Utomo with his family at his 90th birthday celebration and the launch of two books on his extraordinary lif
The extraordinary life of Utomo Josodirdjo
KRIPTOKIN - Alfred A. Yuson (The Philippine Star) - January 13, 2020 - 12:00am

It took nearly a year to complete, but finally, last Wednesday, Jan. 8, the latest biography I’ve authored, Utomo Josodirdjo: A Life of Utmost Service, was launched during a special luncheon at the Grand Ballroom of Fairmont Jakarta.

Having turned 90 years old exactly a week previous, the subject beamed with good cheer and gratitude as he greeted over a couple of hundred of the capital city’s crème de la crème with a brief speech. This preceded the launching of not one but two books on his exceptional life — as the legendary figure who pioneered in the modernization of the accounting industry in Indonesia.

The other book is in Bahasa: A Journey Through Time: The Memoir of Utomo Josodirdjo, written by Agung Adiprasetyo and Maria Hartiningsih.

It was Celia Samson, formerly with SGV, who got in touch with me early last year for the writing project. She had been close to Washington SyCip, head honcho of SGV and eventually The SGV Group that Pak Utomo joined with his then fledgling firm in the late 1960s. The friendship between Wash and the younger Utomo went from strength to strength over the decades.

I had to visit with Pak Utomo three times at his home in Jakarta for lengthy interview sessions that were made enjoyable by his facility with the English language, abiding sense of humor, and innate graciousness in treating me to a variety of excellent food, including dinners at his home — from which I came away with take-home beef rendang whenever I’d fly back to Manila.

Also making themselves available for supplementary interviews were his younger colleagues and mentees in SGV-Utomo, who also formed the book committee in support of the book project. These were Prijohandojo Kristanto, Surjadinata Sumantri, Rusdy Daryono and Leonard Tanubrata. Also lending support for the biography in English was Utomo’s son in law Daniel Budiman, husband of his older daughter Tiara.

His successor John Prasetio also made himself available for an expansive interview. So did Antoni Salim, despite his tycoon-tight schedule, acknowledging his lifelong debt of gratitude for Utomo’s mentorship — as did many other Indonesian business magnates who were recipients of the wizened counsel that became Utomo’s characteristic service for his countrymen.

Dutch friends were a significant source of information and plaudits for the fellow who had graduated from the Nederlandsche Economische Hogeschool in Rotterdam. A few remaining schoolmates from Utomo’s hometown of Malang also added to the rich memories, as did a score of Filipino friends and colleagues led by Roberto V. Ongpin, Manuel V. Pangilinan, Rizalino S. Navarro, Rodolfo B. Jacob, Dominador V. Gregorio, Rody Granados, Jose Cedo, and Edith J. Caro.

Utomo Josodirdjo himself wrote on “The Development of SGV- Utomo”: 

“I decided to join The SGV Group in 1968 after visiting the Makati office and meeting with Wash SyCip, Fred Velayo, Bobby Ongpin, and Jake Jacob. And I never regretted joining these young, nationalistic and highly motivated and professional accountants whom I now regard as my mentors.

“Wash’s intelligence, charisma, dynamism, and mature wisdom impressed me deeply. Among the many lessons I learned from him were the principles on which to build a truly professional firm: commitment to the continuous improvement of our people, adherence to high professional standards, active participation in the growth of the accounting profession, the community, and the nation, and adaptability to change.

“… From 1975 to 1982 we developed our local practice by identifying fast-growing Indonesian companies and offering them management and tax consulting services at nominal fees. Our efforts eventually paid off (after some ten years) when these companies hired us as auditors even though they were surprised at our billing rates and the fact that as their independent auditors we couldn’t always be persuaded to follow their wishes.

“… The years 1982 to 1990 can be regarded as SGV-Utomo’s golden period. Nearly all major Indonesian firms were our clients on the management services, tax, or audit side. Our reputation for providing high-quality professional services grew each year both locally and globally. Clients realized that our services were well worth the fees they paid us and it eventually became a matter of prestige to be an SGV-Utomo client. … Our firm was regarded as the leader in accountancy training with a solid reputation and the largest quality business network in Indonesia.”

Designed by Orland Punzalan, published by Reyes Publishing and printed by The House Printers Corporation, the hardover and softbound editions of this biography in English were also supposed to be launched in Manila for the benefit of Utomo’s countless friends among SGV alumni. But having to fly over at his advanced age precluded that. Instead, Filipino friends flew to Jakarta to attend the event there. 

Among the Filipino attendees at Utomo Josodirdjo’s 90th birthday luncheon cum double launch were Philippine Ambassador to Indonesia Leehiong T. Wee, Mr. and Mrs. Vic Ang, Cesar de la Cruz, Celia Samson, Peping Cedo, Nanding Ramos and Bella Luzano. 

In his preface, Utomo also wrote: 

“It seems some friends don’t want me to go quietly, what with details of my life now going public and possibly raising infinite questions, if not raised eyebrows. 

“… My gratitude is deserved by all the other treasured friends, colleagues and contemporaries from boyhood, who helped flesh out my life’s narrative, particularly those parts that may have already escaped my memory — for giving of their time for interviews, as well as their detailed recollections…

“… I hope that readers will find appropriate lessons in this story of a humble life — simply enough, one of dedicated service.”

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