Widigdo Sukarman: Experience is the Best Teacher

Is it true that experience is the best teacher? If you believe so, learn from Widigdo Sukarman, former CEO at a number of state banks (BNI, Papan Sejahtera and BTN) and now lecturer at several institutions.

Widigdo, who was born on Dec. 31, 1941 in Banjarnegara, Central Java, is the right person to learn from. “Even when I’m in a classroom, my students ask me just to share my experiences with them because, they say, they can learn theories by themselves,” said Widigdo, who earned his doctoral degree from the School of Social and Political Sciences at Gadjah Mada University (UGM), Yogyakarta, in 2003.

Indeed, who wouldn’t want to hear or learn from his experience as the top executive at a number of banks over several years? He led these companies, introduced efficiency programs and dealt with a crisis. However, Widigdo does not agree with an opinion that he is better than other lecturers as each lecturer has his or her own pluses and minuses. “Some lecturers do not have much experience but they teach well. Others have had a lot of experience but fail to share their experiences,” said Widigdo, who is also a member of the board of trustees of the Master of Management Program at University Gadjah Mada (MM UGM).

Ideally, however, he went on, a good leader must also be a good teacher. “How can he convey his ideas if he cannot present them properly?” he said.

This was the reason that, when MM UGM was still under consideration in 1988, Widigdo was not only involved in the process of initiating this masters program but he, who was at that time still the chief of the planning division of BNI, asked his staff to teach particular programs. He also gave a general lecture there. “Fresh graduates from abroad could teach there. While improving their ideas, they could earn additional income. These people were given credit points and their involvement in this masters program at UGM was also part of the personal appraisal at BNI,” he said.

Education is inseparable from Widigdo’s life. “Especially so, since I’m a son of a teacher. It runs in my blood,” said Widigdo, the seventh of nine siblings.

Widigdo has earned several degrees like Master of Public Administration (MPA), Master of Business Administration (MBA) and even PhDs from the world’s most prestigious educational institutions. He obtained the degrees because he likes education.

Widigdo, who earned his MPA from Harvard University in 1983 and his MBA from Boston University in 1985, both in the United States, refutes the belief that when an official is assigned to study further, this means that he has been “discarded”. He himself had a funny experience while studying in the United States.

A young man in his class asked, “Since you are older, why are you still studying? You’re no longer useful in your office, right?”

Widigdo only chuckled, but deep in his heart he wondered whether the young man was right after all. However, he later realized that his career at BNI, where he started working after earning his BA degree from UGM’s School of Economics in 1965, was bright enough. He later went on to become chief executive officer of this state bank. He spent some time working as CEO of Bank Papan Sejahtera and then at Bank Tabungan Negara (BTN) before he was eventually re-assigned as the top executive of BNI when the bank was planning to go public.

Some people have said that there is nothing special about his leadership because, they argue, the companies entrusted to him already ran well. “They may be correct,” he said. “However, in every company there is always a black box that contains internal problems. Therefore, it is demanded of a CEO that he should not only be well versed in the problems facing his company but that he can also provide wise solutions to these problems.”

His work to prepare BNI to go public in November 1996, the year marking 50th anniversary of the bank, left a strong impression on Widigdo. “We prepared the whole thing in just three months,” he said proudly. However, the bank’s listing went perfectly as its shares sold well and were even oversubscribed.

Eko Budiwiyono, president director of Exco Nusantara Indonesia, an international money broker, said that Widigdo’s actions could have been categorized as being too bold. However, Eko, who used to be an official at Danareksa, the underwriter of BNI’s initial public offering, investors eagerly anticipated snapping up BNI’s shares. “In fact, we previously underestimated this state bank. However, after the due diligence, our worries about this bank proved incorrect because it proved to have excellent performance,” Eko said.

BNI was successful in selling its shares on the stock market, helped by the fact that the macro economic condition of the country was conducive to the sale of the shares. However, Widigdo later faced a challenge when the financial crisis hit local banks, including BNI, in 1997. In fact, the acute economic crisis almost bankrupted Indonesia. Many companies had to introduce efficiency measures and lay off employees. “Lay off employees is the easy way out. In fact, there are many other ways to cut costs,” said Widigdo, who loves smoking cigars.

BNI was also facing a similar problem. Also equally important was its recapitalization to make it financially sound. Widigdo, therefore, did his best to look for sources of finance. “We made use of our overseas networking,” said Widigdo, who tries never to display concern in front of his employees. “We must show them that everything runs smoothly. A leader must give protection.”

One may be curious to find out how Widigdo could lead a government bank for so long. Some may just surmise that he followed the easiest path and dabbled in collusion and nepotism. “I don’t care what other people have said about me. I always do my job sincerely and always hold onto the principle that I have nothing to lose. A position is not forever because it can be taken away from you at any time,” said Widigdo, currently chairman of Risk Management Center Indonesia (RMCI)

Widigdo, who claims that he remains Javanese to the core despite his Western education, lives his life like flowing water. “I believe in destiny. Everything is preordained,” he said.

However, he said, we discover our destiny only after what has been destined to happen happens. Therefore, he always holds on to his principle of being persistent, willing to learn and observant. “Do not give up easily. If you fail, evaluate where you went wrong.”

Because of this principle, not only does Widigdo evaluate his performance, he also keeps on learning. “From school or from reading a great variety of books, such as books on Islam, Buddhism, politics, economics, management and so forth,” said Widigdo, an avid reader with a book collection of some 3,000 titles.

Knowledge and practical experience — these two elements are complementary and give you wisdom in running your life. Widigdo is like a walking dictionary, a living legend in the banking sector and someone from whom we can learn a lot. (Burhan Abe)

The Jakarta Post, August 02, 2006

Latest news

Related news