Over 60 years ago, the average lifespan of an S&P listed company was 61 years, while this average falls below 18 years today. McKinsey’s findings confirm what most of us already know – that it has never been easy for businesses to survive in the long run, and this endeavour will only get more difficult in this age of disruption.
Written by: Qiu Jia Yu
Edited by: Isabelle Goh
Yet, founded in 1919, the Sintesa Group is one of those rare companies that is more than a century old and still going strong. On the 24th of April 2021, ABYA was honoured to host, in its first Youth Dialogue session, Abyasa Kamdani – a fourth-generation family member from the family that runs the Sintesa Group.
After graduating from the University of California, Berkeley with an Economics degree in 2018, Abyasa worked for a renewable energy company in the Bay Area before returning to Indonesia and taking on the role of a Business Development Manager in the family business.
In experiencing first-hand the transformation of the company over the years, Abyasa was in a unique position to share his learnings, in straddling the line between family and company, and the future of Sintesa Group, in relation to youths and Southeast Asia.
The Sintesa Group’s Transformations
As much as Sintesa Group is a renowned investment holding company today, it was not always in this line of business. In 1919, Abyasa’s great-grandfather Oey Kim Tjiang started the company as a humble rubber plantation. However, in 1959, trading became the company’s core business, and the company was transformed yet again in 1999 to become what it is today, with its four main business pillars in Property, Energy, Consumer Products and Industrial Products. Across the last 100 years, the Sintesa Group has grown from a monoline business to an operating conglomerate to a responsible strategic investor.
Adaptability is clearly embedded within the company’s DNA, and it is therefore no surprise that the Sintesa Group has embarked on a digital transformation strategy following the COVID-19 pandemic. By focusing on Smart Distribution System, Smart Warehouse System, E-commerce and Digitalized Supply Chain, the group’s subsidiaries make a big impact by helping SMEs in Indonesia digitalize.
But beyond adapting to the new digital reality brought about by the pandemic, the Sintesa Group is also positioning itself for the post-COVID economy by making a proactive shift towards sustainability. Abyasa shared that the company decided to embark on its next stage of evolution in 2020 by incorporating the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) into their business models. Sintesa Green Energy, Sintesa Health and Sintesa Ecotourism are the three projects that the Group has committed to as part of its road map towards the SDGs.
In its hundred-year history, the Sintesa Group has successfully undergone multiple reinventions, and the company is clearly not resting on its laurels anytime soon. When asked about the secret behind its successful transformations, Abyasa shared that a significant part of it lies in the mindset of the company’s leaders. The company’s current transformation efforts, for example, can be attributed to Abyasa’s mother who strongly advocated for business transformation, as CEO of the Sintesa Group.
Family Business: Straddling the Line between Family and Company
Naturally, this leads us to the question: how does it feel like to work for one’s own grandparents and parents? While most of us may imagine that to be a difficult position, Abyasa shared that this became an opportunity to spend more time with his grandfather, since starting work in the family business. Being involved in the business has helped him learn more from his grandfather and deepened his respect and appreciation for his family.
Abyasa sees it as both his responsibility and his honour to sustain the legacy of the Sintesa Group as a fourth-generation family member. While admitting that there is real pressure to “not screw up” a hundred-year-old business, he also believes that as a young employee and young member of the family, it is his responsibility to look at the Sintesa Group with fresh eyes while adopting a business owner’s mindset by thinking about the business’ long-term prospects. Abyasa shared that going into the family business and helping to expand its remit is his way of giving back to the family and contributing to the vision shared by his mother and grandfather to build a company which creates positive impact.
Nonetheless, the blurred lines between the personal and the professional in a family business also presents challenges that should be carefully managed. Abyasa emphasized the importance of building professional credibility by adopting the mentality of having a chip on one’s shoulder and fostering a healthy professional dynamic by creating a comfortable environment for colleagues to speak up. It is also important to keep familial interests distinct from key business decisions: for example, while Abyasa is working on some separate projects that could grow to become part of Sintesa Group, he emphasized that the Group’s decision to invest in his projects must be based on good business sense and not just because of familial ties.
The Future of Sintesa Group: Youths & Southeast Asia
As we move into a post-COVID economy that is increasingly impacted by disruption, the session with Abyasa concluded with a discussion about how Southeast Asian family businesses such as the Sintesa Group thinks about youths and Southeast Asia.
As the Group’s footprint is predominantly in Indonesia, ABYA members asked Abyasa how the group intends to compete with the up-and-coming tech start-ups to attract young professionals into the business. Abyasa shared that the Sintesa Group would first need to evaluate what is attractive in start-ups. For instance, if millennials are primarily attracted by the work culture in these tech startups, the Sintesa Group would need to adjust their own company culture to match the aspirations of the talent they are trying to attract.
The Group adopts a similar attitude of openness and adaptability towards the potential of expanding their businesses beyond Indonesia and into the rest of Southeast Asia. Abyasa highlighted Entrepreneurship as one of the company’s core values, and the Group thus adopts an open, entrepreneurial mindset when evaluating the opportunities in Southeast Asia. While the Group’s focus is still on Indonesia, they have always been comfortable doing businesses with companies outside the country and continues to keep an active look out for integration and collaboration opportunities in the rest of the region.
When compared to prominent public companies or fast-growing tech start-ups, family businesses may not capture as much popular attention, but their legacy of excellence and continued adaptability of companies ensure that they continue to be a force to reckon with in Southeast Asia.
Through this session with Abyasa, ABYA was privileged to get an exclusive perspective of a family business from the inside and better understand how current and future leaders of these businesses balance their family history with the demands of an ever-changing economy. We thank Abyasa and the Sintesa Group for this sharing with ABYA and wish them all the best in their business endeavours as the region continues to benefit from the good work and the ambitions of next generation family business leaders like Abyasa.