Sun, 07 Mar 1999

Puditry: A give-and-take business

By Devi M. Asmarani and Ahmad Junaidi

JAKARTA (JP): What some people perceive as success may not reflect the perception of others.

That concludes one property expert's job philosophy.

"In terms of accumulating wealth, I may be far behind my peers, but my knowledge has accelerated since I decided to quit being an employee," Panangian Simanungkalit says.

Before he became known as an authority on property, Panangian spent seven years working for a foreign property consulting company.

A fling with the media in the early 1990's marked the beginning of his career as an observer in a sector he shared so much passion for.

Back then he succeeded in convincing several local business magazines to uncover what he saw as a threat of overinvesting in the property industry.

"The press is my bridge of departure from the professional world to the world of observer," he recalls.

Less than a decade later he has founded and owns two property consulting companies, a property agency, one center of property studies, and the Indonesian Property Institute of Technology.

His earnings have soared since the salary days ("my living cost is linear, I don't play golf or have exotic hobbies"), his face often graces the TV screen, he sells ideas and knowledge to his students and listeners at seminars, and he is the celebrated pride of relatives.

He lives a "stress-less life" ("I only get depressed when thinking of this country"), and takes pride in having never indulged in graft practices.

"My self-esteem springs from the fact that I've never colluded, unlike those who own many cars. I believe I have come to full self-actualization," he says.

Now who wouldn't want to live like him?

It is an intriguing life whether you're a sassy academic with a fashionable suit complete with the secretary scarf like Sri Mulyani or an ironic economist piercing the government with quips like Hartojo Wignjowijoto or a witty intellectual talk show host like Wimar Witoelar.

But our curiosity remains: how does Sri Mulyani afford those branded outfits on a civil servant's salary as a professor in University of Indonesia (UI). How come Wimar drives a BMW? What will Sjahrir do now that he's announced retirement from the punditry business?

Let's see.

Sri Mulyani runs UI's Institute for Economic and Social Research, a profitable consultancy. Wimar, besides the talk show, owns the communication firm PT Inter Matrix, and Sjahrir owns several companies including PT Sjahrir Securities.

They are not alone, most economists run their own consulting company.

Hartojo Wignjowijoto owns the Asia Pacific Economic Indonesia Kreasi Indonesia, Rizal Ramli, Laksamana Sukardi and other economists formed the Econit Advisory Group, the latter also runs his own ReFORM Consulting.

But aside from assisting companies, these so-called experts, are also some of the most often heard speakers in various public forums in the country.

Some of them would try to convince you that the money out of seminars and workshops is not significant.

"I make a rule of not making money an issue when I'm invited to speak in a seminar," says automotive observer Suhari Sargo.

But he mentions the Rp 250,000 (US$28.4) that event organizers normally give him, a paltry figure compared to some high-profile figures.

Hari Ganda, the managing director of the Institute of Management Education and Development (LPPM) says his company pays experts between Rp 2.5 million and Rp 5 million each, depending on their prominence and the events' participants.

But most much sought after experts like Sri Mulyani, Wimar and market analyst Theo Toemeon could earn between Rp 4 million to Rp 8 million per event, sources said.

Panangian says he gets paid Rp 5 million per seminar, up from the Rp 2 million average he told The Jakarta Post about late last year.

The practice of paying them, however, most often seems a bit shady.

Many experts do not impose charges on event organizers out of pride. But they do get envelopes containing what is known by the euphemism "transport money" at the end of the event. Some say this is to evade tax hassles.

Hari is quick to point out that LPPM pays its experts openly.

"We do not call the payment a transportation fee or anything else. It's strictly business," he says.

In television this envelope culture also exists.

Riza Permadi, the host of SCTV's 'Dibalik Berita' ('Behind the News') talk show admits that guests at his show and the TV's afternoon and evening news receive an "insignificant transport fee".

Inside sources estimate the amount for guests on the evening news at around Rp 500,000. Not bad for about 10 minutes conversation.

Television works magic in promoting people, so says Andreas Ambesa, Indosiar's public relations executive says, commenting on Wimar, who hosts the Selayang Pandang talk show.

"He's pretty negotiable in terms of money, but you have to remember that he has an interest in it too to promote himself," he says.