Herman Moeliana: Gaining success through thinking simple

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“I learned about it from friends and newspapers,” said Herman Moeliana, CEO of United Chemicals, in response to the news of his nomination as a finalist for the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur 2006 award some time ago.

Herman said he could not believe it. “I was being compared with prominent entrepreneurs. Who was I?” he said in a strong West Javanese accent.

Indeed, some of the 12 finalists were familiar figures in Indonesia’s business world, including Helmy Yahya (CEO of Triwarsana – a production house that produces many top rating television programs), Hary Tanoesoedibjo (CEO of RCT Ithe oldest and leading private television station) and Subiakto Priosoedarsono (CEO of Hotlinean advertising company known for its eccentric ideas).

That measured reaction reflects the character of the gentleman who was born in Bandung on Oct. 19, 1944. Herman always keeps a low profile. In fact, the company he founded with four employees in a small room in 1983, PT United Chemicals Inter Aneka (UCIA), has grown into a big company with more than 600 employees and now occupies space in multi-story buildings in Central Jakarta and Tangerang, Banten.

Nevertheless, all of this has not prompted Herman to lead a lavish life.is the use of buying many luxury cars? One luxury car is enough. They all feel the same,” he argued.

“If you drove a luxury car to a busy, congested area like Glodok (Jakarta’s downtown), you’d worry. I’d rather buy another car of medium price. That way, the gap between the rich and the poor is less pronounced,” he said.

Probably the humble character of this father of two and grandfather of one is rooted in the fact that he built his business from scratch. After graduating from the Chemical Engineering Department of the Bandung Institute of Technology in 1971, Herman began working at a British company in Jakarta.

Over the next several years he changed jobs a few times. But one thing is clear: he remains committed to working in the chemical industry because it is compatible with the subjects he learned at the institute.

Entrepreneurship remained a goal ever since he started his first job, and finally in 1976, together with some friends, he started buying shares (albeit in small numbers) in a company named PT Linsea Inc. Over time, Linsea developed and gained success. But Herman and his friends felt that they had deviated from their initial mission with Linsea. Finally, after they failed to reach a deal, Herman and like-minded colleagues quit Linsea and set up their own company, PT United Chemicals Inter Aneka (UCIA) in 1983.

And fate favored Herman. Many of his long-term customers and suppliers remained loyal to him. Old friends were also supportive even though Herman and his colleagues were flying a new flag. This made it easier for UCIA to get started, so much so that UCIA was practically at the “harvesting” phase of business.

That is not to say that Herman did not have to work hard. On the contrary, he had to go everywhere by motorcycle, including to factories located in the suburbs, since there were only a few employees. “That is why I have coarse palms because I did not wear gloves,” he recalled.

His perseverance and hard work were not in vain. Many of his customers were satisfied and gradually their numbers increased. The key to success, he said, is to provide personalized service. This service, he added, is crucial because the goods he sells are raw materials that anybody can sell.makes us different is the way we approach our customers,” said the man who likes playing golf. “If customers are happy with the way we serve them, they will not turn to other sellers, even if they sell at lower prices than us.”

With his humbleness, it is little wonder that customers eventually became loyal clients. During a transaction, a customer buys not just goods, but also the personality of the seller. Here Her-man succeeds in his personality. Moreover, the goods and products he sells are not finished products, therefore, the personal touch is important. If their goods are finished products, the role of promotional campaigns and other marketing tools will determine the commercial success or failure of the products.

In fact Herman does sell finished products as well. One such product is an anti-leak material called Aquaproof. “Selling a finished product is more difficult,” Herman admitted.

He often learns from his staff how to sell finished products.not embarrassed to learn from my subordinates. After all, they have developed special skills for that,” he said, giving an explanation of why he has staff to market Aquaproof.

From such an experience Herman underlined that in marketing finished products, the marketing force is the most crucial element. “A good marketer is one who can sell goods of average quality. On the contrary, a good quality product will not sell if the marketing forces are not skillful,” he explained. But he immediately added that he would not justify just any means to sell a product.

According to Herman, ethics and credibility must be maintained in marketing products. The result? Not long after UCIA was founded, Herman in 1985 set up two other companies, PT Inter Aneka Lestari Kimia (IALK) which produces Aquaproof, and PT Adi Cakra Utama Mulia (ACUM) which distributes it. Aquaproof got a 1994 version of an ISO 9001 certificate in 2000 and a 2000 version in 2004. Aquaproof also became a generic name for similar new products since it was the first product of its kind on the market.

All these successes, Herman argued, are attributed to the hard work and perseverance of himself and his friends and their ability to identify opportunities. However, Herman also admitted that customer loyalty also played a part in the successes he has achieved.

And although Herman did not earn the top award in the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year 2006, he feels grateful that he was nominated as one of the 12 finalists. For Herman, who will continue to work for as long as his body and mind allows, that is not the mission in building his business. His mission, Herman said, is simple. “I only want the companies I set up to be useful to me, my family and my employees for a very long time. That’s all!” (Arif T. Syam)

The Jakarta Post, January 03, 2007
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