Relationship Reset Provides Opportunity for Bilateral Business Growth

April 20th, 2016

By Terry Hughes

The election of Malcolm Turnbull to Prime Minister brought renewed hope we can put the past behind us and allow for the relationship between Australia and Indonesia to blossom. And it’s got off to a good start, with Mr Turnbull and Indonesian President Joko Widodo snapping a selfie during the former’s visit to Jakarta last week where trade, investment and jobs were the focus of discussions.

There are many similarities between what Jokowi and Turnbull want to achieve for their respective countries. Both come from a business background, so share similar ideologies on how to boost economic growth and jobs creation, a problem that our two countries are looking to overcome.

As such, economic cooperation is at the top of the agenda for both men. There is definitely room for improvement in this regard as Australia still does more trade with New Zealand, a country of four million, than Indonesia a country of 250 million.

Virtually all economists agree an increase in trade between nations can have a sizeable positive effect on economic growth in Australia. A recent PwC report found working together presents a $3 trillion opportunity for Australia and Indonesia over the next decade.

Hence why Australia’s Minister for Trade and Investment Andrew Robb was in Jakarta this week with 340 business leaders, the largest delegation in the history of the bilateral relationship.

Greater collaboration between Australian and Indonesian businesses will not only open doors for cross border trade, but could also lead to greater innovation, productivity, efficiency and understanding of two completely different business cultures.

However, if Australia wants to profit from an economy that will be double the size of its own in ten years’ time, it needs to consider Indonesia as a partner and not just a place to sell products and services for the benefit of businesses back home. Australian businesses need to remember it’s a two way relationship.

So how do Australian businesses go about doing business in Indonesia?

As the CEO of Solaris Paper, the Australian affiliate of Indonesian pulp and paper manufacturer, Asia Pulp & Paper, we regularly conduct business with our Indonesian counterparts. As we know, there are very different cultures at play, as well as a constantly moving regulatory environment. But, just as our politicians are building a relationship built on trust, friendship and collaboration, business must too. Here are a few pointers for businesses to bear in mind on their journey to working with our Indonesian counterparts to capitalise on that $3 trillion dollar opportunity:

Relationships take time – In Indonesia decision-making processes are influenced by the tradition of musyawarah dan mufakat – mutual agreement and solidarity. Relationships are therefore built on trust. You can’t dive straight in with numbers, figures and a proposition. They have to believe and trust in you as a person first. Place effort into building your relationship with Indonesian businesses. Be accommodating, polite and friendly. Return their pleasantries and you will sow the seeds for your relationship to blossom.

Nurture the relationship – An open and transparent relationship requires continued exchange. Touching base with your Indonesian counterparts every two to three months will not only strengthen the partnership but provide insight into business operations. Ensure some of these meetings are face to face; it’s vital to make regular visits. But take note of the national and religious holidays Indonesians observe.

The business of cards – Yes, we have pretty much eradicated business cards for email signatures in Australia, but in Indonesia they are still pivotal when doing business. They are exchanged upon meeting and two hands should be used during this exchange as a sign of respect. Make sure it has been translated and treat them like it’s your most prized possession in the world. And for any left-handers out there, using it is definitely a no.

Gift Giving – It’s not the cost of the gift that will matter, it is the thought that has gone into the gift that can break down barriers. It’s all part of building a reciprocal relationship. Don’t just get any old gift, listen and be attentive to their needs. The right gift can be the breakthrough your business needs to take your relationship from casual to serious.

After several tense years, it’s now time to put the past behind us, hit reset and restart on an important relationship. Let’s use the opportunity of a change in leadership to bring our two countries closer together. As politicians focus on the policy side of our relationship, there is an opportunity for the Australian business community to play an important role in making Indonesia one of our top 10 economic partners.

Terry Hughes is the CEO at Solaris Paper, the Australian affiliate of Asia Pulp & Paper