The success of former TNI generals in the world of business

CNN Indonesia – October 5, 2015
TNI Generals Budiman, Moeldoko and Gatot Nurmantyo - Undated (Tribune)
TNI Generals Budiman, Moeldoko and Gatot Nurmantyo - Undated (Tribune)

Abraham Utama, Jakarta – A new life begins after 50. This is what has been the case for a number of retired Indonesian military (TNI) generals, because shedding their official military uniforms has not necessarily meant ending their careers.

Soon after officially taking up the status of a civilian after reaching 58 years of age, these former senior military officials have been actively courted by conglomerates that place them in senior positions in their companies.

Since the reform process began in 1998 at least three out of six former TNI commanders have become senior business leaders in companies. Former TNI commander retired General Endriartono Sutarto for example currently holds the post of president commissioner with the Pundi Bank.

Soon after retiring in 2006, Sutarto was chosen to become the president commissioner of the state-owned oil and gas company Pertamina. After leaving Pertamina, according to the Pundi Bank website, in March 2010 Sutarto became the chairperson of the nomination and remuneration committee with the bank established in 1993. Five months later, he was promoted to chair Pundi Bank’s auditing committee.

Former TNI chief retired Admiral Agus Suhartono also followed in Sutarto’s footsteps. Suhartono currently holds the post of president commissioner with PT Tambang Batubara Bukit Asam, a state-controlled coal mining company headquartered in Tanjung Enim, South Sumatra.

After hanging up his military uniform, former coordinating minister for legal, political and security affairs retired Air Chief Marshal Djoko Suyanto became an independent commissioner with the company PT Adaro. It was only after he was selected as coordinating minister for legal, political and security affairs in 2009 that Suyanto resigned from the coal mining company owned by business tycoon Edwin Soeryadjaya [the son of Indonesia’s national car company PT Astra’s founder William Soeryadjaya].

This year, after retiring from public office, Suyanto returned to the world of business. According to the PT Bursa Efek Indonesia (the Indonesian Stock Exchange self regulatory organisation) website, on March 17 Suyanto drafted a statement declaring he was ready to be appointed as president commissioner and independent commissioner with the company PT Chandra Asri Petrochemical.

According to his curriculum vitae uploaded to the PT Chandra Asri website, Suyanto was once a commissioner with the PT Lestari Asri Jaya, a company that manages industrial timer estates and is affiliated with the Barito Pacific Group owned by [former Suharto crony and timber tycoon] Prajogo Pangestu.

In fact it is not just former TNI commanders that have taken up careers in the world of business after retirement. Former Army Chief-of-Staff retired General Subagyo Hadi Siswoyo, according to a PT Berau Coral Energy general shareholders meeting dated June 29, 2013 was appointed as a commissioner with the company.

A year later in July 2014, Siswoyo resigned from PT Berau Coral Energy. And early this year was appointed by President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo as a member of the presidential advisory board.

The career of former Army Special Forces (Kopassus) commander retired General Luhut Binsar Pandjaitan has been a little different. He established his own company PT Toba Sejahtera, which is active in the coal, mining, oil a gas, electricity generation and forestry and timer sectors.

PT Toba Sejahtera, a subsidiary company of PT Toba Bara Sejahtera, appointed the former TNI armed forces chief of general staff retired Lieutenant General Suaidi Marasabessy as executive director.

Retired Lieutenant General Kiki Syahnakri, who ended his military service as army deputy chief-of-staff, currently holds the post of president commissioner with the Artha Graha Bank.

When speaking with CNN Indonesia in mid-September, Syahnakri said that he once held the post of commissioner with the company PT International Timber Corporation Indonesia Kartika Utama.

“After the TNI AD’s [army] businesses were restructured, there were several former senior military officers who became commissioners in companies whose shares were once owned by the [army’s] Kartika Eka Paksi Foundation”, said Syahnakri in Jakarta.

The Kartika Eka Paksi Foundation referred to by Syahnakri was established by retired army officers during the era of former president Suharto. The foundation’s name was taken from the army slogan “Kartika Eka Paksi”, which means “Unmatchable Bird with Noble Goals”.

Trusted by corporations

The tendency of former senior TNI officers to be active in various companies is not strange in Syahnakri’s view. Although according to Syahnakri, out of the many senior TNI officers that have retired only a small number have chosen a career in the business world.

“Those that have become commissioners can be counted on one hand. This is because there is trust on the part companies”, said Syahnakri.

The phenomenon of generals holding senior company positions has not just happened in Indonesia. Syahnakri cites the example of former Australian defense chief Sir Peter John Cosgrove.

Cosgrove, who is currently the liaison between Australia and the British crown with the status of governor general, was once part of the management of the Australian airline company Qantas.

“The former Singaporean army chief of staff also become a CEO (chief executive officer) in various companies”, said Syahnakri.

Nevertheless, Imparsial (Indonesian Human Rights Watch) executive director Poengky Indarti questions the reason why companies have placed former senior TNI offices in vital positions in their businesses.

“Is it true that they have skills in accordance with the fields that are embraced by the companies? Or are they in fact being used by companies to smooth the way for business through particular channels such as securing the acquisition of land or facilitating the procurement of licensees”, said Poengky.

If such suspicions are correct, said Poengky, then this truly is unprofessional. “Why are retired generals with combat skills being recruited as commissioners in mining companies. Once there who are they waging war with?”, asked Poengky.

Syahnakri believes that there are two things that make companies consider employing retired senior TNI officers, namely discipline and leadership.

So for these generals then, a new life does indeed begin at 58. (agk)

[Translated by James Balowski for the Indoleft News Service. The original title of the report was Kisah Sukses Jenderal-jenderal TNI di Dunia Bisnis.]