One day in November 2015, the atmosphere in the ballroom of Trans Luxury Hotel in Bandung was rather tense. The Indonesian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (Kadin) was holding the election for its new Chairman until 2020. The candidates were two influential figures in Indonesia’s business environment: former Trade Minister Rachmat Gobel and the founder of investment company Recapital Advisors, Rosan P. Roeslani.
The moment of truth came when the meeting’s chairman, Bambang Soesatyo, announced the balloting results. Roeslani had defeated his opponent in a landslide, securing 102 of the 129 votes. The then 46-year-old businessman had become one of the most powerful business figures in the country – and the youngest Kadin chief ever.
Long before his Kadin election triumph, the Jakarta-born Chairman of Recapital had already established himself as a successful entrepreneur. He quips: “I’m the only member of the family who isn’t a doctor – simply because I’m afraid of blood.”
Roeslani discovered his gift for finance while studying for his Bachelor of Science degree in Business Administration at Oklahoma State University in the United States. In 1994, 2 years after returning to Jakarta, he decided to go back to school at Antwerpen European University in Belgium. He gained not one, but two, cum laude degrees: an MBA majoring in International Finance and a Master of Arts majoring in Business Communication and Public Relations.
He returned to Jakarta and reunited with his high-school buddy Sandiaga S. Uno, who is now Deputy Governor-elect of Jakarta. The powerful duo sat side by side for three years at Pangudi Luhur. They started a financial advisor company named Republik Indonesia Funding (widely known as Rifan Financindo) in late 1996. The name changed to Recapital in 2001, and six years later the firm branched out into the hospitality and leisure industries.
“Honestly, I never had a plan to set up a company,” says Roeslani. “I visited Sandi in Singapore and suddenly this idea came up: Why don’t we set up an advisory company? We both had financial backgrounds, we worked in an investment company and it didn’t require a lot of money. We thought, if it fails we can find another job elsewhere. We were young, about 28 years old, and we had nothing to lose.”
They started in a small space in Setiabudi, Kuningan with three employees. “I still remember clearly that the carpet was pink,” Roeslani recalls. “The space used to be a public relations agency office. We couldn’t afford a new one, so we let them be. I bought some cheap furniture from Blok A and we were all set.
“At the time, people were laughing at us. They said: ‘Who’s going to hire two inexperienced young men?’ And it was during the Asian financial crisis as well. It turned out that the crisis was a blessing in disguise for us. A lot of companies needed financial guidance to get through the crisis. I have to credit my father for gaining our first client, which was McDonald’s Indonesia. Bambang Rahmadi (CEO of Bina Nusa Rama, which held McDonald’s licensing rights in Indonesia) was my father’s patient. Thankfully, they were satisfied with our work and we gained a lot more clients after that.”
Today, Recapital has some 8,000 employees. It was awarded “The Best Company in Revitalisation Program” by the Ministry of Finance in 2006. In the financial sector, the group’s subsidiaries include brokerage firm, multi finance, life insurance and bank. In non-financial sector the group invest in water plants and through Restyle Development, the group owns several hotels and villas not only in Indonesia but also in Vietnam and Malaga in Spain.
For a person whose daily activities include buying and selling companies, Roeslani’s personality is not as serious or intense as people might imagine. He describes himself as an easy-going person who likes to hang out a lot and has a big circle of friends. He favours companionship above all. Eating out or watching movies alone is something he would never do. The only time he likes being alone is when he is on a plane. He doesn’t mind taking long flights or doing a lot of business trips, because on a plane he can be by himself, turn off his phone, watch movies, read books and eventually fall asleep.
During the photo shoot and interview at his office on the 11th floor of Recapital Building, Roeslani often laughs and smiles. He’s a big fan of sharing, either his knowledge or experience. “You can’t eat the whole pie alone,” he reasons. “You have to share it and makes people happy. It doesn’t hurt to put a smile upon someone else’s face. I consider it as my biggest achievement – making people happy.”
His relaxed approach has saved him many times from inevitable pressure and stress. “I never overthink things,” he says. “If I keep thinking about things and they’re not getting any better, why should I bother thinking about them? I only had sleeping problems twice in my life, because I have a rule to not bring my problems home. If people do bad things to me, I tend to forgive and forget it. I won’t let negative stuff ruin my productivity. I don’t keep grudges. Let bygones be bygones. Thankfully, I have a great family. I play with my children to release some stress. I also love everything about the sea. Even the smell of it makes me happy. I have a licence for open water and I go diving at least once every two weeks.”
The father of three children (Raisya, Razan and Ranisya) and husband of socialite and philanthropist Ayu Rosan says he mostly learned his leadership lessons from experience. He is the only member in his family who became an entrepreneur, so he grew up without any particular mentors or figures to look up to. But maybe it was Roeslani’s gift after all to have such a great instinct for business.
“I don’t know if it’s make me a natural leader or not,” he says. “But since I was a little boy, my friends have always come to me to get some advice or if they need a hand with something. Even in my big family, although I am the youngest, they ask for my opinion. Actually I don’t like being in the front all the time, but somehow people listen and trust me.”
How does he define power? “Power is when you can influence and persuade people to do whatever you want them to do,” he replies. “But they’re doing it willingly, happily and without any resistance.” Trust, says Roeslani, is an essential factor to becoming a leader. It makes people listen and obey. “If you want to be trusted by others, you have to trust them first,” he says. “You have to delegate. I trust my team and that’s why I let them make decisions. Everybody makes mistakes, otherwise how would you grow as a person? Sandi and I make a good team because he trusts my instincts. Sandi is the one who calculates everything, but when it comes to execution he refers to me. I don’t rush things. Somehow, I know when the time is right to take action.”
When it comes to leadership style, Roeslani is a good listener. “As a person, you have your limitations and you don’t know everything,” he points out. “That’s why you have to listen to others. I need comprehensive input before I can make a decision. I also have a strong belief in team work. You succeed not because of one person, but because of all of the team’s effort. Never leave a single team member alone. Always make everyone feel needed and to belong to a team. That will create harmony.”
One of the many things Roeslani does to create harmony in his company is praying together. During the interview, suddenly an azan is blasting from the building’s speakers. This happens five times a day. Roeslani built a mosque behind the building and he asks his Muslim employees to go there and pray together.
“I think that if you want to become a leader, you need to have uncompromised commitment, focus and flexibility,” he says. “You have to have the ability to adapt in this ever-changing world. For me, the greatest leader in history is Muhammad the Prophet. He had the biggest number of followers in the world, and he got them by not using violence but compassion.”