Sukanto Tanoto – Management by Walking Around

Sukanto Tanoto, who leads the $15 billion RGE Group as founder and CEO, is an Indonesian businessman and entrepreneur who takes high-quality management practices seriously.

A strong proponent of the hands-on style of leadership, Sukanto Tanoto believes that best management practices involve staying as closely connected with day-to-day operations as possible. He believes in getting out from behind his desk and visiting factory worksites himself and asking for honest feedback from employees.

This “management by walking around” practice parallels his firm’s commitment to responsible corporate governance and responsiveness to the needs of the communities in which it operates.

In December 2008, on Sukanto Tanoto’s 60th birthday, his senior management staff delivered tributes to his management style at an event held in Singapore. As described in their narratives, Tanoto juggles his busy and often frenetic schedule to ensure that he can spend time in the field, viewing major areas of production. This has included annual visits to each of the plantations through which his family of companies derives its wood pulp and other raw-material products.

During Sukanto Tanoto’s on-site visits, he would select portions of each estate to get a complete view of the conditions of each property and speak with workers and field assistants directly. In addition, these “management by walking around” tours would include extensive personal examination of the growth conditions of the palm trees and other plants covering many hectares of land. Finally, he would summarize what he had learned in late afternoon staff meetings, in which he discussed any further action needed to maintain or upgrade working conditions and production quality.

When estate managers presented budget and performance information, Sukanto Tanoto quickly noted when both praise and criticism were due, requiring managers who had gone over budget or under production requirements to create immediate action plans.

Believing that success requires working smart as well as working hard, Sukanto Tanoto has impressed upon his senior team the necessity of adhering to high quality standards in plantation management. The culture he has inculcated throughout his companies focuses on the importance of leading through example, demonstrating commitment, maintaining devotion to doing the job well, and working together as a team.

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