Hubert Burda Media

The Trailblazer: Hengky Setiawan

Hengky Setiawan creates low-cost mobile phones and expands his voucher business to remote parts of Indonesia with Tiphone Mobile

Hengky Setiawan cuts a tall, commanding figure that makes his presence in a room impossible to ignore. He greets us with firm handshakes upon meeting him at his office on the 16th floor of the Telesindo building in the Gajah Mada area of central Jakarta. A spacious area with a contemporary classic interior, it includes a long meeting room and a massive lounge area with cabinets and walls decked with trophies and awards that his company, Tiphone Mobile Indonesia, has won over the years. A keen collector of cars and motorcycles, he keeps three vintage Vespa scooters in his office.

As the founder and President Commissioner of Tiphone, Setiawan’s name is highly recognisable in the Indonesian telecoms industry, even though his company is one of the youngest players in the field. Born in Jakarta, he was by no means born with a silver spoon in his mouth. But his parents taught him as a child that hard work was necessary to get ahead. “My father always said that I had to work hard to achieve my dreams,” Setiawan has stated.

The young businessman built his fortune from scratch, starting out by working part-time as a motorcycle courier while he was studying Accounting at Universitas Tarumanegara in Jakarta at the end of the 1980s. A natural-born entrepreneur, he began selling second-hand mobile phones even before he had earned his degree. Next, Setiawan made his mark by selling revamped mobile phones and pre-paid vouchers that power most mobiles in Indonesia.

“What I have learned from being in the telecoms business is that I have to keep up with the trends in the industry. Otherwise, we would never have survived,” says Setiawan. “We sell prepaid vouchers and various brands of smartphone, like Samsung, Sony Mobile, Apple and more. “We have even created our own mobile-phone brand, named Tiphone. In 2014, we managed to take our company public. Thanks to the management team’s hard work, our company now has more than 100 branches, 450 outlets, 160 service centres and 200,000 resellers. In fact, we are the biggest distributor for [market-leader] Telkomsel’s prepaid vouchers. This year, we have reached Rp 28 billion in revenue from selling vouchers and mobile headsets.”

Considering the modest background he comes from, how has Setiawan been so successful in business? He cites several positive factors: an Indonesian economy that has been “conducive and stable”; the development and accessibility of mobile phone technology; the increasing penetration of mobile-phone users; the development of the features and functions of mobile phones; “and the increasing number of mobile network operators competing in a positive manner”.

Setiawan continues: “My vision for Tiphone Mobile is that we have to be number one at everything we do. My life motto is that nothing is impossible. If we work hard and think positive, it will eventually became reality. I have five rules of life that I follow. The first is courage. Without courage, I will not be going anywhere. The second one is commitment. We all have to be committed to the things that we do. Without commitment, we cannot deliver the best-quality products and services, and we should never disappoint our clients. The third one is focus. We should focus on one thing at a time  until the project is finished. The fourth is innovation. Without innovation, we can’t compete with others. We have to be flexible and follow the market to see where the trends are going, especially in technology and telecommunication. And the last one is passion. We have to work from our hearts. Without passion, we won’t be successful in anything that we do.”

Setiawan also voices his acknowledgement of a solid management team that “has made a lot of sacrifices to get where they are today. Two key traits that I look for in an employee is initiative and honesty. It’s an indication of a true leader. I’m proud to say that the people on my team possess these two qualities.”

Was Setiawan always enthusiastic about the telecoms business? “Not at all,” he admits with a smile. “At the beginning, I never thought that I could be so successful in this industry. It definitely all started from a simple background. I come from an ordinary family. I remember during my time in college that it was a trend to own a mobile phone back then. But as my parents couldn’t afford to buy me one, I had to think of another way.

“I was working as a part-time courier for my father’s friend. I presented him with a business plan and asked him to lend me some money to buy second-hand phones. He said no at first, because he didn’t believe that I could pay him back. But eventually, I managed to convince him to lend me money. Then I bought a second-hand phone and I made it look better by polishing it up. I then sold it for a profit. With the money I made, I bought the next one, fixed it, and sold it again, and so on. After I returned the money I owed, I bought a phone for myself and started to build my own telecoms business.”

What is the most difficult challenge Setiawan has faced so far as a business leader? “The biggest challenge is how to stay competitive in a dynamic market,” he replies. “We have to bring out the best of ourselves to become a great business leader. The next challenge is how to compete with rival companies. As a distributor, we have to survive in the national market. So I must always keep an eye on my competitors and what they are doing. We must know what we have to do to keep ahead of them. The answer is that we must always follow what the market wants. That’s why Tiphone has managed to stay on top in this competitive business.”

So what’s next for Setiawan and Tiphone Mobile? “I want to be the king of the telecoms distribution business here in Indonesia. That’s my dream,” he replies. “To fulfill that, I must make innovations in the business. This is why I started my financial technology division, named Telesindo Shop. Nowadays, the trends are going towards the online business. One of the companies that I very much admire is Go-Jek. This is why, in 2015, we partnered up with Go-Jek and Telkomsel to establish Go-Pulsa. It’s one of the easiest ways to top up your mobile phone’s credit balance.” 

A family man at heart, Setiawan is the loving husband of Lim Wang Hong. They have four sons: James, Justin, Jerry and Jack. “For me, the term success is an unlimited matter,” says Setiawan. “Everyone can have different opinions in terms of their definition of success. For me, success is when I can raise and help my own family, as well as the people in my environment. At the end of the day, it’s all about happiness. You can’t call yourself successful if you’re not happy with the life you’re living. Success means nothing if your family is not together. Family is what matters most. Without a happy family, money and power mean nothing.”

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