Jun 072010


I’ve long argued that great entrepreneurs are born not made.

I emphasize the word “great” for a reason. A hot market can convince someone to become an entrepreneur but such fortune-seekers are rarely the ones who build lasting, billion-dollar companies.

What about those who say they never intended to start a company but circumstances lead them to success? I’d argue that they may not have always realized they were entrepreneurs, but if you asked their friends, parents and siblings, they would describe them as having always been the kid with the lemonade stand, the kid working an angle, the kid creating something where there was nothing. Like a cylon, something just switched it on later. Seeing an idea through to become something huge is too hard. You simply have it or you don’t.

One person has made me question this—a bit. I met him in Indonesia and like Madonna, he’s mostly known by one name—Ciputra. That name is on universities and city subdivisions the country over. (That’s him to the right in front of a large painting from his impressive modern art collection.) If Ciputra is the Indonesian Donald Trump, Jakarta is his New York—a city that quite literally has his fingerprints all over it. Now in his late 70s, Ciputra has lived every painful chapter of Indonesian history from colonial times to Sukarno to Suharto and finally to what the country hopes is a stable democracy. And that ride has taken him from obscurity to success to bankruptcy and back to success again.

Ciputra is an architect who describes his aesthetic as “grand.” Most of his properties have huge statues of horses, caught mid-air in granite galloping wildly with all their might, nostrils flaring. That, or statues of buxom women who look a bit like the painting at the beginning of “Good Times.” He started his first company—a development consultancy—in architecture school but he was frustrated not controlling a project from start-to-finish. Soon after he started developing buildings himself, he grew weary of that as well, moving onto developing whole streets. But that still wasn’t enough. He started developing cities within cities. Now,he has 50 under his belt, spanning several continents and some 25,000 hectares.

Since his 70th birthday, Ciputra has been thinking even bigger. He wants to redesign the country. And he wants to do it by creating thousands and thousands of entrepreneurs. Right now, his team has estimated that Indonesia—a country of nearly 250 million people—has just 400,000 entrepreneurs who build scalable, innovative companies. That’s less than 1% of the population. Compare that to 13% for the United States and 7% for nearby Singapore. Ciputra isn’t greedy; he figures his plan could change the country if he could help encourage, create and mentor 4 million entrepreneurs or 2% of the country’s population. How do you do that? Not with venture capital, but by changing the country’s mindset, Ciputra says.

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