Dato’ Sri Prof Dr Tahir, MBA, is the epitome of a quintessential entrepreneur who seamlessly blends his business success with his passion for philanthropy. He is the founder of Mayapada Group and the Tahir Foundation, the latter of which entered into a noble partnership last year with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, announcing their US$200 million commitment to helping the world’s poorest. When interviewed at his office, he looked stern but solicitous, his focus resolutely inward.
He’s never afraid to do whatever he needs to do in order to be in the moment, and he describes himself as a “rock climber” who loves to conquer one life mountain over another. “There’s no mountain I couldn’t climb in this life, no mountain too daunting for me to conquer. I will stop only when God wants me to stop,” he said. “All of the blessings I have received so far are the results of my hard work, my love for my job, and my unwavering spirit in every undertaking I’ve taken, and of course, without God, I won’t be able to be the person who I am today.” Yes—faith in God is one essential pillar that defines his success, admitted DR Tahir.
Sporting a sleek, bespoke black Bijan suit, laced with two refined gold buttons and a chequered blue-and-white pocket square tucked meticulously in his pocket, DR Tahir wasn’t born with a silver spoon in his mouth. The 62-year-old man (he’ll turn 63 on March 26) reminisced about his struggling, impoverished childhood in Surabaya. His father made a living from making three- wheeled rickshaws, his mother sometimes helping him paint the vehicles before they sold them to interested buyers. His dream of being a medical doctor was crushed by this straitened circumstance, especially after his dad fell ill. But giving up wasn’t an option in DR Tahir’s life. At 20, he went to the prestigious Nanyang University in Singapore. While living overseas, he independently financed his studies by being a trader, buying women’s clothing and bicycles and selling them to Indonesian customers.
With natural talent and a wholehearted will, he managed to complete a Master’s degree in Business Administration from the Golden Gate University in San Francisco, the U.S., in 1987 with a 4.0 GPA. At home, DR Tahir had set up his own garment and textile company and established the Mayapada Group in 1986. What started as a humble beginning has now evolved into a conglomerate juggernaut with businesses ranging from banking to manufacturing, property, healthcare, media, and to specialty retail. Forbes Indonesia, of which he co-owns the license, estimates his net worth to be US$2.1 billion (as per December 2014), thus landing him at number 11 on the “Indonesia’s 50 Richest” list.
Self-improvement, he says, is key to never-ending growth. “We need to improve ourselves on a daily basis because the world constantly evolves every day; therefore, we need to learn and keep ourselves updated with whatever happens around us,” DR Tahir explained with a smile.
On a more personal note, the entrepreneur is married to Rosy Riady, and both have raised four children, Jane, Grace, Victoria, and Jonathan Tahir, each tasked with overseeing their father’s expanding businesses—Jane and Jonathan at Mayapada Bank, Grace at Mayapada Hospital, and Victoria at Fairmont Hotel in Bali. To DR Tahir, everything should start from the family first. “First, we need to be a child, a parent, an uncle, an aunt, or any family member with good character before we can be a good leader.”
He has educated his children about leadership since they were still little and makes sure he always has time for them. “I spend a lot of time with my children, which I think is something many entrepreneurs now rarely do. They spend so much time taking care of their businesses but abandon their loved ones. We may afford to send our children overseas to get the best education the world has to offer, but that’s not enough, because I think there are times when we have to be present around them, especially when they need us.” The same case applies to spouses. His wife, Rosy, means the world to him. “She is irreplaceable and completes me as a human being. Without her, I am nothing.”
With great power comes great responsibility. On top of everything else, he believes the power of being a blessing to others, as joy itself, according to DR Tahir, comes from sharing your happiness with others—whether to help the sick recover from their illnesses, the uneducated get proper education, or the needy in general receive the help they need. The Tahir Foundation has upped the ante on philanthropic efforts in Indonesia and has expanded the scope of its practice onto the global level since it worked together with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation last year. Together, the two target to disburse a total of $200 million over five years, with each contributing $100 million (75% of this fund will be used for work in Indonesia) to help with the prevention of and control for diseases, such as AIDS, malaria, tuberculosis, and polio, as well as to combat infant mortality rates and support family planning.
In the past two decades, the Tahir Foundation has also provided scholarships for more than 20-state funded universities in Indonesia, tens of thousands of computers for poor students, and recently donated money to help private and governmental institutions conduct research on legal reform in Indonesia. DR Tahir calls on for more entrepreneurs in Indonesia to be more engaged in social and philanthropic works. According to the tycoon, when pure altruism and social values are instilled into entrepreneurs, doing business will have much broader and more purposeful meaning than a mere profit-and-loss calculation.
“There’s this bigger drive to becoming a man with more values, a much more purposeful human being than you were before—if you apply such concepts,” he said. “Within the past 20 years, we have seen large companies or tycoons, both in the U.S. and Indonesia, go extinct and bankrupt. But we see neither companies nor tycoons collapse when they regularly set aside their profits for social and philanthropic causes.”
Indeed, through the lenses of DR Tahir, it’s all about finding the balance in life and giving back to society, whatever one’s status is in a community. He creates a perfect analogy out of his statement: “I don’t believe in the concept of having a ‘free lunch’. The fact is that I had finished eating that ‘free lunch’, and I think it’s a common sense to return the favour. This nation has provided me with a lot of opportunities, which allowed me to send my children to the best schools overseas and to save a little money for our future. Now it’s time for us to give back, and I don’t think we should vaunt ourselves on it, as such an action (giving back) only vouches for the logical consequences of our presence in this world.”
Last but not least, DR Tahir also shares with us his philosophy of making the right choices. “Well, there are things that we can’t choose in life—our birthdate and time, birthplace, the family we were born into, and our ethnicity,” But human beings, he continues, are always confronted with the daily struggle to choose between good and evil. “Yes—there are also things that we can choose in life—whether we want to do good or we want to do evil for others,” concluded DR Tahir, who was recently appointed as Special Advisor for Commander in Chief of the Indonesian National Armed Forces.