Book Review: Liem Sioe Liong’s Salim Group: The Business Pillar of Suharto’s Indonesia

Authors: Borsuk, Richard; Chng, Nancy
Publisher: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies (June 09, 2014)
Paperback: 400 Pages

The book is a biography of Liem Sioe Liong, the master mind behind Salim’s group, one of the largest business conglomerate in Indonesia. The book was well-written in a journalistic and documentary style. It tells how the combination of Liem’s connection with Suharto, serendipity and personal charm propelled him to become one of the wealthiest tycoon in Southeast Asia. The book features exclusive input from Liem, who died in 2012, and his youngest son, Anthony Salim. It traces the founder’s life and the group’s symbiosis with Suharto, his generals and family.

Liem’s footsteps in Indonesia could be dated back to 1938, where the poor boy from a Chinese village arrived in Java to look for opportunities. The book tells the story of how Liem built the Salim Group, a conglomerate that in its heyday controlled Indonesia’s largest non-state bank, the country’s dominant cement producer and flour mill, as well as the world’s biggest maker of instant noodles.

The book also explained how Anthony Salim was able to turn-around the company’s severe condition in the 1998 Asian economic crisis. After the tumultuous 1997-98 Asian financial crisis sparked Suharto’s fall and a backlash against the strongman’s cronies, Anthony staved off the crushing of the debt-laden group.

The history of early post-independence Indonesia was well-written in the book. The book tells how the partnership between Liem and Suharto played such an important role and had molded Indonesia’s history & economy. After Suharto gained power in Indonesia in the mid-1960s, he stayed as the country’s president for more than three decades, helped by the powerful military, hefty foreign aid and support from a coterie of cronies, one of which was Liem. The fact that it was published outside Indonesia also give another perspective on what’s going on in the country in New Order era.

One interesting subject to be learnt from the book was how the business networks worked during the early stage Indonesia, and how the business culture they bring has developed in Indonesia over the past decades. The book also focuses on the role played by Chinese businessmen and the “guanxi” business culture they stand for.

The book is recommended for business executives, students and anyone with an interest in Southeast Asia’s largest economy who want to understand better the country’s modern history.

Definitely worth reading.


Was Your Brain Really Built for TV, Porn, or the Internet?

Supernormal Stimuli

I stumbled upon an interesting post on Quora by Gregory Ciotti, titled “Was Your Brain Really Built for TV, Porn, or the Internet?” I personally think the article is interesting because it challenge our understanding on why we enjoy doing certain things so much, such as watching TVs, eating junk foods, or simply browsing the internet for hours. It gives a new perspective on how those obvious things could be so addictive for some and what are the “stimuli” those things gave to us we cannot resist to do those things.

The article started with an awesome comic illustration from Stuart McMillen, explaining the so-called super-normal stimuli, a term coined by a Nobel Prize winning ethologist, Niko Tinbergen. The concept explains that one could build an artificial object which was a stronger stimulus or releaser for an instinct than the object for which the instinct originally evolved. Simply put, both humans and animals could be stimulated to do (and repeat) a certain thing by exploiting the stimulus causing that action. Read the full Quora post for more detailed elaboration on the concept, as I’d like to discuss more about the internet & social media addiction explained in the article.

Internet & Social Media Overuse

The internet, it allows unfettered control to engage in virtually anything effortlessly we enjoyed and depended on it so much. It may cause a decrease in our ability on conceptual and critical thinking. Ciotti also pointed out that some have argued “the internet can become ‘chronic distraction’ that slowly eats away at your patience and ability to think and work on things for extended periods of time.”

In the case of social media, people use social media to see what the others are doing and connect with others. It gives the feel that they are always being engaged and connected with their friends, which is a basic human instinct to gather in community. Nonetheless, many people fail to recognize that social media is only a complement of the real face-to-face interaction and instead depend solely on it.  If we relate the phenomenon in the context of Indonesia, specifically Jakarta, we could see people looking at their smartphones while walking, driving, etc., simply ignoring their surroundings. The article also pointed out that when people see the highlight and polished reel of others, they may feel worse about their own life. But yet people demand for more as they do not want to miss a thing in their friends’ life.

Avoiding Overuse

Though seems to be very obvious, internet & social media addiction actually could bring negative effects. The article is not telling that the two are bad, the overuse of those two are bad. As Ciotti described, fortunately, human has the ability to have awareness of this, and could therefore have the will to control this “instinct”. We are given the ability to recognize that the things we do are caused by a certain stimuli and to measure what is enough and what is over.

We should also recognize that Internet is not the only source of information. There are other sources of information that could introduce a new perspective of what were served on the internet. Instead of accepting any information served on the internet as is, we should sometimes challenge and ask why things work on the way they are now. We should also spend times having group discussions, do storytelling, write articles/blogs, etc. as it allows us to utilize our critical & conceptual thinking.

In terms of social media, the first thing to realize is that social media is only a complementary tool of the real interaction. Real life interactions are more humane and fundamental in building relationship and acquaintanceship. Timeline in social media also tells only a part of others’ life, not the whole picture. Get out of the building, meet some friends, meet new people, travel; as it may be the most valuable experience and investment you’ll ever made.

All in all, I’d like to quote a mentioned in Ciotti’s article which I think summed up the whole article and the message he wants to deliver.

A wise man rules his passions, a fool obeys them.

—Publius Syrus