Ali Young: Hardship Leads to Success

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THE back office or operational division of a bank does not usually attract much attention. The mass media, for example, usually only focus on professionals in business or marketing. Ali Yong may be an exception. He is Bank Danamon’s newly appointed director of micro business – he was previously the Bank’s director of transactions and services, a position he has held since 2004 – and was named Young Promising Indonesian Banker 2007 by the Asian Banker, a strategic business intelligence provider for the financial services community.  

At the time, Ali was not that aware of such awards. “Initially, Asian Banker sent a letter and a form to all the banks in Indonesia. Then the board of directors of Bank Danamon convened a meeting and decided to choose me as the candidate from Bank Danamon, and I won the award. What can I say?” Ali said lightly.

For Ali, his daily conduct is more important than an award-giving ceremony or any other formality. This is reflected in his modest comment of, “In fact, there are many good people from Danamon but, as I happened to hold the position of director longer than these people, it was I that the bank chose to represent it,” he said.  

Still, he feels grateful for winning the award from Asian Banker in that now people pay more attention to the operational divisions of banks. “The operational division of a bank is in fact the kitchen of a bank, so it is very important for a banker to be fully knowledgeable about it,” he said with conviction.

To handle a bank’s operations, Ali said, a unique trait is needed. “This person must be able to communicate with his superiors team and those receiving the services,” he said. “Not everybody can do this or has this unique trait,” he said. He claimed he had been successful in the operational division thanks to this unique trait.  

In the operational division, Ali said, the most challenging job is handling human resources. Danamon employs 36,000 people, while only around 5,000 people work in the operational division of the bank. The operational division devotes its attention to productivity and services. Services are crucial, Ali said.

Poor services have a bad impact on productivity, cost per service and other things. Ali said he always tell his team in the operational division: “If you work hard, you sleep well. This is logical. If you are tired after work, you will certainly think of nothing else but sleep,” he stressed.  

Then he went on, “If you work smart, you live well. This encourages employees to choose whether to sleep well or live it up. Once they make a choice, they must realize the consequence” of doing otherwise.  

The result is that for five consecutive years since 2002, Bank Danamon has been in the top two for the Excellent Service Award from the Marketing Research Indonesia (MRI). Ali said he had enjoyed a strict “education” in life since he was very young as his family had to flee for safety from Aceh to Medan. “You must know what life in a place of refuge is like,” said Ali, the third of five siblings, the hard experiences of these times reflected in his eyes.  

Ali has drawn a simple philosophy from his journey in life. “If we work hard and honestly, we must be successful! Strive only for the best and do it passionately!”  

This “education from life” has made him extremely successful. His star began to rise after he signed up for the Management Associate program at Citibank after he graduated from the mechanical engineering department of Bandung Institute of Technology (ITB) in 1994. Three years later, he joined Bank Papan as operations manager and later entrusted to handle Bank Pos. In 1999, he moved to Bank Danamon. Four years later, he became a member of the board of management of Bank Danamon. He was then the youngest board member at 33 years old. On April 14 this year, he celebrated his 37th birthday.  

Although his banking career began at Citibank, Ali prefers to refer to Danamon as his “banking school”. “I feel it is at Danamon that I have learned a lot about banking,” said Ali, a father of four. Ali said he did not have any great ambitions after being a member of Bank Danamon’s board of directors for two years. “At that time, financially, I thought I had achieved all that my family and I needed,” he said.  

He did used to think he would retire at the age of 50 once he owned a house and car and had enough money to send his children abroad to study. “I achieved this several years ago.”   That is why he has never thought of leaving Danamon although, as a successful young professional, he has received a lot of tempting offers. Ali believes there are still many things that he must do for Danamon.

Danamon management seems to understand this and therefore, last month they appointed Ali to handle the micro business division. “I believe there are many things I can contribute to Bank Danamon in the micro business division,” Ali said with conviction.  

A product of Bank Danamon’s micro business division today is Simpan-Pinjam Danamon (Danamon Savings and Loans) and the target market is the lower middle-class. This assignment seems to suit Ali, who is considered sensitive to this class. Recently, Ali mobilized Bank Danamon employees to help the baby of a Bank Danamon employee in Papua that was born with congenital defects in his heart and lungs.

“Initially congenital diseases are not covered by insurance, I was moved to involve Bank Danamon employees to help this baby,” Ali said.  

The team found out that starting October 2007 congenital deseases are covered up to certain limit by health insurance. Ali then mobilized Bank Danamon employees to donate toward the balance and fly in the parents and the kid to Jakarta for medical treatment for around two months. “Two months ago, the child could finally play like other healthy kids,” Ali said. For Ali, true happiness means seeing the people we help attain the happiness that they long for.  

Nevertheless, Ali remained modest, saying, “All this would not have been possible but for the extraordinary employees of Bank Danamon!”  

So, what is Ali pursuing now? “I no longer have any great dreams except to dedicate myself and give my best to Bank Danamon and help more people obtain happiness!” Why does Ali care so much about other people? He only briefly said, “I went through hard times myself once!” (Arif T. Syam)  

The Jakarta Post May 07, 2008  

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