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Web-only Exclusives
November 30, 2000

From Our Correspondent: Hirohito and the War
A conversation with biographer Herbert Bix

From Our Correspondent: A Rough Road Ahead
Bad news for the Philippines - and some others

From Our Correspondent: Making Enemies
Indonesia needs friends. So why is it picking fights?

Asiaweek Time Asia Now Asiaweek story

OCTOBER 8, 1999 VOL. 25 NO. 40

M A N A G E R S   A T   W A R

RINI SUWANDI, ASTRA INTERNATIONAL:
Japanese creditors with whom she had spent years cutting deals no longer trusted her. It hurt

Kemal Jufri for Asiaweek
When Creditors Scream
By JOSE MANUEL TESORO Jakarta

When Indonesia's Astra International found itself weighed down with $1.2 billion in foreign debt and demand for its automobiles in freefall, it went to its former finance director, Rini Suwandi. At the time, Rini had recently joined the Indonesian Bank Restructuring Agency as deputy chair and was already working weekends. "Oh, God, it's going to get worse," her family said when they heard that she was going to be Astra's CEO. Rini's husband asked: "Are you sure about this?" Rini was. She believed herself to be the ideal candidate. Having moved to Astra from Citibank in 1989, she felt she could avoid the kind of emotional attachment that hindered managers who had been with the conglomerate since its beginning. She could be detached about the hard decisions. At least that was the theory.

    MANAGERS AT WAR
Employees First Lance Gokongwei, Cebu Pacific

Gambling with the Truth Sanan Angubolkul, Srithai Superware

A Scion Ditches the Past Cho Jung Ho, Hanjin Securities

Daughter Knows Best Adrienne Ma, Joyce Boutique

When Creditors Scream Rini Suwandi, Astra International

Money, Money, Money Hayakawa Shigezo, Misumi Corp.

She says it took her a week to make the first big one: laying off 25,000 people - a fifth of the workforce - during the country's worst unemployment in 40 years. On the third day she decided there was no way out. "If I do the 25,000 then I can probably save 101,000," she told herself. "But if I don't do the 25,000 now, I might not be able to keep all the others." Selling the drastic layoffs to her lieutenants was another matter. (Astra longtimers say her restructuring wasn't delicate: Some people only found out by fax they were being fired.) And when she started getting rid of assets such as a microelectronics plant, veteran executives tried to talk her out of it. "You must be ready to be unpopular," says Rini, 41. "Maybe even hated by people."

Next she started taking flak from Astra's creditors. Halting debt payments was the second big decision - making it even more painful was that as chief financial officer she had made many of the original deals herself. "Boy it was tough," she says. Some creditors were realistic; others were rude and screamed: "Astra has cash! Astra has cash! You have to fulfill your commitment!" Meetings went back and forth. She traveled to Tokyo often. Sometimes on the plane Rini wondered if it was all worth it - especially when people she had known for years no longer trusted her. Then she would tell herself: "Come on Rini, you have to cheer up. I must be strong for the people at Astra living under this question mark." At one point the Jakarta media asked if a woman was capable of restructuring Astra. They don't ask anymore. Rini pushed through her reforms over internal resistance and has committed Astra to paying off all its loans in the next seven years. Now she must prepare the group for the future. But at least the company is surviving, and re-engineering it has become "a more enjoyable challenge." Once in a while nowadays, Rini can even afford to laugh.

NEXT: Money, Money, Money



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