Ilham Akbar Habibie: Still in Love with Original Passion, Aircrafts

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As the son of a former president of Indonesia, Ilham Akbar Habibie opted to start his business from zero rather than benefitting from the various privileges of the status that has followed with him for years. With persistence and perseverance, Ilham, the oldest son of Baharudin Jusuf Habibie and Hasri Ainun, has been striving to reestablish PT Ilthabi Rekatama, a family company that had not been managed very well. “I had to decide whether to become an entrepreneur or remain a professional,” he recalled.  

He said that in 2001 rather unwillingly and with a heavy heart he had to leave PT Dirgantara Indonesia (previously PT Industri Pesawat Terbang Nusantara — PT National Aircraft Industry).  

According to him, although the company was not in a very good condition PT DI still had a reasonably good future. “At least PT DI has succeeded in manufacturing products that have been used by consumers,” he said.  

What PT DI needed at that time, continued Ilham, was research to add to the portfolio of its products. “It is impossible for an aircraft factory to survive by relying on the production of only one type of aircraft,” he said while adding that at the time PT DI was conducting a research for the production of a new variant but unfortunately the project had to stop due to an agreement between the government and IMF.  

Ilham who was then the company’s commercial director decided to leave PT DI. He said when he decided to return to Indonesia he had an important ambition; to enhance the nation’s image.  On top of everything, Ilham also has working experience at the world’s leading aircraft manufacturer, Boeing. “I want to dedicate my capabilities and skills for the benefit of my country,” said Ilham who has lived in Germany since birth.  

During his career at Boeing, Ilham, who was born in Aachen, Germany on May 16, 1963, worked as one of the wing designers for Boeing 737. This was the experience he took with him to PT DI. At DI, which was established based on his father’s initiative, Ilham did not start in a top position, but started working from the bottom up. “First I was assistant to the Project Head, then Division Head until finally I was appointed as one of the directors,” he said. “Until such a time when I couldn’t see further career prospects at PT DI. Then I had a talk with my father and I told him that I had decided to leave PT DI,” he added.  

It was not an easy decision, because the aircraft engineering world had been his passion from childhood. “I left PT DI with a weeping heart,” he said.   After leaving PT DI the father of three actually had not decided what he planned to do next. In his mind there were two options, to be an entrepreneur or to remain a professional.  

However, he turned to the business world and became an entrepreneur. But Ilham was aware of his shortcomings in management and financial matters so he took the required MBA program. “As a matter of fact becoming a businessman had never been in my thoughts before, but the situation prompted me to make that decision and I had to do my MBA as my background is engineering and I saw the need for learning about finance and economics,” said Ilham while adding that from 2001 until 2003 he gained further knowledge at Chicago Booth School of Business (formerly Graduate School of Business, University of Chicago), Singapore Campus.  

During the time he was pursuing further education, Ilham enjoyed a lot of benefits, not only did he gain the knowledge he needed of finance and economics for which the University of Chicago is one of the best, but also by being able to network extensively.  

While continuing his further studies Ilham had already started the initial steps to become an entrepreneur. Ilham, a PhD holder from Technical University of Munich, Germany, started to reorganize the family company which had been not managed properly.   The focus of the company’s line of businesses was narrowed down. “At first we tried to concentrate on property, but later had to abandon this sector,” he disclosed. “Our main focus was then on three sectors: natural resources, manufacturing and technology,” he added.  

For natural resources Ilham established a company called Sound Oil, an oil and gas exploration company that is already listed on the London Stock Exchange. Sound Oil has offshore oil and gas concession in West Java, gas concession in Bangkanai, Central Kalimantan. The company also has a project in Italy.  

Besides Sound Oil, Ilthabi Rekatama also has a coal mining company that is not yet in production, PT Ilthabi Bara Utama (IBU). The company has a 35,000 hectare concession in East Kalimantan which is estimated to be able to produce 3.3 billion tons of coal.  “We have just sold IBU to Bayan Resource,” he acknowledged. “Currently we are developing Coal Bed Methane (CBM) as an alternative energy,” he added.  

In manufacturing Ilthabi Group is still focusing on two sectors, namely foundry and refrigeration while for technology Ilthabi Group currently manages a website called which is a continuation from Orbit magazine that was published by his mother, Hasri Ainun Habibie.  

Apart from these three businesses Ilthabi also manages a financial service company, Asuransi Wuwungan (Wuwungan Insurance). According to Ilham this company has been maintained because it was the family’s very first company. Another reason is that the company is a joint venture between the family and other relatives.  

Ilham, who is also the chairman of ICMI presidium said that so far he is quite satisfied with the performance of Ilthabi group and that he will always strive to improve the welfare of the 2,000 employees within the group. Therefore further developments will be made so that the group of companies earn the respect of other companies in the country. “Another project in progress is herbal plantations,” he revealed.  

He said that to succeed one has to be focused as well as being realistic and flexible in facing various situations. These are all important, he added, because it is quite often that what one plans cannot be realized. Another important thing, Ilham said, is discipline.  

One dream is still linked to his first passion, aircraft manufacturing. “That dream of mine has never died,” he said. He said he still has a very serious desire to go back to the aircraft business. “But maybe not the manufacturing aspect,” he admitted.   Ilham said that lots of luck would be required to go back into the aircraft world. “In life luck is when preparation is in synchronization with opportunity,” said Ilham quoting what was once said by the famous Roman philosopher, Seneca. (T. Hidayat & Burhan Abe)  

The Jakarta Post, August 20, 2011

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