Sukanto Tanoto, currently one of the most well-known, richest and respected business leaders in Indonesia, has started out in life in a volatile time, when the country was still fighting for its independence and life for most Indonesians – most especially Chinese immigrants – was extremely hard.
Young Sukanto quickly learned the basic lessons about the value of hard work, the many traits of the people he and his parents would meet on their journey through life and the numerous challenges associated with maintaining a successful business and good grades in school all at the same time.
A Difficult Time for Indonesians
On December the 25th, 1949, a young boy named Sukanto Tanoto was born in Belawan, Indonesia, to parents of Chinese descent who migrated to Indonesia in the early 1900s, from the Fijian province of China known as Putien.
Only 4 years after the end of World War II, this was an extremely difficult time for all Indonesians, with uprisings and guerilla wars spawned from a difficult fight for independence, which the young country obtained shortly after Sukanto Tanoto – the eldest of 7 brothers – was born.
His early childhood was marked by the problems associated with the fact that Sukanto was of Chinese descent, so from the start, he could not be enrolled in a regular public school. Combined with lacking infrastructure and large distances that had to be covered to even reach the school, this had a profound impact on the young boy, who quickly learned that he had to adapt to his surroundings if he hoped to achieve his dreams someday.
Balancing Work and School
If we think life is difficult today, Sukanto Tanoto’s early years should definitely serve as a source of inspiration for how someone can beat the odds, despite so many obstacles and difficulties.
A typical day in the life of Sukanto Tanoto began with an active morning in which he would help his mother at home with his 6 younger brothers, then head out to help his father at a gas station and a small shop. It was tedious work that had to be done by hand, the most difficult of which was pushing heavy barrels of oil and diesel into place – a task that was naturally extremely challenging for a young boy.
While school work was less physically challenging, young Mr. Tanoto also had to endure a bumpy one-and-a-half-hour bus ride to get to school. Undeterred by the lack of comfort and the heat that often accompanied the journey (there was no AC back then), Sukanto Tanoto diligently prepared for his lessons on the bus trip, determined not to waste any of his precious time and to try to profit as much as possible from the education that he was provided.
The Many Lessons of a Difficult Childhood
Young Sukanto Tanoto learned from an early age how valuable hard work, determination and understanding can be when it comes to achieving success in life and being able to help those around him.
Unlike in the case of most children, however, most of his lessons didn’t came from school books – although he certainly learned that it is best to retain as much as that knowledge as possible too – but from working at his parents’ part shop and gas station.
He quickly picked up the basics of how business works and learned from the hard work he put into pushing barrels, cleaning and doing chores, that persistence and discipline are vital for good results.
The most valuable lessons, however, were those learned about the many different types of people who would travel through the transient town and become their clients, learning how to identify customers who were honest or not.
This is how, even at an early age, Sukanto Tanoto learned some of the most important basics of business, as well as its close relation to life as a whole and the importance of a closely connected community.