Sukanto Tanoto was born on 25 December 1949 (Christmas Day) in Medan, Indonesia. His parents were immigrants from Putien, China. He is the eldest of seven sons, and though he lived in Indonesia, was educated in a Chinese school. At the age of 17 he had to leave his formal education behind before graduating, and joined the family business in Medan, supplying spare parts to oil and gas companies.
Sukanto took over the running of the business after his father suffered a stroke, and he gradually managed to grow the business by winning contracts to build gas pipelines for multinational corporations. The business took off during the 1972 oil crisis, and the extra cash flow was used to start up a new company (RGE, formally RGM) to locally produce plywood filling a large gap in the local market.
As his businesses expanded, Sukanto Tanoto came to the realisation that he needed to master English language skills to become a global player. This realization motivated him to learn English word-for-word by using a Chinese-English dictionary to translate the English written magazines, Life, Newsweek and Reader’s Digest. He also attended a business school in Jakarta in the mid 1970’s and continued further studies at INSEAD in Fontaineblue, France.
The Tanoto Foundation was formed in 1981 by Mr Tanoto and his wife, Tinah Bingei Tanoto, with the intent to help impoverished communities through education, empowerment and enhancement programs.
He made the decision to move to Singapore in 1997 taking his family with him, and established RGE’s headquarters there, though continues to hold an Indonesian passport and citizenship.
RGE has grown to manage a global group of resource-based manufacturing companies with operations in Brazil, China and Indonesia. It embraces the business approach of operating in a way which is: Good for the community, good for the country, good for the climate and good for the company.