On this day, December 20 in the year 1922, one of the venerable tycoons in Southeast Asia who fell from power was born in Majalengka, Indonesia. His name was William Soeryadjaya a.k.a. Tjia Kian Liong, the founder of PT Astra International.
At age 12, William’s parents passed away. With the help of an uncle, William continued to go to school until he decided to quit at 19 and started to work. He did odd jobs and traded fruits and other agricultural products. In 1957, he acquired a dormant company with an existing export and import license and renamed it Astra. Subsequently, the company grew as a supplier to the government in its early infrastructure projects. It also distributed basic household items and bicycles as well as agricultural machineries to far flung villages. When Toyota Motors was looking for a partner, PT Astra was ready. Soon, it became the largest manufacturer and distributor of cars and motorcycles in Indonesia. He also invested in other big businesses such as real estate and finance. His son Edward capitalized on his father’s support and connections to establish his own group of companies.
One of Edward’s firms was Bank Summa, a medium size Indonesian bank which ran into trouble in the early 1990s due to unpaid loans of affiliated companies. In the interest of family reputation, the father opted to sell shares of the family jewel, Astra International, in an attempt to rescue the sinking Bank Summa. But Bank Summa’s problem was a bottomless pit. Eventually, the bank was closed in 1992 and the family lost control of PT Astra. Edward faded into obscurity.
William Soeryadjaya died in 2010 at the age of 87. He had three children with his wife Lily. His son Edwin salvaged whatever is left of his family’s wealth and quietly built his own business group. He is listed by Forbes magazine as one of Indonesia’s billionaires.