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Sendjaja Widjaja: Bringing harmony to helm of AirAsia
[December 19, 2007]

Sendjaja Widjaja: Bringing harmony to helm of AirAsia

(The Jakarta Post Via Thomson Dialog NewsEdge) from THE JAKARTA POST -- WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 19, 2007 -- PAGE 16 The music and airline industries are certainly two different things

One deals with entertainment and the other with travel. These two industries are like chalk and cheese

This, however, does not daunt Sendjaja Widjaja, the CEO of AirAsia

He has enjoyed success in the music world as music producer and managing director of Musica Studio and Warner Music. He has catapulted many performers to fame, including diva Krisdayanti, Cici Paramida and Jikustik band

For the past two years, however, he has been involved in the airline business because an acquaintance in the music business, Tony Fernandez, asked him to lead AirAsia Indonesia

AirAsia, a low cost carrier (LCC), has been successful in Malaysia and Tony, one of Sendjaja's colleagues at Warner Music, thought this success could spread to Indonesia with the establishment of AirAsia Indonesia

Of course, Sendjaja was flattered that his colleague would offer him the position, but he had doubts because he had no experience in the airline business. He repeatedly asked Tony whether he truly felt he was up to the challenge. Tony, however, reasoned that as it was a franchised business, there was a model to follow that would make the job easy

Convinced, Sendjaja became optimistic that he could lead AirAsia Indonesia. With great determination he followed through what AirAsia Bhd had laid down

Nevertheless, Sendjaja has his own style in leading a company

"Although we are running an established system, we must have strong and capable human resources to put the system into place," he stressed

The most important initial step that he took was to make sure that all his employees really understood the LCC concept. "If we start with this understanding, then all employees will share a common commitment with the management," he said. The next step, said Sendjaja, 52, was to ensure that everybody would have the same vision and mission. Only then would there be discipline in applying the AirAsia system. "In any business, discipline leads to success," he added

Besides applying the established LCC system, Sendjaja and his staffers worked together to think of ways to raise non-airfare income

One of these ways was to sell advertising space in the interior of AirAsia planes. In addition, various kinds of merchandise is also sold, plus tickets are sold online, thereby cutting out agents' fees. "The essence is that we must continue to innovate in ways that apply to conditions in Indonesia in order to find opportunities without having to go beyond the corridors of the LCC concept," said Sendjaja, who is modest in appearance

The low cost concept can be seen in various aspects, including in Sendjaja's office, which measures only 2.5 by 3.5 meters. "The size of the room does not matter. What matters is what I can do to make sure the objective of the company is accomplished!" he said

Having a small office, he said, has its advantages, such as removing the barrier between a superior and his subordinates. In addition, the size of his office also shows employees that no one is indispensable

"Whoever fails to achieve will surely be replaced," he said

Sendjaja is also transparent in his work. "Transparency is absolutely necessary if you wish to make progress in the present-day business," he noted

Sendjaja remains open to ideas from his employees as long as they are intended for the good of the company. "As long as there is conviction that this idea or innovation will be successful, we will surely support it," he said

What is of no less importance, he went on, in deciding on a policy is democracy. "When something has been decided by the majority, it must be implemented by all without exception. There must be no boycotting it or protesting," he said

Touching on the quality of human resources, Sendjaja said that it was culture that made Indonesians appear less developed. "Our culture generally makes our people lack the courage to air their opinions in public. This discourages our people from standing out and as a result we do not develop," he said

Nevertheless, he cannot say for sure whether Indonesian human resources are less qualified than Malaysians. However, he went on, it is a fact that Indonesian engineers have been sent to Malaysia for training

It is also human resources that Sendjaja comments on when asked about aviation policies in Indonesia. In his opinion, what is happening in Indonesia's aviation sector is partly due to the qualifications of the personnel assigned to regulate Indonesia's aviation sector, namely those working for the Information and Communications Ministry

The reason is, he went on, that those who issue permits also act as regulators and are involved in airport affairs. "So if the process of issuing a permit runs well, airline operators in Indonesia will perform well and the operation of airports will also run well," he stressed

In fact, he went on, all world-scale modules, procedures and systems of aviation are in the hands of the ministry. "Actually, they only have to put everything into practice and everything will run well," he said, while acknowledging that he had also seen progress within the ministry and in the application by airline operators and airports

Unfortunately, almost at the same time, accidents have occurred. As a result, people assume that nothing has changed within the ministry. The ministry needs to be firm, he said. "If legal action must be taken against an operator, then take it!" Uniquely, he said, what has happened is that new regulations have been issued and these regulations are stricter than the systems or regulations prevailing overseas. As a result, said Sendjaja, who has two sons and two daughters, high costs are incurred by an airline company

The solution to this problem, Sendjaja said, is that a regulator must be separated from business affairs. In addition, there must be indiscriminate firmness. On the other hand, an airline must be committed to safety. "If the ministry does not issue a warning, then an airline should not be complacent. There must be self-control! If this happens, Indonesia's aviation business will develop well," he said

His attention to the progress of the airline business reflects Sendjaja's strong personal character. In the music business, to which he dedicated himself for 25 years, he is now preparing the publication of a book on how to be a successful music producer

"I want to see more progress in Indonesia's music world with the emergence of more qualified music producers, and, consequently, more top singers and musicians," said Sendjaja, who intends to return to the music world once he retires from the airline business. After all, once something is in the blood it does not simply disappear

Name: Sendjaja Widjaja Date/place of birth: April 8, 1955, Jakarta Education 1975-1979 Willesden College, UK 1973-1974 South Asia Union College, Singapore 1968-1974 Seventh Day Adventist, Singapore Work experience 2004-present: President Director of PT Indonesia AirAsia 2001-present: Director of PT Langgeng Gitamusikal 2001-2007: Director of PT Pancabina Manunggal 2001-2005: Director of Sonic Mastering Lab Sdn. Bhd

2001-2004: President Director of PT Musica Studio 1997-2001: President Director of PT Warner Music Indonesia 1994-1995: President Director of PT Hema Gitatama Records 1980-1994:President Director of PT Musica Studio's Arif T. Syam, Contributor Copyright 2007 The Jakarta Post

Copyright 2007 PT Bina Media Tenggara, Source: The Financial Times Limited

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