How Sudono Salim Became a Super Tycoon

On July 16 in the year 1916, the founder of the once largest conglomerate in Indonesia was born in Fujian, China. His name was Liem Sioe Liong, known by his Indonesian name Sudono Salim, the man who founded the Salim Group of Companies.

Sudono Salim
Sudono Salim (Credit: cermati.com)

Liem was an impoverished second son of a Chinese rice farmer. In 1936, he immigrated to North Sumatra, Indonesia where he started trading in peanut oil together with some family members. Later, he diversified into cocaine which was much in demand. When the Indonesian war for independence broke out in the 1940s, he supplied the Indonesian Army with medicines and other materials. He came into contact with a rising officer named Suharto and befriended him. After the Dutch left the country, some of their businesses fell into his lap.

When Suharto came to power, Liem’s fortune rose. He expanded his business into soap and textile. Later, he gained monopoly in clove importation as well as in flour milling and cement. He also established Bank of Central Asia (BCA) which became the largest in Indonesia. In 1990, he put up Indofood which grew to become the country’s largest producer of noodles.

As Suharto became the undisputed leader of Indonesia for 32 years, Liem also became the undisputed business leader. Just before the Asian Financial Crisis hit the country in 1997, his business empire employed as many as 200,000 in as many as 500 companies with almost $200 billion in assets. After the crisis, his group was found to be in debt with $5 billion and the government threatened to seize control of the group. It was only with the negotiating ability of his son Anthony that the group was able to survive although diminished in size and influence.

At the age of 95, Liem died in 2012 in a hospital in Singapore. He had 5 children with his wife Lie Las Nio.

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