Back in the bad old days of the Asian financial crisis, Barry Lesmana did something extraordinary for an Indonesian banker: He stuck around. As other banks abandoned the nation in 1998, the manager of Citibank's Indonesian consumer operations saw a chance to grab the business they were leaving behind. A year later, Citibank had grown from four branches to 65. "Now the `blue wave' is everywhere," boasts Lesmana, referring to Citibank's trademark blue stripe. And it was no small thanks to him that last year Citibank earned $702 million from consumer banking in Asia, up 58% from 1999.
Citibank, however, is just an encore for Lesmana, 51. By the time the bank hired him in 1998, Lesmana, had already become a star by introducing consumer banking to Indonesia almost single-handedly. The son of ethnic Chinese textile traders in the West Java hill town of Bandung, Lesmana made his name as head of the consumer banking division of Bank Central Asia (BCA), Indonesia's largest private-sector bank. He would do anything to get Indonesians to open accounts, from raffling $70,000 in cash prizes every quarter to giving away 100 Toyota Kijang sport-utility vehicles. From 1989 to 1998, BCA went from 800,000 to 7 million depositors. Lesmana also expanded the use of automated teller machines across the archipelago. "That was a revolution I led that really changed consumer behavior," he declares.
Lesmana was no less creative at Citibank. When riots shut down the country, he went to work setting up dozens of kiosk-size bank branches with an ATM, customer-service phone, passbook printer, and guard. "I wanted to create the impression of a strong presence at a time when foreign companies were leaving," he explains.
That solidified Citibank's position. Lesmana's current task, as he sees it, is "to bring Citibank to the next level." Only 10 million Indonesians, or 5% of the population, earn enough to qualify for a credit card, and just 16% of those eligible hold cards. Lesmana hopes to triple the penetration rate to nearly 50% in five years. "If Citibank doesn't do it, no one else will," he says. "We're obliged." Watch out. When Barry Lesmana is that determined, a marketing blitz can't be far behind.