He’s all the man that you never imagine in context of any seated in ministry, something never be small-beer. Once he slammed the chairs in a toll booth in Jakarta, all by his own, after finding out the seats prevailed vacanted while traffic had approached its zenith – exactly in a supposedly traffic-free highway. He confronted security guards, all by himself, while trying to inspect, impromptu and unexpectedly, an ATC terminal in Soekarno-Hatta International Airport. He once slept in a farmer’s dwelling. He prefers driving Toyota Alphard by his own to getting on a red-plate vehicle. He refuses to take a salary worth up to 100 million rupiah a month. He burned the midnight oil to board the KRL train, one thing that never came to the passengers’ minds. He boomerang-ed his old sneakers and wore the new, branded DI 19, before the public.
Often, his ‘misdeeds’ are interpreted as being plebeian, or to a further extent, ‘Animashaun’. A few even misdoubt him, suspecting that he’s girding up his loins for ‘hidden agenda’ he may have it done in the near future (some surreptitious sources indicate that President SBY is currently preparing him as his next successor). Being RI-1, the great potentate? So far, he only offers an answer on a postcard, explicitly replying that he ‘is deliberately displeased with this question, and would like to proceed focusing on his main job: revitalizing and making Indonesia’s state-owned enterprises into world-class multinational corporations’. Or is he implicitly having a cache? He’s the only one to know how to hit the nail right on the head.
But then, almost everybody will always look up to every nutty-as-a-fruitcake ‘misdeed’ Dahlan Iskan has so far done, in full adoration.
I think there is something I may hypothetize to help explaining about his ‘misdeeds’. Being born in Magetan, East Java, to a not simply necessitous family, but of a dog-poor one, to miserably speak, this might have helped shaping his characteristics (he could only afford to buy shoes, second-hand, exactly, while he was almost ready to graduate from senior high school). Both his parents were illiterate, and his mother had passed away while he was a toddler. In order to ensure he and his brother obtain better education, his sister willingly replaced their mother’s position, working hard in paddy fields (I’m sorry if there’s any mistake here) to secure some bits of money to pay for their fees. Alas, I forgot to mention his date of birth. But, no, even he hadn’t the foggiest idea of exactly what date he came into the world. The only thing he recalled, during an interview in Kick Andy, Metro TV, was that ‘he had learnt to walk at the same time Mount Kelud exploded’. After some consideration, he decided to make one for his own: 17 August, 1951, exactly 6 years after the Independence Day was proclaimed.
He once spent 2 years in a journalism school in Samarinda, East Kalimantan, before he dropped out due to financial constraints. Afterwards, he found employment in Tempo by 1976, and later on, Jawa Pos company.
Originally a journalist, his tipping point commenced in 1982 while his boss passed away, inheriting him a decrepit media company, readying for bankruptcy anytime. But, just, after 3 decades, thanks to a combination of hard work, luck (motivators do not, and never want to believe this EVT-ed factor), and determination, the supposedly out-of-whack Jawa Pos was converted into a national media empire, similarly equivalent to News Corp., with 140 chains of newspapers, radio, and TV stations under their full control (excluding an optic-cable company, two skyscrapers in Jakarta and Surabaya, and two power-plant operators).
Given his solid – but flexible – leadership in Jawa Pos Group, he was entrusted by the end of 2009 to fill the position as chairman of PLN, Indonesia’s public-owned power company notoriously known for frequent blackouts and inadequate power supply. Throughout his chairmanship, there were still blackouts, to be honest, but just the rate had been greatly reduced, compared to that of the others. I think that we were already fortunate enough having an individual so enticed with his commitments to make Indonesia ‘blackout-free’ nation, albeit some places, particularly the isolated and borderline territories, haven’t been exposed to sufficient electrification. Nevertheless, no more than 2 years later, he reluctantly waved his hand at PLN, the company he believes to have ‘abundant potential to grow’. The reason was nothing but this: he had been appointed by President SBY to fill in the position of Ministry of SOEs, indicating that his tasks grew more arduous than ever. But that didn’t mean he totally gave up PLN. The difference is that he would have to handle approximately 150 state-owned enterprises, and more than 400 subsidiaries, whose all combined assets amounted to over Rp 3000 trillion (320 billion US$, more or less equivalent to one-third of Indonesia’s total GDP, which is forecast to surpass the 1-trillion-dollar mark by end of 2012).
Being a minister is in manifold more outdaring than being a chairman he used to be. First, he had been mandated by the President to revitalize the businesses, minimize corruption, eliminate bureaucracy, and most challenging one, to execute SBY’s long-term megaproject: Masterplan Percepatan dan Perluasan Pembangunan Ekonomi Indonesia (MP3EI), translated in English as ‘Masterplan for the Acceleration and Expansion of Economic Development in Indonesia’. Passed in 2011, the megaproject, worth more than Rp 4000 trillion (430 billion US$) and scattered in thousands of growth-spurring projects, will remain in place until 2025, the time the government has expected to achieve GDP-per-capita rate as high as 15,000 US$. At the same time, central government has targeted by 2014, nearly Rp 1000 trillion (108 billion US$) has been invested in nation-wide infrastructure projects, two-thirds of which are submitted to the SOEs for the completion. This may have been Dahlan Iskan’s largest, and longest, homework to finish.
For sure he needs countless brainchildren to help accomplishing all his fatiguesome assignments. He often itinerates from universities to universities – aside of his daily visits to factories spread nation-wide – to know more about unusual inventions and novel ideas presented by students. Sometimes he also triggers the idea exchanges himself: he once challenged students to invent a machine able to convert sago into rice.
In my viewpoint, there has never been a minister of this decade here as trail-blazing, and highly sensation-making – well, perhaps actually there are some, but are not that ‘showy’ – as he is. Isn’t that ‘cool’ when you see a minister comes to presidential palace, but wears sneakers? Or it may have been his own style, without any hyperboles or exaggeration, given his experience that he once lived in extreme poverty?
But one fact that makes the public even adore him more is that his ability to stay down-to-earth, and open to ideas. He dismisses himself as being a minister, and instead refers himself as a ‘CEO’ (because he hates bureaucracy). He even dismisses himself as being humble, further claiming that he still wears costly sneakers, and drives a sedan car as exorbitantly priced as Alphard. He has visions that Indonesia must cease being dependent on imports, a case he heavily emphasizes particularly in vital and strategic industries (for instance, armament, logistic, shipping, and aerospace, which have remained stagnant till the cows come home). He aims to eliminate red-tape culture, the source of corruption and graft, having been instilled in the SOEs for decades, and instead converts them into something more of a corporate, and highly competitive, one. One controversial decision he has made is the privatization of more SOEs by means of initial public offering (IPO). But, he added, the privileged rights to own these companies must be prioritized mainly for local businesses.
His self-titled ‘cowboy’-like action doesn’t cease here. Before telling the press 70% of the SOEs are corrupt, he implemented a policy – without consent from House of Representatives – in which he has the sole rights to appoint all the boards, in order to minimize the probability of party insiders getting seats, who may have plundered their assets solely for the political parties’ sake. Thus, it puts the parties, and himself, in jeopardy. The parliament even threatened him with interpelation, the former’s rights to conduct interrogative queries, which make him vulnerable to dismissal from his current position. But, as he’d said in an interview, “I’m okay being called a cowboy. So, why should I fear about it?”
His most ambitious dream currently undergoing progress is a national electric car megaproject. He has set goal that by 2013, as many as 100,000 electric cars must have been manufactured en masse. Others include massive investment in solar power plants (he once said that investment in solar energy worth Rp 120 trillion is better than oil subsidies worth Rp 240 trillion, because the former can afford to electrify the whole Indonesia for a very long term, given its enormous potential: 4.8 kWh / sq m / day), and his efforts to make SOEs world-class companies.
Back then, no one is ever a pure superhuman. Particularly for Dahlan himself. Reminiscing a few years prior, he suffered chronic, final-stage liver cancer, blurring further the real line between life and death. The disease resulted as the outcome of his uncontrolled overwork. The main factor contributing to his recovery was more of a lucky coincidence: a Chinese male teenager decided to donate his liver. He then underwent liver transplantation in China by 2007, and subsequently recovered almost half a year later. To maintain his well-being, and his brand-new liver as well, he is summoned to take pills for the rest of his life. But, the seemingly ‘bad’ habit maintains the same: he sleeps no more than 4 hours a day, having dealt with problems in the ministry, and exchanged tweets with his followers.
Let me end this by rehearsing back the main question: how many individuals like Dahlan Iskan does Indonesia actually need? I suppose, as of my opinion, it takes 5 persons like him, with similar unwavering integrity, far-stretching visions, and flaming optimism to make this country thrive better, anytime he has retired, or passed out.
To get closer with the public, he’s recently set up @iskan_dahlan in Twitter by mid-April this year, and you won’t believe this is his real account (and even never writes his own profile). Feel free to ask, even the silliest questions (like: how handsome are you?, or, why don’t you respond to my tweets?), and he sometimes replies you (if possible) with emoticons that remind you of a narcissistic user, or in Mandarin (he masters fluent Chinese as well). It is his tweets that never make you believe the person replying you is actually a minister, and who knows, a presidential-nominee-to-be.
To get to know his track record further, please access his personal blog, Manufacturing Hope (only available in Bahasa Indonesia).