Bossy! That’s how Eun-Mee Kim, president director of CEO SUITE, has described herself ever since she was a little girl. How can she be otherwise? The reason, she said, is that she was born and raised by very demanding parents who encouraged her to be always a boss wherever she was. “Even when I was in kindergarten I already had a wish to be a boss,” Mee Kim said. As she grew older, at every school level and in every organization, Kim was always at the top of the ladder.
In each of her jobs, Kim reached at least the position of manager. She has had this position in several countries: Australia, Thailand and Indonesia. Eighteen years ago, she joined office space provider Servcorp in Australia. Two years later (1997), she decided to open her own instant office in Jakarta under the name of CEO SUITE.
At that time there was no office space provider in Indonesia. Only hotels, perhaps, provided temporary office space. While working for Servcorp, Kim realized that not all companies needed permanent premises but could instead use virtual office space. Therefore, she started this business by applying this new concept, along with full services ranging from receptionists to marketing. “If possible, my clients should no longer be bothered with administrative matters or employee recruitment or even finding buyers,” she said, by way of promotion.
In its later development, CEO SUITE introduced the “pay only what you use” concept for clients. “If you use the facilities for only one hour, well, just pay for that one hour,” she said. She has even called her business office and service outsourcing.
“Now is the era of outsourcing,” she said. “Every company that wishes to make progress in this era must change its management. If they wish to make faster progress than other companies their management must be made as slim as possible.”
In 2008, Kim is ready to launch a new concept in her office and service outsourcing business. This is a blend of leisure and business. “You can do business while you also do karaoke,” she noted.
Is she content with reaching her dream of being a boss and is it as good as she dreamed of in her youth? “I have achieved more than I wished,” she said.
However, she said openly, since she began her career in this office provider business or office and service outsourcing business, especially since she started CEO SUITE, she has undergone a change of paradigm about the concept of a boss. “Since I was a child, I thought of a boss as just being invariably served by employees and respected by people and always giving orders by just pointing a finger,” she said.
However, as the boss of CEO SUITE, Mee-Kim, who was born in Seoul, South Korea, finds that she serves her clients as bosses. This is in contrast with the concept of a boss that she had harbored since she was a child. “I have gone through a change in mentality,” she said.
“I must really suppress my ego as a boss to be able to provide the best service to these bosses to ensure customer loyalty,” said Kim, who became a naturalized Indonesian after her marriage to Joseph Siswanto, an Indonesian citizen.
This new paradigm may be likened to her favorite sport, golf, Kim said. In golf, she said, our opponents are not other people. “Whether we win or lose is determined by a handicap, which is always limitless, as it can be zero or even minus or even the same as the handicap of Tiger Woods,” she said. So, she added, our enemy is not another person but our own ego.
Kim performance in her career has been outstanding in that CEO SUITE continuously progresses. Today, CEO SUITE has 10 branch offices in a number of major cities in Asia. There are three branch offices in Jakarta (the latest one opening in One Pacific Place in December 2007), two branches in Shanghai (China) and one branch each in Beijing, Kuala Lumpur, Manila, Bangkok and Singapore. These achievements are thanks to her strong will and commitment as well as her outstanding capabilities as a boss. This is evident in the fact that she has never said “No” to any challenge to come her way. She will do whatever it takes to reach what she and her working team has set as a target.
CEO SUITE came into being in 1997 in Jakarta. That year, Indonesia was experiencing a crippling economic crisis. However, CEO SUITE rose above it and went on to open branches in other countries. “This company was the only one to open a branch outside Indonesia at a time when other companies were tightening their budgets or going bankrupt,” she said.
How did Kim pull it off? She had honed her skills while working for Servcorp, a similar company headquartered in Australia. While working for Servcorp, she was appointed the company’s country manager in Thailand and Indonesia and was later named director of Servcorp Group in Australia. In addition, Kim, who loves reading motivational books, said she had been much influenced by Peter Drucker’s books, especially Drucker Essentials.
A holder of a master’s degree in commerce from the University of South Wales, Australia, Kim is also a devotee of Hawkins’ spiritual concept. Perhaps it was this concept that prompted her to set up non-profit organization CEO SUITE Foundation, which has a presence in every city where there is a CEO SUITE branch. This foundation aims to help poor people and develop their potentials.
How can Kim be a successful corporate chief in a country like Indonesia, which is relatively foreign to her and where human resources can sometimes be found lacking and workers do not generally have a good command of English? On top of that, Kim was not fluent in Indonesian when she started this business. “In fact, I feel proud of my working team in Indonesia!” she said firmly. This is not just lip service as she always sends a working team from Indonesia to train human resources outside Indonesia when she opens a branch in another country. “If they were not outstanding in their performance, I would not send them to train the people outside Indonesia.”
The point is, said Kim, “We must know the way to manage and `foster’ employees in the Indonesian way. Many people, particularly foreign companies, do not remember this or cannot do this,” Kim said.
According to Kim, Indonesian human resources have strong potential but they must be guided and motivated in a way that suits their culture. Kim said she always tells her employees to remember that they are not merely working for Kim, for money or for the company. “They work for themselves and their families. Rewards and salary increases are only the side effects of keeping this principle. They are a bonus,” said Kim, who was born in December 1962. “I will readily pay them more than average Singaporeans if they are better than Singaporeans in their achievements.”
Kim, however, remains an ordinary human being. She may have made outstanding achievements in her business but she also has her weakness as a human being. She said she finds it difficult to be a good mother to her only son, 10-year-old Eugene Kim Siswanto. “I don’t allow him to watch television or play computer games from Monday through Friday, but instead he spends hours in front of the computer,” she said, chuckling. “Perhaps this is the era of my son’s generation and it is not possible for me to do as I wish by prohibiting him from doing things?” she said, showing her understanding of her son’s hobby because her husband is in the IT business.
However, she herself hopes that some day there will be good parenting training that will suit her. “There is quite a lot of great business and management training, but there isn’t any training on being a good mother.”
Nevertheless, she is proud of her family and she said she loves Indonesia as a second home. In fact she has contributed to the reputation of this country by fostering and optimizing the potential of her Indonesian employees. She hopes, however, that security in Indonesia will improve. This is the hope of many people, especially those wishing to start or develop a business in Indonesia. Now it depends on the government’s willingness to make it come true in order not to let bright and smart people like Kim leave Indonesia just because of uncertain security. (Arif T. Syam)
The Jakarta Post, February 20, 2008