Elisa Lumbantoruan: Simplify complexity in change

Arif T. Syam, Contributor, Jakarta

Just call him El, a very short name for someone who has made great strides in his career. One of Indonesia’s most successful executives, he is a force to be reckoned with in the international professional world. Aged 46, El, whose full name is Elisa Lumbantoruan, is country manager of Hewlett-Packard Indonesia.
Before assuming his present position in this information technology company, El, in 2002, was named a Hewlett-Packard director for Southeast Asia and had an office in Singapore.
“My family had just started feeling really at home in Singapore when I was appointed to my present position,” El said.
El landed his present position because of his outstanding achievements in the first six months. “But then Mr. BT Lim, my predecessor as chairman of Hewlett-Packard Indonesia, was going to give up his position,” El said.
There were also two non-Indonesian candidates for the position, but, particularly because of his great achievements in Singapore and in other companies, Lim and other leaders of Hewlett-Packard Indonesia chose him to take up the position.
El said that even though he was initially reluctant to give up his post in Singapore, his first overseas position, he accepted the offer to lead Hewlett-Packard Indonesia, believing that the position posed a greater challenge.
In fact, there was another challenge back home. “Hewlett-Packard Indonesia was a merger between Compaq and Hewlett-Packard, and I was the only one from Compaq for this top position in Hewlett-Packard,” said El, implying that he had been named to lead people who had once been rivals.
When the merger occurred, El added, he was in Singapore and did not have much opportunity to get to know his new colleagues from Hewlett-Packard Indonesia. That’s why when he was named chairman of Hewlett-Packard Indonesia he told the company’s employees in a gathering that he was unsure whether he could gain their respect.
However, he reminded his new subordinates that there were jobs that required cooperation among divisions and between superiors and subordinates. He also said nothing had to change. “It does not mean that now I am the chairman, everything must change and that there must be distance between a superior and his subordinates. I avoid these things, in fact.”
In the early days of the merger, he went on, Hewlett-Packard carried out a program designed by a consultant. The first six-month period was called the adapt-and-go period, in which everybody in the company had to adapt to the new situation and, like it or not, all the programs had to be implemented.
The next six months were a period of excellent operation, in which corporate goals were achieved using the new pattern and system. In this period, the company had to reach certain goals.
Then El said that the merger of two companies much resembled a line of business and its market share and that it could be illustrated in simple mathematics as 1 + 1 = 1.6
“At first, in this second period of six months, a target had been set for Hewlett-Packard Indonesia to reach this figure in two years. However, we achieved it in a year and the value was no longer 1.6 but two,” El said proudly, adding that the figure had since risen to above three.
The next period was the growth period. “In this period, it is expected that there will no longer be any pre-merger perception or the perception that you were formerly from Compaq or you used to work for Hewlett-Packard. There must be only one identity, the New Hewlett-Packard, with a new corporate culture!” El said firmly.
“The most difficult thing is to merge two corporate cultures,” he said, adding that before the merger a perception had been strongly established that Compaq had a style that prioritized speed and agility, while Hewlett-Packard lent greater prominence to business processes and compliance, resulting in the company’s rigid regulations.
However, said El, who likes golf, “After we thoroughly analyzed the whole thing, we found that these perceptions were not entirely correct. These two perceptions can be blended as we regard them as strengths, not weaknesses. Today, speed, agility and compliance make up the corporate culture of Hewlett-Packard Indonesia.”
Still, El realized that this process was not easy. “This was part of a management change. There are three groups of employees during this process. The first are those who immediately accept, the second adopt a wait-and-see attitude and the last are those who immediately reject it because they are yet to see any significant benefit to them in this change.”
This matter, El said, may look complicated. “Every change creates complexity,” he noted. Now, during this process it is the job of a leader to simplify this complexity.
This can be done after the leader first understands the purpose of this change. “Clarify yourself,” he said. “What is the positive impact for the employees if something is done and what is its negative impact if it is not done?”
Afterwards, a leader must communicate properly to the employees what he has understood about the change so that they also have a similar understanding. “The mistake that is often made is that the leader is yet to be clear about this change but he has communicated this to the employees. Besides, he does not communicate things properly. The result is, of course, greater trouble!”
Therefore, a top leader must be able to communicate properly with his employees and also with other leaders in his company. “This is a process of convincing people,” said El, who is married to Boru Butar-Butar.
The third step is to be consistent and implement leadership by example. “It is very strange that we always campaign for a change but we fail to change consistently,” El said.
Besides, El’s decision to give up his Singapore position is beneficial to him because as chairman of Hewlett-Packard Indonesia he can optimize his nationalism in his profession.
In this respect, El, who was born in Siborong-borong, North Sumatra, has learned a lot from his Indian friends. Those who work in multinational companies or outside India give priority to their own country in the case of outsourcing. “This is not a matter of cronyism or nepotism, because they hire personnel really competent and professional in their own fields,” El said.
A father of two, El believes that outsourcing can open up more opportunities for Indonesian manpower and entrepreneurs in the international labor market. “I’m sure there are many competent Indonesian employees or companies to take up outsourcing opportunities,” he said.
He is also convinced that outsourcing is more profitable. Take, for example, a job worth Rp 200 million. Then, separate the job into two parts. One part of this job is worth Rp 120 million and is done internally and the other part is outsourced.
“If we find an outsource company with a level of competence higher than what we need, it is not unlikely that the outcome will be threefold in value,” he said.
Regarding outsourcing, he hopes that the Indonesian government can outsource the school computerization and networking program that has been intensified of late.
If this program is outsourced, he went on, the Indonesian government would not need to spend any money to start the program because the companies it was outsourced to would be responsible for the financing of the program and would make the program successful, including the maintenance involved.
So to say, El’s nationalism has grown stronger following his promotion to lead Hewlett-Packard Indonesia. He greatly hopes that Indonesia can make great progress through information technology.
“Look at Korea. This country got out of its crisis by relying on its information technology. I’m convinced our nation can leave behind its backwardness if we jointly, seriously and thoroughly build our information technology from very early, for example right from school,” said El, a 1985 graduate of the School of Mathematics of the Bandung Institute of Technology (ITB), full of hope.
The Jakarta Post, July 12, 2006