Benny Wennas: Key to Success is Willingness to Change

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One night about 30 years ago, in a corner of a house in West Jakarta, a university student sat on his bed trying very hard to study for an exam the next day. As there was a blackout, he was studying under poor light. Under his bed, water from a nearby overflowing river had reached ankle-deep.

Unable to overcome his sleepiness, he closed his eyes. But only for a very short time. Mosquitoes disrupted his sleep. As a result, he could neither sleep nor study. You can guess the outcome. He failed the next day’s Corporate Calculation exam.

This young man, Benny Wennas, is now the leader of a very successful company with a sales volume of trillions of rupiah. This company is WOM Finance (PT Wahana Ottomitra Multiartha). “I well remember this episode in my life,” he said, reminiscing.

This story tells us why Benny understands full well the plight of victims in Jakarta’s recent floods. It was this flooding that made him postpone an interview with The Jakarta Post. “My mind is focused on the flood victims. How can we help them and how can we send aid, etc.,” Benny said.

His words are those of an idealist, but that is Benny, a professional who started at the lowest rung of the ladder. Today, nearly everybody, particularly motorcyclists, are familiar with his company, WOM Finance.

WOM Finance is a financing company for motorcycles, the pioneer of leasing companies for motorized vehicles in Indonesia. Benny, in fact, is idealistic about motorcycle loans. “A motorcycle is not a wasteful consumer item; it is a necessity, especially today,” he argued. “I fulfill the basic dream of people,” he said.

That’s why he insists that his business is nothing like a credit card company. A father of three, he said that a bank lending money through a credit card company cannot monitor the person borrowing the money. In our case, he said, someone borrows money for a particular item, “They cannot have other items! The biggest loan possible is about Rp 20 million,” he said.

During the interview with Benny, a native of Singkawang, West Kalimantan, his idealism became more and more apparent, particularly when he referred to his employees as friends. “A president director is not a god! I don’t like to be bossy,” he said. By building close relations with his employees, Benny can avoid the emergence of unspoken issues in his office.

Unspoken issues, Benny said, can cause the collapse of a company. Unmentionable topics also threaten a company. That’s why, Benny, an MBA holder from Hull University in Britain, always tries to be open with his employees.

“Through this openness, we must be ready to accept the so-called brutal facts,” Benny said, quoting the concept introduced by Jim Collins, a writer of management books. “Despite our dislikes, these brutal facts will allow us to learn what must be done to prevent things from becoming worse,” he said.

However, Benny said the most important thing in running a business was a change in attitude. “There is no successful person who hasn’t made changes,” he said. That’s why he fully agrees with Rhenald Khasali, author of ReCode DNA.

“The essence of this book is that someone’s success is determined more by their way of thinking, including the willingness to change,” said Benny, an avid reader married to Lily Kumalasari.

Benny also tries to encourage his employees to read. That’s why he distributes books among them that he thinks they’ll find beneficial. Benny has a few tricks up his sleeve with which to develop his employees. In terms of salary, for example, he applies the underpaid concept. “This does not mean that I pay them low salaries. They continue to be assessed in accordance with their capacity and capability,” he said.

What he refers to as the underpaid concept is that it is better for someone to be paid less than they expect. Let’s say someone thinks he deserves Rp 10 million a month. In this case it would be better to pay him less, for example between Rp 5 million and Rp 8 million, according to Benny.

Therefore, he continued, this person may still have “room” for maneuvering when he leaves the company due to being poached by another firm or because the company goes bankrupt. “It would be different if he received more than Rp 10 million. For him to move to another place because the company went bankrupt, for example, would be difficult as he already has ‘overpaid value’,” he said.

It would be even more difficult, said Benny, who was born in 1955, if this person and his family had a high lifestyle. Therefore, by way of advice, he said it was best to be underpaid and live frugally!

Benny said employees should divide a career into two: a time to learn and a time to earn. “During the time to learn, don’t think too much about your salary. The most important thing is to improve your added value through experience,” he said. When your added value is high, he added, then you can start thinking about earnings.

All this, he said, can be put together in his company’s values as AFFECTION, which stands for Appreciation, Family Feeling, Enthusiasm, Creativity, Trustworthiness and Determination. Added to these values are his corporate culture of Learning, Sharing and Coaching. This solid corporate concept and culture has seen WOM Finance under Benny enjoy rapid development.

Established in 1982 under the name of PT Jakarta Tokyo Leasing, this company was acquired in 1997 from PT Fuji Semeru Leasing. It later focused on leasing for motorcycles, particularly Hondas. In 2000, the name of this company officially became WOM Finance.

A year later, WOM made its first bond issued worth Rp 300 billion. In 2005, it staged a second bond issue worth Rp 500 billion. A year earlier, in 2004, WOM became a publicly listed company. In the same year, WOM formed an alliance with BII, which confirmed WOM’s position as a top leasing company.

Last year, WOM made its third bond issued worth Rp 825 billion. All that WOM has done in this respect has attracted the interest of foreign institutions to team up with it. At present, three foreign institutions from different countries are collaborating with WOM in terms of financing worth millions of US dollars.

WOM’s achievement has also attracted the attention of the mass media in Indonesia, which has named WOM, with 100 branch offices all over Indonesia, the best multi-finance company for several consecutive years. Benny himself has been named “2006 Financial Figure” by Investor magazine.

Who would ever guess that a company as large as WOM Finance is led by someone who failed the Corporate Calculation exam in his university days? Is it fate? Maybe yes. But it is not fate as generally defined. Benny defines fate as “the end of every effort that you make!” (Arif T. Syam)

The Jakarta Post, March 7, 2007
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