Coming from a poor family did not necessarily make Bahlil Lahadalia give up on life. Bahlil, who really started his career from zero, has now become a successful entrepreneur.
The man from Fakfak, Papua, had undergone various professions to survive before becoming as successful as he is now. Starting from being a cake baker as a child, a conductor, to being a public transportation driver.
With the hard work he has done throughout his life, the man born in 1976 was then able to succeed until he became Chairman of the Indonesian Young Entrepreneurs Association (HIPMI), which has been considered a ‘gathering’ of children of businessmen and officials.
There are many interesting stories that Bahlil has lived through before becoming as successful as he is now. Even because he was so poor, Bahlil had also felt the pain of hunger pangs.
The following is Bahlil’s interview with detik.com:
Can you tell us how you started to become a businessman?
If you ask me how I started to become a businessman, maybe I was from a young age, since elementary school I have been selling cakes. It didn’t happen because I wanted to, I also didn’t want to be an entrepreneur. But because it was a compulsion. Because my family, my mother was a laundry lady at someone’s house, a housemaid. My father is a construction worker, his salary is Rp 7,500/day.
So there were 8 of us (family), (originally) 9, then one died, I’m the second child. So since elementary school, if I wanted to go to school, I had to earn money. So selling cakes, selling cakes from what my mother made, it was a form of necessity, which I had to do in order to maintain my existence. If not, I couldn’t help my mom, I had a lot of younger siblings.
And from there, I could buy books, I could buy shoes, I could buy marbles. That continued until junior high school, even in junior high school, because of my parents’ difficult condition, I ended up becoming an angkot conductor. I sold fish at the market, that’s what I did. I was once an excavator helper for a contractor. I lived in the forest during school holidays. I was in the third grade of junior high school, I went to SMEA, and I became an angkot driver.
That was when you were still in Papua?
Still in Papua. So for me, going to school while earning money was a necessity, a compulsion in order to continue my life, continue my schooling, and at the same time help my parents.
I went to college too, so when I went to college, my parents never knew that I went to college. Because I only went and brought my diploma, only three clothes, and my only capital was my driver’s license and a plastic bag, I took the Perintis from Fakfak to Jayapura. It took me two weeks to get to Jayapura, by Perintis. Mixed with the goats there, what do you call it, wood, taro, it was mixed, the Pioneer Ship.
So indeed, at that time I left because I saw my classmates going to college, and I didn’t know where to go to live in the terminal, (so) I tried to go to Jayapura.
Did your parents know you went to Jayapura?
People knew that I went to Jayapura, but they didn’t know that I went to college, they said ‘where did you get the money’. I went to college, I only took my diploma, I went to Jayapura with my late father. What are you doing in Jayapura? ‘Let’s just seek our fate’. I left.
So what did you do when you were in Jayapura?
When I left for college in Jayapura, I lived in a dormitory. At that time there was no campus that accepted me, but when I lived in the dormitory, it was a student dormitory, the head of my dormitory was now the Deputy Governor of West Papua.
So when I left, I lived in the dormitory because I had no family, because everyone was studying there, so I was confused. Then the deputy governor told me, ‘you have to go to college’ I already wanted to go to college, but I didn’t have the money. ‘Just go to college, let’s enroll’. (Then) I enrolled in the private sector.
So I enrolled early in the morning, at 5 o’clock in the morning, our dormitory was close to the market, so I pushed a cart. So, from the market to the middle of the road, to the market it’s approximately 70-100 meters, like it or not, people shopping have to carry their shopping to the side of the big road until they take an angkot. I was part of facilitating that, I still remember it was Rp 200 silver, I still remember that.
So that’s how I earned money for college. that’s how I earned money for college, because I also sold newspapers.
Aren’t you ashamed of your friends?
I’m embarrassed, yes, it’s impossible not to be. But the next question is, are you ashamed of this job or are you dead, or are you a thief. I try to be an adult, I’ve graduated from high school, I know girls, there is shame but I try to hide it. And not to show it. The important thing was my intention at that time, I went to college. But since junior high school I’ve been naughty, in the terminal there are no naughty people. The terminal is a gathering place for naughty children there.
So fighting, alcohol, I’ve known since junior high school first grade. So maybe that’s why when I went to college in Jayapura, I enrolled in college, yes while studying, meaning being an activist. In my third semester, I was already the head of the senate. So I was imprisoned several times, the demonstration in 98, in 97 that’s right. But I wasn’t imprisoned because I was a thief, or because I raped people. As chairman of the senate, leading the movement indeed. At that time I was ex66, when in Papua, we were the perpetrators.
In the fifth semester I was the head of the senate, and then in the sixth semester I started to think that I had to stop this poverty. At that time, I was determined to say this, I have to stop poverty, poverty is the worst.
At that time his fate was not as good as it is now?
Living in the dormitory, what did I eat? I never got any money from my parents. So if we got money to buy rice, we ate half rice, half porridge. Why? So that we can get a lot. When the rice ran out, we had mango for breakfast, mango fruit, young mangoes that fell beside the dormitory, that’s what I ate. That’s why I was once sick with hunger pangs, which the media never knew.
I was hungry, in my sixth semester I was hungry. I was starving myself. So I experienced the most suffering. Well, at that time when I was sick, I said this, I have to stop with poverty, and the only way is to become an entrepreneur.
That was before you graduated from college?
Not yet. Still in the police, out of the police (prison-Red). Still holding a banner, leaving the banner. Still on top of the pulpit car, but dashing first, right. Chairman of the senate, so yes, girls liked it, started to like it when I was chairman of the senate, something like that. That was in 97-98.
I then, starting from the 6th semester, began to think I had to become an entrepreneur. That’s where I started learning. I was once an insurance employee.
When you first became an entrepreneur, you were an insurance employee?
Yes, I used to be an insurance employee, I used to be a contract employee at Sucofindo. Then when I finished college in 2002, my college was 7 years long, people should have finished their master’s and even doctoral degrees, but I was 7 years old.
Then when I finished college, I built a company with friends in Jakarta. It was a financial consultant, IT. I was appointed as an employee and became the regional director there.
Where is the regional director?
In Papua. At that time I was not married. I was 25 years old. That was the first time I held the big money there.
How much was your first salary?
My salary at that time was Rp 35 million. I had almost 70 employees, and most of my employees were finance people, some graduated from UGM, some graduated from IT, some graduated from Germany, but because I had the field map, I was appointed by my friends in Jakarta to be the branch manager there.
What kind of consultant?
Where did you get your knowledge about finance?
I did study finance. I’m a finance major, but actually being a leader is not only about professional knowledge, but leadership. And I got that knowledge from organizations. Managing people, forcing people, pressuring people, that’s part of the knowledge that you don’t get on campus, and only in organizations. Negotiating, saying wrong is wrong. Other people are right, we say wrong so that they follow us.
That’s part of indoctrinating people to how they can think the same as us, because the essence of leadership is how people can follow us, and people can realize what is the dream of our goal. That’s actually the essence of a leader.
Then I was there for only one year as an employee, then I resigned from the company. But I created the concept, how the company runs, and in that one year I was able to give the company a profit of more than Rp10 billion. That’s profit, not turnover. After that I resigned.
And when I started the concept of the company, it was using motorcycle taxis. Motorcycle taxi, and I called that time the walking secretariat. Because what? In my bag was stamp paper with letterhead paper, I typed it in a rental, an internet cafe.
Don’t have your own office yet?
I didn’t have an office yet. Because at that time, the company wanted to be built if there was a concept. I was appointed at that time to be the director of the company by chance, because the company was just being built, and the basic idea was from me. And to have the idea, to have the FS proposal, I made it myself by starting from 0. The concept was accepted, and then it was proposed. I had the money. One year and two months, if I’m not mistaken, I worked for the company, then I quit.
Why did you quit? Bored?
I wasn’t actually bored, I just wanted a new atmosphere. Because from not having any money, suddenly I got a salary of Rp 35 million that year, I considered it a big deal, I was given a house, I was given a car, the term was from a slippery slope, I was a little bit half-human.
So my life used to be a bit of a monkey, yes, a bit of a slippery shoe is my term. And I’m not ashamed to say that, I’m not ashamed. I said that at my age from 0 to 26 years old, my life was half human, not fully human. Life was very difficult. At the age of 26, approaching 27, I was just approaching humanity. At 29, I was fully human.
I resigned from the company, then I gave the company to my friends who continued. I tried to build another company, which was not in the field that I built.
Not in that field at all?
No, I didn’t. Why? Because if I work in the same field, I have no ethics. And I don’t respect the commitment of friendship and brotherhood to friends that I have built.
So I built another company that was not in the IT and financial consulting field. Then, my friends at that time said why, offers of all kinds, (I answered) ‘No bro, I have to develop too’ I thank my friends who taught me, and gave me a human feeling. Because I have never held Rp 35 million in one month.
How old was the Rp 35 million salary?
25 years old, approaching 26 years old. I finished college. I was given dividends at that time, awarded money, I still remember it was Rp 600 million, because I could make a profit of more than Rp 10 billion. I was given Rp 600 million, I used it for capital.
To establish a new company?
There is one company but I can’t mention the name.
In what field?
At that time I was in the wood trading sector. So wood then anything. My principle at that time was that anything that could make money, as long as it was halal, we would do it. Even Satan, if it can be made into money, I make money. As long as it is halal, as long as it does not violate the law, as long as it does not harm people. So at that time my thought was that whatever we could make money, as long as it was halal, we would do it. But the core at that time was in timber trading.
Just because there were some friends who were officials, then they were still given the opportunity to do work in the government sector. That was it.
So did you become an entrepreneur because of fate or lineage?
Who are the people who have given you the most credit?
My mom and dad. My hard work is inspired by my father. My father is a construction worker, he was able to send his 8 children to school, and all of them are graduates. This by nasab thought was when I wanted to become the chairman of Hipmi. So by nasab is a business, the one who runs the family business is already the second generation, the third generation. That is by lineage.
If by fate is like me, the first generation to fight. If fate is good to be a human, if it is not good to be a monkey. What we need in the future is by design. By design is a combination of by lineage and by fate, and must be academy-based. Because competition in the world of entrepreneurs today cannot go into concepts, but must really be designed early, designed early, so that then we are able to do something better, which in the end then we can compete with other countries.
The country’s competition now is no longer between provinces, but already country to country. That’s actually the thought, but before going there, after I was from Jayapura and all sorts. Yes, when I started to get bored, I fell.
At that time I had 4 employees, we thought it was easy, it turned out that it was not easy either, so in the field that I had mastered at the beginning, I suddenly moved to another field from 0 again. So I was a monkey too, Bro, from the car we had until I gave it back to the company, I was forced to take a motorcycle taxi again. First the contract, the rent, the money ran out, we took another motorcycle taxi, the secretariat was running again, making more.
Why did you leave a big salary when you were still young?
Many of my friends said I was crazy, my life was already safe and comfortable, how could I take risks that in the end monkey again, it was my college friends working as my insult. And my friends who said I was crazy, including my wife now. I almost broke up because I became a hobo again. So my salary should be Rp 35 million, for her the expectation is that it’s enough, not luxurious living, not suffering, enough.
But I prefer not to continue, there I almost didn’t get married to him. Almost, because I became a monkey. But those are all life choices in my opinion and every life must have the courage to make decisions, we cannot enter an uncomfortable shadow, I made a decision but it was back, my recovery was almost a year. Recovery and then 1 business goal. well, I started working there but I was insulted by people too. Success is not achieved in an easy way, except for those who already have it.
At what age or what phase did you feel successful?
Success is relative, and I have never felt successful. Let people judge, but I’ve always had the principle of life: learn, learn, and learn, and work and be successful. So hard work, smart work, and sincere work are the same orientation as worship.
If we work sincerely, that’s if we don’t get profit in the world, if we are sincere and useful for people, InsyaAllah our profit will be accepted in the afterlife as a form of worship. And I also think that the measure of success is actually relative. There are people who say that a lot of money is success, but I say no. For me, money is not the goal of life.
For me, money is not the purpose of life. As a Muslim, the purpose of my life is to be able to be useful for others, the people of the nation, and I can carry out what Allah commands, which in the end I will be held accountable for one day.
So if you ask me about success, I’m confused about what success is, because I don’t have money and what’s the difference between having money and not having money. The difference is that in the past, it was difficult for me to eat, but now it’s not. I used to walk in ’99, I walked all the way from Jalan Diponegoro to Gambir, I used to be a hobo. In Jakarta, I used to sleep in the mosque, we were hobos. I used to wear clothes for Rp 50,000, now maybe because of the demands it’s a little better.
But there is also no feeling that if you have this you have to feel more, for me all people are the same, the difference is in the eyes of Allah.
Until now you’ve had many companies, where was the turning point?
When I left my job. Then I created a company, the company went downhill, then I got up. Alhamdulillah, it started from there. That was 2004, not too long ago.
How many companies are there now?
Yes, it’s a secret company. There are a few, not big, not small, so it’s medium. I like to be moderate.
You founded it yourself, right?
Almost all of them.
Are they all based in Jakarta or are they in Papua?
In several places, some in Papua, some in Sulawesi, some in Maluku, some here (Jakarta), there are several places.
From everything you’ve accomplished, what lessons have you learned?
Well, the most valuable lesson is to never underestimate others who are in a lower position. Because no one knows the fate of that person, the wheel is spinning. What does that mean? If we meet with officials, meet with people who have money, we shouldn’t think that they are greater than God. They are ordinary.
But today if we see unsuccessful people, small people, we shouldn’t despise them. So I think modesty is, treat other human beings the same as you treat yourself, because we can’t guess that today the person who doesn’t have anything is forever.
I think I am a human being who is grateful to God. I was once humiliated, so I never thought that I would one day become the Chairman of Hipmi. I never thought that one day I would be able to walk with the minister, I would be able to walk with the president, I never imagined it. That’s why I’m grateful. And the measure of adequacy and success depends on the person having their own standards. And from which perspective he sees.
And I look at people, not from what they have now, in terms of material things. But I admire people, from what they think, and what they do, and what they do for their nation and country. I value that person much more than if he has to show off what he has in terms of wealth. Because we are all entrusted by God. Let alone our wealth, even we belong to him.
So yes, if you meet someone, don’t feel inferior if he earns 0 per day, but he can feed all his children. He works, even when he’s sick he works.
She never complains, and neither does my mother, so the sense of responsibility to work hard to support her children is very high. And that’s the way I adopted in my work. I will always work hard, because if I myself who has gone to school, then have a fighting spirit, less than what my father did, it means that my father did not succeed in fostering. But if we can do things that are at least the same as my father in terms of fighting, then my father did not fail in giving birth and nurturing us.
For me, my father’s mother has the greatest merit. They have always taught us light things but principles. For example, if we have a little, it’s much better to have it than to take someone else’s right. Another principle, pay people their wages before their sweat dries. That was my father, because my father once felt that his salary was three days late, and we almost didn’t eat, right? So why did my father say that, because he had experienced that.
When you succeeded, did your parents know?
My father passed away, so when my father passed away it was 2003. My father didn’t have the chance to see that I could do something that was standardized. I was still an employee at that time. My mother, thank God, is still there.
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