Behind his serious face, who would have thought that Noke Kiroyan is a man who is easy to talk to, open, and friendly. The conversation for two hours with Ratna Kartika from PR INDONESIA in his office, Wednesday (11/7/2018), was filled with jokes and laughter.
Who doesn’t know Noke? His experience as CEO in various industries, from mining, oleochemicals, to innovative energy and technology, has made the man who was born in Surabaya on September 13, 71 years ago believe more in the big role of communication and principles in reaching stakeholders. In 2007, he decided to step down from the throne to build his own “empire”. The kingdom he named is called Kiroyan Partners Public Affairs. Here’s the story.
It turns out that you are a CEO who has a communication education background?
Right. Actually it was not on purpose and it was a long journey. After high school, I wanted to quickly get away from parental supervision. At that time, I thought the way was to look for a major that didn’t exist in any university in Surabaya, the city where I was born and grew up. I chose faculties that I had never heard of before and did not exist in Surabaya. That was when I came upon the Faculty of Publicity — now Communication Science, Padjadjaran University (Unpad), Bandung.
I was even more excited after receiving news from the chairman of the student senate at that time — now BEM, that the best students from the faculty will be sent to Syracuse University, New York, United States. In the ’60s, Indonesia was still a poor country, it was difficult to imagine even going abroad. I was so excited that I was a student with the main number 001, the first student to enroll in the faculty. Ha-ha-ha.
My lecture had stopped. Not on purpose. During the final year, lectures were conducted only once a week. To fill the vacancies, I applied for the West Java Chamber of Commerce and Industry. Incidentally they needed a Publication Officer who is fluent in German. At that time, West Java Chamber of Commerce and Industry worked in collaboration with an institution from Germany, Friedrich Naumann Stiftung. The institution will assist them in capacity building, secretarial affairs, and publishing. After that, I moved to Jakarta because I got an offer to work for a contractor company. Even so, I was committed to compile a thesis and I was ambitious to complete it up to 200 pages.
In 1974, PT Siemens Indonesia was looking for employees who were fluent in English and German. I applied and was accepted as a management trainee. After just two weeks of work, I received a scholarship from The Goethe-Institut to deepen my German language skills for two months, directly in its home country, Germany. When I applied to apply for unpaid leave, unexpectedly, my boss even offered me the opportunity to increase my two years of leave to study at the Industriekaufmann, Nürnberg, Germany, as an expert in commerce and industrial finance.
When I returned to my homeland, I was still eager to complete my pending thesis assignment. But alas, there has been a replacement of the dean. Incidentally, the dean at that time didn’t like me because when I was still active as a student, I was known to be involved in demonstrations and I had long hair. In the past, if the lecturer, especially the dean, didn’t like us, you were in big trouble. So, I chose not to continue. However, I didn’t dropped out of college.
Decades later, after returning from the United States after completing my duties as President and CEO at Salim Oleochemicals Inc., I met an old friend who at that time had become the Dean of Faculty of Communication Sciences, Universitas Padjadjaran. He encouraged me to continue my education which had been delayed. I thought, was it possible? He said I could go take an external route. I signed up, took all the tests from scratch. So in 1998, at the age of 52 and registered as a member of the Board of Trustees of Universitas Padjajaran, I graduated as a Bachelor of Social Science in Communication from the university.
There was a funny incident at graduation. I met friends in my age. They asked, “What are you doing?” I replied, “I’m graduating.” They were shocked. I asked back, “What are you doing?” Their answers were all the same, “(Attending) my child’s graduation.” Ha-ha-ha.
It was easy for you to get a job at a young age, partly because you are fluent in German. How did you come to speak fluent German?
My late mother once said, if you want to be smart, you have to learn German. Germans are smart. I got motivated. When I was in high school, from the three language options offered, I chose German. When I changed schools, my German language skills got better because there is a library that has a large collection of German books. So, when I graduated, I was fluent in reading, but not fluent in German.
So, when I was studying, besides being active at the student board, I also actively participated in German language courses held by The Goethe-Institut. I always passed with the best marks. In fact, I got the highest DaF (TOEFL level) score in Indonesia. For that reason, I had the opportunity to get a scholarship to Germany, as I told you before.
Your career also took off quickly after that?
Yes. But apart from language, I am also a diligent person and my hobby is reading. So, when I returned from Germany, I was appointed manager of HR at Siemens, rose steadily to become a director, then became president director in 1991.
After that, I received an offer from Salim Group. At that time they were just expanding into Germany and needed a leader with a financial background to be stationed in Germany. I thought, “Wow, being an expat in Germany and also being payed for school. ” I accepted the offer.
Salim Deutschland, GmbH, Germany is a company engaged in oleo chemicals, a basic cleaning agent derived from refined palm oil. Three years later, I was asked to become the Salim Group Country Representative and Director at their joint venture company that produces cleaning materials, JV Albright & Wilson Ltd, in Australia.
A year in Australia, I received news from Salim Oleochemicals Inc. That the company in the United States is experiencing a crisis. The employees conducted demonstrations, the CEO resigned. I got the assignment there to clean up all that.
Three months in America, I got a call from a head hunter. He asked me whether I wanted to return to Indonesia.
Of course, I wanted that. Moreover, my mother was sick. The position offered was president director of PT Rio Tinto Indonesia, a British mining company. There were two things that crossed my mind at that time. First, “wow, mining“. I didn’t have any experience in the field yet at that time. Second, negative impacts on the environment.
Although it was interesting and there was a feeling of being challenged, there were responsibilities that I still had to work on in the US. So I told him, “I want to concentrate first on fixing the problem here.” I was contacted again three months later. I then answered, “Yes”.
Even though you had no experience?
I told them, I have no experience in mining. They said, no problem. This is because what they are looking for are Indonesians with senior management experience. And, no less important, have the ability to communicate and diplomacy well.
After going through the interview process in two countries, Melbourne, Australia, then London, England, September 1997, I was entrusted with leading the expansion of PT Rio Tinto in Indonesia.
Before I jumped into the industry, I had read a lot and gathered materials about mining. In order to get to know and understand the terrain better, I asked them to take me on a tour of mining operations. Finally, for the first time in my life, I saw the coal port at New Castle, Australia.
Another reason that convinced me to join, this company is a mining company that is responsible for the environment and society. Rio Tinto’s top leaders are global CSR figures. When I was the leader at Rio Tinto, I was also the Chairman of the Rio Tinto Foundation. This is where I got to know and pursue CSR, until now.
This industry also allows me to venture deep into the interior of Indonesia. I can interact directly and learn to build relationships with people from various character backgrounds. When the dynamics of regional autonomy occurred, I learned to build relationships with officials in the regions.
In 2001, I received an assignment from Rio Tinto to lead PT Kaltim Prima Coal (KCP) which at that time was in turmoil. In 2003, KCP was sold to PT Bumi Resources Tbk. After that, I became President Commissioner of Rio Tinto Indonesia. In 2005, I received an offer to become President Director of PT Newmont Pacific Nusantara. But not for long, because I didn’t fit into the company culture. I resigned, but I was not ready to retire. Well, that’s when I decided to open my own company.
Why did the choice fall on a consulting service company?
Companies basically cover three areas: industry, trade, services. Industry needs big capital. I am not a poor person, but also not a rich person. Trade, I have capital, but I have no talent there. So, the choice is service. In particular, a company that offers public affairs consulting services.
During my time as an executive at a mining company, I had used almost all public affairs consulting firms in Jakarta, which are generally foreign companies. I also have a communication science background. So, in theory, I know. In practice, I have strong social science, I have gone through a lot of experiences and problems in the field. Early January 2007, I firmly established PT Komunikasi Kinerja, Kiroyan Partners Public Affairs.
So, when people found out that I opened a consulting firm, people at the consulting firm where I was their client, came one by one. They said, “Why didn’t you say that you wanted to start a consultant? You can join us.”
What was your answer then?
“I didn’t want to tell you because I want to compete with you. And, I believe I won!” Ha-ha-ha!
Why did you choose to specialize in public affairs?
Public affairs is not just about the dynamics of dealing with the government. Public affairs that we understand today is communicating or establishing relationships with stakeholders by paying attention to the political, economic, social, cultural context. Simply put, building communication or stakeholder engagement in the context of a particular culture. So, if public relations (PR) is more of a process and technique, in public affairs the context is bigger because you have to understand all of the above conditions.
“Public affairs is not solely about the dynamics of interaction with the government.”
“Public Affairs as we understand today relates to communications with stakeholders that takes into account the political, economic, social and cultural contexts.”
When a mining company wants to operate in a certain area, we as a public affairs consultant will conduct a comprehensive and in-depth research/analysis starting from the political, social, cultural and economic conditions there. Therefore, our team here consists of various scientific backgrounds ranging from politics, sociology, foreign relations, and many more.
After understanding the needs of the community, why the people need it, what they want when the company operates there, what is the impact on the company when it operates there, then we can create a stakeholder engagement strategy and a communication strategy. So, not only the communication process and the technique, but also the context.
How far is the understanding of public affairs in Indonesia?
It is still limited to structural understanding. Therefore, basic understanding must be strengthened. Without it, there’s no way we can follow the path. Meanwhile, among practitioners, mastering technical/practical skills is not enough, one must also understand the theory. If not, the problem is not met.
At our place, everyone must read, understand, and solve problems using stakeholder theory. It is always preceded by stakeholder identification, because each company has different stakeholders.
Because of this lack of understanding, the company sometimes doesn’t bother. Once hit by a crisis, they want all of us to solve it. However, our approach is not like that. We help make the strategy, but you solve it. We only provide views on how to solve problems, make recommendations, provide assistance, if necessary we do training. For that, our clients must have a team in their company. This team will then continue the agreed strategy.
In your opinion, what is the development of PR consultants in Indonesia like?
Still at the event management stage. To quote James E. Grunig, the public relations theorist, only looks for “hype” for publication. I’m not saying it’s bad, but rather, it’s not enough. We have to be able to tackle more serious problems.
What is the most challenging experience while being a consultant?
A lot, though. Moreover, our clients come from various industry backgrounds. One of the challenges is when the company that is our client is accused of polluting the environment. If we face this, we will send a team to the location to confirm the truth. If it really pollutes, we will not defend it. Unless, he is frank and committed to tackling the pollution. But, if it is not polluting, let’s formulate a strategy, including a strategy to approach the community.
So, in principle, we don’t want to defend the wrong. Or, spinning — polluting, but saying otherwise. As an ethical company, we have the principle of solving every problem in an ethical manner.
We must always work on the basis of facts, preceded by a desk judgment. If necessary, we will follow up with field research. Mitigation measures like this must be taken especially for companies engaged in the mining industry. This is because this industry is prone to issues, especially about pollution and friction with affected communities.
Speaking about your experience while working in the mining world, what were the challenges?
I too have experienced something like that. While still at Rio Tinto, an NGO accused our company of polluting the river. I said, “Okay, if that’s the accusation, let’s prove it together. We took measurements where you say there is contamination. We measure together at the same time. You send the sampling to a reputable lab, so do we. Then, we compare the results. If there is pollution, we will deal with it. But, if there is no defamation, you shouldn’t make all kinds of accusations.”
We must also be able to build good relationships with the community. Frankly speaking, the mining operation is making noise and damage. We must do something to reduce that impact.
What happens in general is that mining actors tend to be defensive. “Oh, nothing is happening!” In my opinion, this attitude is wrong. If this really happens, then deal with it immediately.
In essence, at work we must always mitigate, be ready, and be fair. If this really happened, we will admit it. Until whenever, if there is evidence, we should never deny it.
When you were CEO of a mining company, how strategic was the role of the PR division at that time?
Very strategic. As CEO, I understood their function. That’s why we worked well together.
In your opinion, is there a difference between PR in the mining industry and PR in other industries?
I think the principle is the same. Because every industry has its own issues. For that, they must be prepared. One of them, they must have issues management and standard operating procedure (SOP). So, if at any time something happens, they are not confused because they already know what to do and are ready because they already have a strategy to overcome it.
“Every industry has its own issues. They must be ready and have issues management and standard operating procedure (SOP).”
In your experience, which stakeholders are most challenging in the context of relationship building — government, communities or NGOs?
Every stakeholder has their own challenges. Each region also has a different way of building terms. The important thing is to be open and willing to listen to their complaints. Do not feel that you are correct (without listening to others). Both the government, the community, and NGOs, have their own perspective on the existence of our business.
Frankly speaking, during my decades as CEO, there is one theory of communication science that I consider the most useful and I always use it. Namely, the frame of reference theory. So, each person has a different frame of reference with different backgrounds.
So, in establishing a relationship or building communication with anyone, the first step we take is to find common ground where we can build understanding. After that, we will develop it. Otherwise, communication will not work, relationships will not be built.
“In establishing a relationship or building communication with anyone, the first step we need take is to find common ground where we can build understanding.”
I also use this communication theory in my job as CEO. For this reason, I did not experience many obstacles when building communications and relationships both in Germany, Australia and in the United States.
When dealing with rebellious employees in the United States, for example. I will see first what is the source of the problem. In fact, the problem arose because there was no good communication between the CEO before me and the employees. It was so bad that the leaders there often complained to their head office in Singapore.
I told them emphatically, “From now on you have to listen to me. If there is a problem, tell me. If you don’t agree, please leave the company. ” So, we also have to be confident and sure. If not, we will be the ones who will be played with.
Similar to when I was in Germany. Friends of the Salim Group in Indonesia said, “Wow, it’s so great of you to be able to lead subordinates in Germany.” In fact, in my opinion, what’s so great about that? Wherever we are placed, the key is the same. In Germany, people are easier to organize because they are basically disciplined and obeying authority as long as their orders are clear.
As CEO at the time, what did you expect from PR?
Public relations must be able to describe matters faced by the company in a language that is acceptable to the community and with honesty. Public relations must have an understanding of what the CEO is thinking.
“PR must be able to describe matters faced by the company in a language that is acceptable to the public and with honesty.”
My principle at that time, when it comes to operational matters, let the PR handle it. However, if there is a crisis, the CEO must come forward. Therefore, the CEO must have the ability to communicate, diplomacy, even media handling — to handle media inquiries properly and correctly without harming himself or the company. We have to be open with the media, but don’t get caught up in the questions they ask.
Like what, for example?
During the KPC case, workers held a demonstration demanding severance pay. Even though I was quite close to them, I said, I didn‘t agree. Why ask for severance pay, even though they haven’t lost their job? What was certain about losing their job, especially if there is a change of share owners, is me (as the President Director). They still conducted demonstrations, I faced it.
So, the challenge was how to deliver a message that can be accepted by the public? At that time, me and the PR team had a discussion. Finally, we agreed on one key message. I conveyed that message every time I received interviews from media colleagues. I said, “For a person who hasn’t lost his job, demands seven years of wage severance pay, is that reasonable or not?” Fellow journalists replied, “No”. Furthermore, let the public judge.
When I returned to Jakarta, I received support from many people. Even though they admitted that at first they supported the labors and opposed to my attitude of refusing to give severance pay. But, after listening to my explanation in the media and it made sense, they understood and supported.
As CEOs, we must understand the root of the problem to the working media process. When there was a complicated problem like that, I even asked the team to do a simulation. I said to them, “Ask me the most difficult questions.” They then prepared questions, complete with cameras, videos, and recording devices like journalists. So, when I got out of the car and was stopped by a journalist who was about to do a door stop interview, I was ready and knew what to answer. That’s why journalist friends jokingly like to say to me, “Mr. Kiroyan does a lot of dodging (in giving statements)!” I replied, “I’m not slipping, but I have to be careful (in giving a statement).”
In fact, you’ve been practicing, he-he.
You always do this simulation for your clients at Kiroyan Partners?
Yes. Simulations must be done especially when the company is dealing with a complicated situation. I told them, “We are not going to appear in front of the press if you are not ready with a statement. If you don’t know what to say, we will train you. ” Abroad, company leaders are used to doing simulations like this.
When a company is in crisis, what is the first thing to do?
Number one, don’t panic. When we panic, we do look active, but to no avail. Therefore, look and face the problem with a cool head. Study it well, then we will look for the problem.
In your opinion, what is the difference between the past current PR consultants?
Obviously it’s much more complicated, especially with the presence of social media. However, the development of technology and communication, in my opinion, is only a technical problem. Its existence can be a threat, but also an opportunity. For that, we must master, explore and improve our ability to overcome problems from and with this development.
What competencies should PR practitioners have in today’s era?
Analytical skills are very important, apart from the ability to strategize with a clear implementation. When we are conducting the wrong analysis, the solution will not be right.
What would you like to inherit for Kiroyan Partners?
I want this company to continue its activities ethically and, in the future, it can “go public”.
You keep watching the dream. In fact, I was informed that even though you are no longer the CEO of Kiroyan Partners, you still come to the office the earliest?
Ha-ha-ha! That’s correct! It has become a habit, not only in KP, I am always the first to come to the office. Because when I arrive early, I could study first, read the newspaper, follow developments through the information I got from the internet, and so on.
What is your hobby?
Reading books. I like everything, from history books, communication, CSR, to politics.
How about sports?
I always take the time to walk every morning.
What is your principle of life?
Do not give up easily. In life, we need to have a principle and we should not be opportunistic.
Have any of your three children followed your footsteps here?
In the past, my youngest child worked at this company (KP). She is a communication scholar. After getting married, she settled with her husband and worked as a PR in Singapore.
From the beginning, I didn’t plan for this company to become a family company. I even forbid my family to interfere in running this company. This company is a professionally built company. Anyone can continue and lead this company as long as that person is competent and upholds the mission, vision and company ethics.
What is your message for PR practitioners?
Continue to deepen your knowledge, don’t be satisfied with the knowledge you already have, because knowledge will never stop developing and we have to follow. If you stop studying, you‘re in a bad situation.***
This article has been published in PR Indonesia magazine 40th Edition, issued on July 2018, page 22-31.
Download the clipping here.