a multinational company.