Irwan Kamdani: Succeed Beyond Success

THE 1997-1998 economic crisis was a very dark period. The rupiah’s plunging exchange rate caused the collapse of the country’s economic pillars, and many companies went bankrupt as they could not weather the storm. However, every cloud has its silver lining, or so they say. Irwan Kamdani, president director of PT Datascrip Solutions, was one of the people who remained steadfast in facing the crisis. “There are a lot of lessons to learn from a crisis,” he said.  

A crisis is a very valuable lesson, one that cannot be found in any level of schooling, Irwan said. As he experienced himself when no sooner had he been appointed president director of Datascrip, he had to deal with the crisis. “Not only did the company almost go bankrupt but I also nearly lost my life,” said Irwan, explaining that a riot almost claimed his life.  

He said the ordeal he had to go through at that time was very difficult. The demand for office equipment went down drastically. “In times of economic difficulties, who buys printers or office desks?” he asked. His difficulties were amplified when the company’s sales director, marketing director and human resources director all resigned at the same time. “This was a severe blow. However, I believed that a solution could be found,” he said.  

So he decided to sell his goods on a cash basis, suspending the system of buying on credit or on terms of payment. “How could I pay the salaries of my employees if I was paid on a credit basis?” he asked. Cash payment is like the blood in a human body. As long as it has “blood” (cash), a company can survive. “It’s even all right to sell at a loss,” he said.  

Although this strategy could be quite effective, it would not necessarily be enough to save Datascrip. The sales of the company went down 60 percent, and as a result he was forced to lay off staff. However, he learned something very important from this experience. “Keep on dancing even though your circle of movement is shrinking,” he said.

He said that when a situation becomes unfavorable, standard formulas previously applied by a company have to be adjusted to the existing changes. “In a normal situation, a company must collect a profit from its sales, but in an emergency, selling without a profit is all right. We must even be ready to sell at a loss,” he added.  

Born in Jakarta on Oct. 4, 1962, Irwan said that in leading the company, he always adheres to the philosophy applied by his father, Joe Kamdani, namely to succeed beyond success. “I cannot be successful if my employees are not successful,” he said. The question is, how to make his employees successful? “I’m very much concerned with employee development,” he noted. That’s why he organizes various training sessions either internally or by inviting speakers from outside the company.  

Datascrip, Irwan said, has many principals. That’s why he gives his employees leeway to run the business along agreed upon lines. “It is impossible for me to perform a one-man show,” he said. “I allow the greatest freedom but still within the lines already set,” he said.   According to Irwan, a division head’s job at Datascrip is just like running his own company. That’s why, Irwan considers every division head at Datascrip his business partner. “They are actually running their own show,” he said.  

Besides giving his employees a lot of freedom, Irwan is also always ready to lend a helping hand to them. In the case of the sales division, for example, he will readily introduce this division to his business relations. This, however, does not mean a smoother ride for his employees. “After that, they are expected to be more creative. I only help pave the way,” he said.  

Irwan said he felt very lucky because in his career he had learned a lot from his father. After earning his Master’s degree in business administration from Fordham University, New York, the U.S., he immediately joined Datascrip so he could learn from his father, the founder of Datascrip. He said he adopted a lot of his father’s management style, especially because his father had laid down guidelines to run the company. “Those applicable to the present condition are continued. However, it does not mean that everything is the same,” he said.  

Irwan has also learned a lot from life and from his environment. He said his social life also affects his leadership style. He said he has also learned a lot as a member of the Young Presidents Organization, a U.S. organization for young leaders. In this organization, he exchanges opinions and learns from his peers. This experience is very useful in developing his company. “I have many things that I can pass on to my staffers. Even if some things cannot be put into practice, they can still be useful knowledge,” he said.  

Adopting his own leadership style, Irwan has made Datascrip a leading company in the office equipment business. In the past three years, this company, which was founded in 1969, has enjoyed an average growth rate of 20 to 30 percent. In addition, this company, which employees over 600 people, has also expanded into the IT solutions business by teaming up with Microsoft. The company has set its growth target at a conservative 15 percent for 2008.

“The crisis in the U.S. will affect our business. However, we are optimistic that we can enjoy a positive growth rate,” he said. (T. Hidayat)  

The Jakarta Post, June 11, 2008

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