Jacqueline Michelle Sampoerna: The Sampoerna Legacy

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LIVING a privileged life as the daughter of a billionaire business tycoon is not exactly how one would describe the life of Jacqueline Michelle Sampoerna, the eldest daughter of Putera Sampoerna, one of the richest persons in the world with an estimated wealth of about US$1.7 billion. Putera Sampoerna was also the owner of a major cigarette company which he sold to Philip Morris for $5.4 billion.

As a matter of fact Michelle was not directly involved in the business side of Sampoerna group, but decided to establish Putera Sampoerna Foundation (PSF), a non-profit organization dedicated to improving the quality of and access to education in Indonesia, on March 1, 2001. “Papa said the time has come for us to contribute to this country,” said Michelle, who had held the position of Communications Manager at PT Hanjaya Mandala Sampoerna Tbk.

Michelle is fully aware that although Sampoerna group is behind PSF she wanted the foundation she had established to belong to the public.  “We at PSF believe that we cannot simply rely on CSR funds from partners. That’s why we have evolved and become a social business institution. By being a social business institution we can ensure the sustainability of our programs,” she explained.

Today PSF has become one of the largest non-profit foundations in the world established by a family company. It has given thousands of scholarships ranging from primary school up to post graduate university degrees. PSF has also opened a program to enhance the quality of teachers called Teacher’s Institute and is collaborating with Bandung Institute of Technology (ITB) in the establishment of Sampoerna School of Business and Management (SBM-ITB).

Through its United Schools Program (USP), PSF has contributed to the physical improvement of state owned schools in Sumatra, Java, Kalimantan and Bali and provided teaching equipment and facilities as well as teacher training and improvement of the curriculum. In the first five years US$4.85 million had been spent while to date the total amount spent on education aid is estimated to be twice that amount.

“Today, we are more focused. This year — our 10th anniversary — PSF has introduced the Social Business concept. This evolution will ensure the future sustainability of our programs. Other than that, we also operate as a CSR operator for many multinational corporations who serve as our donors or partners,” said the oldest of four siblings.

The reason why Michelle became interested in the CSR side of the company is also because she and her family have experienced a lot of ups and downs in life including failures that have been valuable lessons. The cigarette manufacturing plant which was first established by her grandfather has been burned down several times, but this has not deterred her from continuing to be involved in the family business. “The obstacles were a lesson and a motivation in my grandfather’s life,” said the great granddaughter of Liem Seeng Tee, the founder of Sampoerna cigarette company.

According to Michelle the story of the Sampoerna family, not unlike the story of many other families, contains values and traditions that she feels should be inherited by future generations. This is why she has recorded the family heritage, including its rituals and traditions, in a book entitled The Sampoerna Legacy. The book is dedicated to the past and future generations of Indonesia. “My dream is that my family’s story will be an inspiration to others who read the book. Most importantly, it will ensure our memories are not forgotten, and that future generations of my family will remember where they came from,” she said.

PSF for Michelle is also an important legacy of the Sampoerna family that will remind Sampoerna’s future generations about the importance of sharing and helping others. To foster this outlook Michelle often takes along her eldest son, Ethan, to meet people who have the spirit and dedication to help others and the commitment to helping the nation as well. “Like my own experiences with my mother at Helping Hands charity, I hope Ethan’s experiences will shape his values, and enable him to maintain our family’s legacy and continue giving back to Indonesia,” she said.

Apart from its similarity with other foreign foundations, such as the Ford Foundation or Japan Foundation, PSF has created a fresh breakthrough in the world of education here in Indonesia and at the same time has given a positive image to the Sampoerna brand.

Michelle, who was born and raised in a Chinese-Indonesian business family with a modern outlook, believes core values are instilled from childhood. “I believe a person’s character is shaped by the education and values they learn from their parents. I am fortunate to have parents who always encouraged their children to appreciate life, to respect others, and to learn from their failures. But the most important lesson I learned was to never forget where you come from,” said Michelle, who has a bachelor’s degree in mass communication from St. Mary’s College in California.

Michelle further elaborated that giving is part of her family’s legacy. Thus, through PSF, we can encourage students as well as businesspeople (the future leaders) to play an important role in the public domain. “There is a long tradition of giving in our family, stretching back generations, but my father has always been a great inspiration. During his career, he was fortunate to receive many blessings, despite the difficult times that he faced. However, he never forgot to share what he had with neighbors, friends and with those in need. My father recognized that Indonesia and its people have shaped all his achievements. It is his wish to give something back,” concluded Michelle. (Burhan Abe & Gita Narasati)

The Jakarta Post, October 15, 2011