Nicolaas Tirtadinata: A Leader Must Be Able to Serve

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 At one time glorious and a leading player in the local cigarette industry, PT Bentoel Prima (BP) seemed to have run out of steam amid the tight competition in the cigarette business. By the end of 2005, BP’s position was overtaken by Nojorono and Philip Morris. BP slipped to sixth place.  

Ironic? Probably so. How could a major league player like BP be overtaken by Philip Morris, which relies on its only brand Marlboro, while BP has sufficient “ammunition”? BP manufactures all categories of cigarettes from kretek or clove cigarettes to regular cigarettes.   

However, the unfavorable situation did not last long. By the end of 2006, BP was back in its previous position of number four. What made the company more proud was the fact that for the first time that year, BP made a great achievement with over 10 billion cigarette sales. “Satisfied? Of course, but our efforts do not end here,” said Nicolaas B. Tirtadinata, president director of BP.   

Nico, as he is intimately called, has every reason to be proud of this fantastic achievement recorded in 2006 by BP, which was established in 1930. The achievement was also reassuring to the company’s shareholders, who had entrusted the leadership position to him.   

However, Nico said that BP’s success was not due to his hard work alone. “All this is the result of our team’s hard work,” he said modestly.

He said the success of a company very much depends on the team within the organization. The leader’s role, he said, is more on directing the right way for the progress of the company. “Once a direction has been established the leader must be able to lead the team in the set direction so that whatever is required by the leader is supported by the team,” he emphasized.   

Nico, a father of three, believes that by having a solid team his duties as a leader becomes more focused, because he can delegate work to his team or subordinates. “With a solid and competent team it is easier to make decisions and grab opportunities,” he said.   

During Nico’s leadership BP’s achievements have proven to be quite significant. Bentoel’s brands, such as StarMild, X Mild, Country and Sejati are enjoying robust growth. BP’s sales in 2006 increased by 50 percent. Until mid-2007, the achievements have been well maintained. “Our sales grew 48 percent up to the end of this year’s first semester,” said Nico.   

Nico revealed that BP has sufficient ammunition for its marketing warfare as the company’s portfolio is well targeted toward each segment in the country. Each of the company’s brands can still be given added value. “Our concentration is to enhance the brand value of each product that we have,” he added.   

However, although there are numerous brands, Nico said that BP has to carefully calculate its financial resources to boost the sales of the company’s various brands. “We are not the kind of company with unlimited financial resources like our `friends’,” he said, referring to the company’s competitors.  

“This shortcoming of BP can be compensated with a solid team. Basically, with a strong, solid team we can overcome any type of obstacle,” he stressed.   

Nico, born on June 4, 1958, said one of the knacks of becoming a leader is to make each member of his organization have the same perception of the company’s vision and mission, because in a major company like his there are so many people with different characters. “That is not an easy job. A leader must be willing to serve so that he comes to know the character of each team member,” he said.   

To Nico, a person’s character is of paramount importance. “First the character must be good, if it is not then it is better not to use the person, because it is impossible for us to change someone’s character in such a large company,” he said. “What we need is people with good character so that we only have to polish them with coaching and training.”   

Nico, a graduate of the economics school at Atma Jaya University, said he felt fortunate that he had a financial background. At BP before his current position he was the finance director. While working as the finance director he also eagerly learned about the other divisions in the company, with curiosity or eagerness making him well versed. “So I always know in detail, for example, when a marketing person requests funds or the needs of the production people, etc.,” he said.   

An ardent tennis and golf enthusiast, Nico said that although BP does not belong to him, he runs the company as if it was his. He has also spread this attitude of ownership or sense of belonging to all employees, especially the directors at BP.

“This way we have one single direction. What is not healthy, or so I believe, is a lengthy or continuous difference of opinion. Unresolved matters affect subordinates. So if there is harmony or unity at the top there will also be similar harmony among subordinates,” he said.   

Nico has one obsession: the restoring of Bentoel’s glory. “Bentoel once enjoyed glorious days in the Indonesian cigarette industry. My obsession is to restore Bentoel’s glory. If it is not achievable during my time, then at least I will build a strong foundation in that direction,” commented Nico.   

He said that he had started paving the path toward reaching his goal. Apart from rearranging the products, BP is also rearranging its infrastructure, like its human resources and distribution, and everything is supported by an integrated information technology system.

“I can claim that in cigarette distribution we are the best,” said Nico confidently.    BP uses an integrated SAP system. “Our salesmen use PDAs that are integrated with the SAP system.”   

The use of PDAs makes the work of the sales force more effective and efficient. Previously, he said, company salesmen had to spend time in the office making sales reports. Under the current system, referring to the data in their PDAs, every morning they can easily determine the stock of cigarettes to take based on the previous four weeks’ coverage, the amount of invoices to collect from each shop and the best sales routes to take. This kind of administrative speed boosts the efficiency and speed of the sales force. “The less time they spend in the office, the better for us,” he said.   

Information technology not only greatly helps the sales force but also the decision-making process for BP management. “In the evening I can easily find out the top 10 wholesalers and top 10 salesmen of the day. That really helps,” he said. “Decisions can also be made faster.”   

According to Nico, members of the sales force are happy with the system as they can sell more, reach or exceed the target and receive a bonus. Another added value is that they appear more professional in the eyes of customers and shop owners. “This factor will also positively affect BP’s corporate image.” (T.Hidayat)  

The Jakarta Post, August 29, 2007    

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  1. It is my first post here, so I would like to say hallo to all of you! It is unquestionably pleasure to be adjacent to your community!

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