Eka Lorena Soerbakti is a powerhouse. The 2012 Eisenhower Fellow from Indonesia, Eka was the deciding factor on why I came to Indonesia. We had met in Philadelphia for our EF orientation sessions and we hit it off immediately. I think we were two of the louder laughs at the improv comedy theater where Andrew Stober was performing.
When I asked Eka about her home country, she came at me with full force enthusiasm and terrific contacts on what is happening with creative culture there. With a laser focus on results and touching generosity, she was indispensable part of the entire trip. It’s hard to believe that someone who afforded me so much time and energy is a key mover for the transportation industry in Indonesia.
Eka remembers when her father, G. T. Soerbakti, started Lorena Group in 1970. After leaving the military, her father purchased two buses to start a transportation service from Bogor to Jakarta. “We didn’t even have the land for the buses, so we rented the front yards of people in town so we could park them.”
It’s a little different operation now: Lorena executive class buses, Karina coach class busses, ESL logistics, cargo and courier services, with projects extending into air and water transport. Now their integrated transportation service moves millions of people. The buses are all Mercedes vehicles and are equipped with GPS and a dedicated driver training program. As a result this company is held in high regards and G. T. Soerbakti was given a “life time achievement award” by Ernst and Young in 2003. Having grown up working with their father, the next generation of Soerbaktis are taking leadership roles with Lorena. But with careful maintenance Mr Soerbakti has maintained the very first bus – and pointed it out to us in the depot in Bogor.
Lately Eka is also getting involved with larger transportation issues. Organda is an organization of land transportation owners that is pushing the government for transportation reform. The traffic throughout Indonesia appears to be in need of better planning, and Jakarta’s traffic jams are almost comical. On one memorable night it took us 1 hour to move less than half a mile. Eka is leading the charge in trying to get things unjammed, but it is a massive job. Eka is also leading Organda with many charitable activities. This sensitivity to people around her clearly came from her family.
With the unpredictability of Jakarta traffic on the beginning of Ramadan, we left an hour earlier than advised, just to make sure we weren’t late to another appointment. That morning Ramadan was declared to be one day later, so traffic proceeded and we ended up significantly early. Mr Soerbakti saw us in the waiting room and immediately invited into his office to fill us with cakes and coffee. To our surprise, he was already meeting with a vendor. The room was full and we were graciously introduced to all parties and even had a lengthy chat about our Eisenhower Fellowship experience. Although we tried to excuse ourself from the ongoing meeting, Mr Soerbakti insisted that we stay as negotiations rejoined. Honestly I was shocked. Subsequently I realized that this was a deliberate management style of openness. I was never asked to keep anything confidential from this meeting. He didn’t have to, and I learned a lot about kindness and respect.
We took a tour of the Lorena group’s depot, and this is where the story began to unfold: apparently some people liked to board the bus before it got to the first station, so rather than deny them, Mr Soerbakti made a nice station for them, complete with TV, shower, prayer room and even clean sleeping quarters. All the oil disposal is cared for, the engines are maintained with top notch equipment, and between the parking areas are fruit and vegetable trees. Mr. Soerbakti cares for the trees himself. “He’s a very detailed man,” one of his staff explained.
Eka introduced me to the key personnel in each department – all people she had known for more than 20 years. But the real touching moment was when we toured the bus driver waiting area. The drivers saw him coming and with eagerness and earnestness all lined up to shake his hand. It was a compelling and silent moment that spoke volumes to me. I realized the kindness and respect he showed to me was something he regularly did with his customers and employees, and it appears that it remains Lorena’s biggest key to success.