Despite having a serious presence in both the consumer market through its very high profile brands like Nestlé and Rolex, and its B to B business in construction, banking & insurance Switzerland held off forming its own Chamber of Commerce until this year. NOW! Jakarta’ interviewed Executive Director, Alexander Lumbantobing to find out why and what the future holds.

Executive Director of Swiss Chamber of Commerce in Indonesia, Alexander Lumbantobing.  NOW!JAKARTA

Congratulations on the launch of your new chamber. Why was it so long in the making with so many successful Swiss Companies here?
There is a distinct tendency for Swiss Companies (SWCo) to be low profile and some of them were already or even are still represented by the European Chamber of Commerce, but eventually they realised they needed better leverage rather than being small fish in a big ocean. So they took the opportunity to get their own voices out there and took their fate back with their own hands.

But the reality is that they are reluctant to be high profile and it took the persuasion of former Swiss Ambassador Yvonne Baumann to bring them together to create our new Swiss Chamber.

What do you hope to achieve with this organisation? Does it have different objectives to the other western chambers?
We like to think our commitment is to “advocacy” on behalf of our members, not “lobbying”. We would like to understand things from the Indonesian Government point of view, to be part of the solution, not part of the problem. We do not want to be thought of as “pushy” nor heard complaining instead we want to work in harmony with the government and seek innovative solutions.

The World Economic Forum Index on Global Competitiveness regularly assesses Switzerland in the top three based on our innovation and resilience. This enables Swiss to bear up well in an economic crises based on the innovation in the right ecosystem and (adaptation of) these can be very beneficial to the Indonesian economy.

One area that might be very relevant to Indonesia is vocational education system where Swiss companies are directly involved in creating relevant curricula and also providing opportunities for graduates.

Swiss is also well known for the strength of its SME, which contributes to the country’s stellar GDP. This would be another distinctive proposition to Indonesia.

Here is the Vision and Mission of the Chamber:

The Association aims to be the leading service platform to enhance bilateral trade, investment and relations between Switzerland and Indonesia.

The Association will focus on promoting trade, investment and the development of relations between the Swiss and Indonesian business communities through collaborative dialogues, advocacy, social and business networking events that aim to sustainably support the needs of our corporate, SME and individual members.

How is the chamber organised?
Here are the people dedicated for the success of the Chamber.

Board of Management
Luthfi Mardiansyah Chairman
Fernando Balmori Vice Chairman
Muliaman Hadad Honorary Board Member
Wolfgang Schanzenbach Ex-Officio Board Member
Chris Bendl Treasurer

Working Group Executives
Handoko Widjaja Ait-Allah Mejri, Debora Tjandrakusuma Gary Yao, Rubens Marques Noverina Gurning, Elvira Lianita Shashibushan Jogani, Henry Chia Rudolf Nuetzi, and Erwin Spichtig

Board of Supervisors
Wahyuni (Yon) Bahar, H.E. Kurt Kunz, and Biantoro Wanandi

Alexander Lumbantobing and Deru Ahmad Arsha

What is the connection to the Swiss Government? Do you represent any government depts or programs?
The Swiss Business Hub, which is part of the Embassy, has been actively helping us to get established.  They are an entity from the Swiss Government to facilitate international trade, and acts as a portal for businesses outside Switzerland who want to develop trade into the country.

The former Ambassador, as I mentioned before, was creating opportunities to get all the SWCo CEO’s to come together under the guidance of Swiss Business Hub and the head of the Hub is ex-officio on the Chamber Board of Management. Likewise the Ambassador is ex-officio on the Board of Supervisors.

Please note however that the Swiss Chamber is not a diplomatic entity.

How many members do you have? Are you hoping to have more? Are there different categories of membership?
So far we have fifty members spread over five membership categories. We have 6 Founding Members, 3 Gold Members, 11 Silver Members and the rest Bronze or Individual. We are getting weekly enquiries for membership and of course asking our members for leads. There are about 150 Swiss Companies in Indonesia so, yes, we want to add more.

Is membership open to non-Swiss Companies?
It is open to Indonesian Companies who have trade or investment links to Switzerland and we will actively involve them in our activities and trade fairs.

What activities do you plan to have for members and non-members?
In our current initial stages we are reaching out to policy makers in government plus bodies like APINDO, KADIN, BPOM and BKPM. We need to get to know people, policies and practices, before engaging further.

We will have joint events with other chambers to share resources and be more efficient, but our main business focus is advocacy on behalf of our members to create innovative solutions with the government.

We have started having Working Group Meetings with members in our principal areas of interest:  Mechanical & Engineering, Food & Beverage, Special Initiatives, Chemicals, Pharmaceuticals & Cosmetics, and Services.

Our Chairman Bapak Luthfi Mardiansyah (who used to run Novartis) is already well connected with Kadin and many other bodies.

We like to think we are doing this Swiss style: low profile but efficient!

What about you own background? Can you tell us a little of your career?
I was educated in UI and got a Sarjana Teknik in Engineering before doing my MBA in International Business in Baruch College / City University of New York and M.Eng in Cornell University. I have to say my career has been a very varied one going from engineering at Pasifik Satelit Nusantara and Lockheed Martin to the National Planning Development Board under UNDP provisioning before becoming a media worker at, dealing with global/international matters. This broad range of experience fits very well with my new role in advocacy and relationship building.

Alistair Speirs

Alistair Speirs

Alistair has been in the publishing, advertising and PR business for 25 years. He started NOW! Magazines as the region’s preferred community magazine.