Cacuk Sudarijanto first challenged Indonesia's entrenched business interests in 1992. As second-in-command at long-distance telephone company Indosat, he decided against buying telecom equipment from a business partner of a Suharto family member. For daring to say no to the Suhartos, he was removed and sent to Massachusetts Institute of Technology for a three-month management training course. One day in class, while reading a required short story by Franz Kafka on the perils of blind obedience, Sudarijanto burst into tears. The comparisons to home were clear. "When you're working under absolute authority, no value is in force except obedience," says the 52-year-old Javanese.
But the tables have turned in Indonesia. Sudarijanto now heads the agency charged with selling the seized, ill-gotten assets the Suharto family accumulated during those years of blind obedience. Since his appointment as chairman of the Indonesian Bank Restructuring Agency (IBRA) in January, Sudarijanto has managed to engineer quick changes in what had been a moribund institution unable to carry out its mandate. In short order, he sacked some deputies who were seen to be soft on cronies and he broke two political logjams to allow the sale of Indonesia's largest auto assembler, Astra, and its largest private bank, Bank Central Asia. "The bottom line is that no one is indispensable," says Sudarijanto, now the one commanding obedience. "This is for the benefit of Indonesia."
How well Sudarijanto does at IBRA is vital to Indonesia's economic recovery. The International Monetary Fund has linked further aid to Jakarta to its ability to raise funds for the national budget through IBRA's sales of seized assets. IBRA plans to raise $2.5 billion this year and clean up 61 nationalized banks.
After his telecom career was cut short, Sudarijanto spent the next eight years consulting and becoming active in the pribumi, or indigenous Muslim, business community--where he became friendly with now-President Abdurrahman Wahid. He joined the world of banking as an executive at Bank Mega, one of the few Indonesian banks to come out of the financial crisis. Three months after Wahid's election, Sudarijanto was tapped to revive IBRA. Sudarijanto remains so close to Wahid that his meetings with visitors are occasionally interrupted by telephone calls from the President.
Colleagues of the Indonesian-educated engineer are in awe of the ease with which Sudarijanto keeps his wits about him in the midst of chaos. Sudarijanto says it comes easy to him: He got used to it in the 1970s at IBM Indonesia, where he rose through the ranks and dealt with the daily disorganization typical of Third World countries. Part of his responsibility included the daunting job of paring down expatriate staff. "I'm a man of crisis," says Sudarijanto. So with Indonesia recovering from one, this man is right where he belongs.