Irwan hidayat is almost always seen in a white shirt. It might be called his lifetime uniform. To the President Director of Sido Muncul, Indonesia’s leading jamu producer, the conventional piece of clothing is what a black turtleneck was to the late Steve Jobs. His mind, on the contrary, is anything but conventional.
At 69, the man behind the nationwide success of Sido Muncul is still constantly thinking about innovation. At the herbal medicine company, which Hidayat’s grandmother, the wife to Rachmat Sulistiyo, started as a traditional drugstore in Yogyakarta in the 1940s, he focuses on research and development as well as marketing. She then turned the small store into a herbal medicine company based in Semarang in 1951. She named it Sido Muncul (a dream comes true). Irwan and his four siblings came into the family business in the 1970s, even though none of them was equipped with a college degree.
Following their father’s passing, the five siblings took over the company in 1994. In 2013, Sido Muncul officially became a public company. Nowadays, Irwan would call himself a “sociomarketer”, a marketing expert who ties promotional activities and social causes together. In 2006, in the midst of Mount Merapi’s eruption, Irwan brought a creative team to shoot a TV commercial for Kuku Bima Energi featuring a local icon, the late Mbah Maridjan. The respected figure was the spiritual guardian of the notorious volcano to his dying day in 2010.
When Marketing Meets Charity
“I was inspired by a newspaper article that highlighted his bravery, so I immediately proposed to work with him,” explains Irwan. At the time, sales of Kuku Bima Energi were down. After the TVC was launched, annual sales of the energy drink went up four times. “He was a really good man,” Irwan reminisces of his encounter with Mbah Maridjan. Helping others is important to Irwan. Every year, Sido Muncul provides some 300 buses for its employees to travel to their hometowns during Eid. The programme is called Mudik Lebaran Gratis. Over the years, the company has also arranged cataract surgery for over 50,000 people in 33 provinces across the country.
Combining charity and marketing was the result of years of thinking. At first, the idea was to help victims of disasters while promoting Sido Muncul products. Irwan felt it was not enough. “I I felt we were giving fish, instead of fish hooks, to people.” He was determined to inspire fellow Indonesians to make a better living, all while promoting Sido Muncul products. That was when the idea of promoting Indonesia’s beauty came about. “If someone was to be successful, he had to know well the things that he has at hand. It’s the law of nature,” he says. “We are lacking in visitors in comparison to Malaysia and Singapore.”
He brought a team to shoot TVCs in undeveloped tourist destinations across the country. Up to date, the team has shot advertisements in 16 destinations, including Toba Lake in Northern Sumatera, Nias Island in Western Sumatera and Labuan Bajo in Nusa Tenggara region. The latest advertisement was shot in Gorontalo, Sulawesi, featuring a whale shark. “I showed the beauty of Indonesia to its own people, so that they would participate in developing it,” Irwan says.
“In 2011, only 900 of the 18,000 tourists that visited Labuan Bajo annually were Indonesians. It was not hard to see why. There were only two hotels and one flight from Bali to Labuan Bajo,” Irwan explains. “Last year, 120,000 tourists went there, and 100,000 of them were Indonesians. The area now has 13 hotels and eight flights from Bali.”
Keeping Up With Times
A part of Irwan’s success in making his business long-lasting is staying in tune with the times. He calls his smartphone a “blessing”. It’s his habit to keep up with the news on television during lunch breaks and each evening. One example of his innovative mindset is an advertisement for Tolak Linu, one of Sido Muncul’s newer products, that promotes the government’s recently introduced “No Plastic Bag” programme.
Home indeed holds a special place in his heart. Although he is listed as one of the 50 richest individuals in Indonesia by Forbes, he simply says most of his wealth belongs to his mother, brothers and sister. He refuses to be called “a rich man”. Instead, he credits his success and wealth to luck. “If I were to do what I have been doing at Sido Muncul since I was 22, I don’t think I would be able to repeat the success,” he says. “It is by luck that I could be here today.” Irwan joined the company 46 years ago, having just survived a tough phase in his life. “I fell badly ill when I was 22. It was a combination of typhoid, malaria, kidney problems, hypertension and diabetes. I spent a whole year in the hospital. Once I was out of the hospital, I suffered from depression.”
His tough experiences, besides motivating him to do business differently, made him believe that everyone should know his body well. “It is not about being an expert in medicine, but more of having a proper knowledge about health,” he explains.
Irwan himself, who is an energetic individual, lives a “conscious” life. He watches what he eats, exercises regularly and maintains a positive mindset. “When we practice a healthy lifestyle for the body and mind, that’s when we find heaven. Heaven, after all, is within our hearts,” he says.
That belief extends to his style of leadership. He doesn’t believe in scolding or blaming others for things, as such an attitude does not do any good. “If I fail, I blame myself,” he says. His “rational” approach to leadership, he says, results in loyal employees and low staff turnover at Sido Muncul.
Read more on Irwan’s innovative mind in the Power Issue of Prestige Indonesia.