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Weaving Together Business and Philanthropy
Growing up in Indonesia, Dato' Sri Dr. Tahir, MBA, could never have imagined his transformation from working-class boy to successful entrepreneur to celebrated philanthropist. Tahir earned his business degree from Golden Gate University's satellite location in Indonesia in 1988. While taking classes, he launched a textile manufacturing business called the Mayapada Group, which has since expanded into finance, retail, health care, real estate, and media. One of its main enterprises, Bank Mayapada, was founded in 1990 and went public on the Jakharta Stock Exchange in 1997. The bank now has more than 170 branches throughout Indonesia.
Tahir's three daughters all graduated from UC Berkeley, and his son was in the Cal class of 2009 before transferring to National University of Singapore. His youngest daughter, Victoria, graduated from the Berkeley-Haas School's Undergraduate Program in 1998. In 2007, he was the first trustee from Southeast Asia appointed to the UC Berkeley Board of Trustees. Now Tahir—black belt in karate, table tennis enthusiast, and family man—has created the Tahir Fellowship Endowment Fund to support international students studying in the Full-time Berkeley-Haas MBA Program.
Q: In your view as a highly successful Asian businessman, what is the value of aligning with UC Berkeley and the Haas School of Business? What about the school has inspired your support?
Dr. Tahir: UC Berkeley is viewed favorably by Indonesians as one of the top business school destinations. Many of our government officers and private businessmen have graduated from there. Also, since my children graduated from UC Berkeley, my support of UC Berkeley creates a family connection and value for all of us.
Q: The Tahir Fellowship Fund will support international students studying in the Berkeley-Haas Full-time MBA Program, with a preference for those who completed their undergraduate degrees in Asia. What are your personal hopes for this scholarship program?
Dr. Tahir: I hope that it will set an example of giving back, especially for students who benefit from the fellowship. When they graduate and become successful in business, I hope they will remember their appreciation for the fellowship and will give to support another fellowship fund.
Q: Your company, the Mayapada Group, holds interests in the banking, retail, real estate, and health care industries. What lessons have you learned from your own business ventures?
Dr. Tahir: To build a strong business venture, the basic foundation still lies in the financial sector. That is why we keep our banking business as the backbone to expand into other sectors. The financial business unit in the Mayapada Group consists of commercial banking, a multi-finance company, life insurance, and general insurance. We have very strong international business partners to grow the financial business unit. Therefore, the Mayapada Group has been able to build up a five-pillar business in financial services, health care, property, tourism and retail, and media.
Q: Which business accomplishments or decisions are you most proud of?
Dr. Tahir: Keeping my majority and controlling shares in Bank Mayapada, a publicly listed bank with market capitalization now about $500 million. We endured two very stressful periods during the economic crises in 1997 and 2008, when I almost gave up my controlling interest. Now, I'm proud that we have maintained the bank with 170 branches across Indonesia.
Q: What was one of your most difficult business decisions?
Dr. Tahir: The most difficult business decision is to choose the right strategic investor to be your business partner. In my case, one who has the same philosophy as Mayapada Group. My decisions so far have proven to be right. For instance, we have maintained a good partner relationship with Duty Free Shoppers since 1990.
Q: What was your life like growing up in Indonesia and how do you think it shaped your success today?
Dr. Tahir: Indonesia has a lot of variety and uncertainty in economics, politics, and social life. These situations shape our decision-making and give value to our success.
Q: Why did you decide to name your company Mayapada, which means "galaxy" or "universe" in Sanskrit?
Dr. Tahir: From starting my first company, I have dreamt of being a successful businessman with international partners. "Mayapada," the universe, shows the entirety of everything that exists. This philosophy also reflects our way of doing business.
Q: Do you have any advice for Berkeley-Haas graduates seeking to start businesses or to build successful careers in Asia?
Dr. Tahir: Asia has its own unique cultures and traditions. The junior shall pay respect to the senior. Parents and family shall be your number one priority to share your happiness and wealth. In Asia, friendship and business partners are important to grow your business.
Dato' Sri Dr. Tahir, MBA