Darwin Silalahi: Aiming to Become a Memorable Leader

ENACTMENT of Law No. 22 issued in 2001 on oil and gas totally changed the map of downstream oil and gas business competition in Indonesia. The domestic fuel and oil business was completely liberated, starting from processing, transporting and stocking to trading.

One of the companies that appears to be quite aggressive in developing its downstream business in Indonesia is the Royal Dutch Shell Group. One indication of the Dutch firm’s seriousness is its change in name from PT Kridapetra Graha to PT Shell Indonesia. At the same time Shell appointed Darwin Silalahi as the country chairman and CEO of Shell Indonesia. Darwin is the first Indonesian to hold Shell’s highest position here.  “These announcements underscore our commitment to grow our business in Indonesia and the region,” said downstream executive director of Royal Dutch Shell, Rob Routs, in June. 

It was not without reason that Royal Dutch Shell appointed Darwin to oversee its business expansion. Darwin, who was born in Balige, North Sumatra, on May 2, 1962, has the right qualifications, experience and capability for the job. It is only fitting because the oil and gas industry is not new to him. He worked as a geophysicist with British Petroleum (BP) for 10 years at the beginning of his career, with positions not only in Indonesia but also in Aberdeen (Scotland), London (England) and Houston (Texas, U.S.). 

His professional experience is quite extensive as besides working for multinational corporations such as BP and Booz Allen Hamilton, he has also worked for national companies as well as for government agencies. After he left BP, Darwin joined a company within the Dharmala Group, PT Dharmala Inti Utama, as assistant to Group CEO before moving to a holding company of PT Bakrie & Brothers Tbk as group director of planning and development. His government positions included energy, transportation and telecommunications director for the ministry of state-owned enterprises.

Darwin was also the first Indonesian to be the CEO of a prominent American management consultant corporation, Booz Allen & Hamilton Indonesia. For Darwin, the trust given to him by Shell is like a dream come true. After seven years of working in management consultancy he wanted to return to the real sector.  “From the very beginning I have worked in operational companies. BP, Dharmala and Bakrie are such companies as they are not service providers. After seven years with Booz Allen & Hamilton I wanted to return to the operational work environment, and fortunately a good opportunity was available at Shell,” he said. 

Shell’s offer is his greatest challenge, said the man who attained his master’s degree at the University of Houston. This is because Shell’s business in Indonesia is still categorized as small in comparison to other major oil companies here, such as ExxonMobil, BP and Chevron, while Shell is actually the world’s second largest oil company and the world’s third largest company as ranked in the Fortune Global 500 Companies. Indonesia is the company’s birth place as it discovered oil in Sumatra more than 120 years ago.  “I am motivated to realize Shell’s aspiration to become a major player here,” he said with determination. 

“During my time at Booz Allen, I gave plenty of business advice on strategies to grow in Indonesia to both multinational and domestic companies. My extensive operational experience helped me to realize them. I am now expected to bring in various innovations for the execution of the growth strategy of Shell in Indonesia,” he said.

He went on to say that the oil and gas market in Indonesia is growing rapidly, especially the downstream sector, and that Indonesia is one developing country that Royal Dutch Shell is focusing on besides China, India and Russia. “Shell’s global strategy in the downstream sector is to grab profitable opportunities in fast growing markets,” Darwin added. 

He said that opportunities for Shell to grow in Indonesia abound both in the downstream sector, like lubricants and gas stations, as well as in the upstream sector. “Shell can only succeed in the market if it becomes number one or at least number two,” he said. To achieve that Shell must be daring enough to expand on a large scale. For instance, it has more than 900 gas stations in Malaysia, which has a population of slightly over 20 million. Shell Indonesia currently has only 10 gas stations in Indonesia.

He accepted Shell’s offer after considering what he wanted at this stage in his career. “I am 45. What usually motivates people of my age is developing or building a legacy. In the next five to 10 years I would like to be able to look back at what I have achieved. I would like to build something that I can tell stories about to my children and grandchildren,” he said. He is inspired by Teddy Rachmat, who will be remembered by many as the builder of Astra. 

“Today, the various achievements of Astra are related to the legacy built by Teddy Rachmat,” Darwin said. Hence, Darwin is also determined to build his own legacy at Shell Indonesia in the form of a company that is good, sustainable and fast growing or one known as the Most Admired Company. 

“I also want to learn from Robby Djohan’s time at Bank Niaga. Bank Niaga is a middle-sized bank that has created many top Indonesian executives like Arwin (Rasyid), Emir (Emirsyah Satar), Agus Marto (Martowardoyo) and many others. I would like Shell to be like that. When Indonesians work at Shell they should feel that they are also learning as well. Such employees, should they leave Shell, will be hunted down and wooed by head hunters. And working at Shell should be a platform to building one’s career quickly once a person leaves Shell,” he said in explaining his dream. 

To realize all his dreams Darwin said he would strictly adhere to his principle, which is doing his best in everything. “Indeed, at the end of the day it will not be only me who will decide about the success of everything. But one has to do his utmost first,” he concluded. (T. Hidayat)

The Jakarta Post, August 22, 2007

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