Given that it plays host to the largest economy in Southeast Asia and has been one of the world's most rapidly emerging markets for the last few years, it doesn't take an expert to figure out why more and more western businesses are now investing in Indonesia. If you are planning to follow them, then it is worth preparing yourself. Though it is a very modern business environment, there are certain differences to keep in mind. Here are a few of the most essential ones.
• If you have done business in Asia before, you will recognise the unshakeable respect for hierarchy and structure common in Indonesian companies. It is uncommon to find a business here that will be willing to adapt to the recent trend in corporate Europe and America for breaking down the barriers between the bosses and the subordinates. So, if you want to get in contact with the CEO of an Indonesian business, it should be your CEO who makes the call or sends the email, not one of your middle managers.
• Again, like many other Asian business environments, trust is not easily won in Indonesia and, until it is, you will find yourself kept out of your contacts business inner circle. Once you show yourself to be a worthwhile ally (and this will always take time and perseverance), you will find many doors suddenly opened to you. Expect thick layers of bureaucracy when you first enter the Indonesian market.
• Though the first two points might sound terribly one-sided to some, this belief in hierarchy is not all about massaging the egos of those at the top. In fact, Indonesian bosses are expected to take their role as both leader of the company and father-figure to their subordinates very seriously. A boss who does not have a close, personable relationship with his or her charges is not seen as doing their job properly. Yet this relationship is always based on understanding of the pecking order.
• There are two types of business decisions made in Indonesia. The first comes from the boss and, once it is made, it is not up for discussion. Ever. The second is made between colleagues working at the same level and this is a process that many western business people may find frustrating. A group of peers hashing out a conclusion to even the most minor of issues can easily take much of the day, as nobody will be comfortable moving on until all sides have been given a microscopically fair hearing and a true compromise has been reached. This is simply the way things are done and it is crucial to the philosophies of respect that are so essential to Indonesian business culture.
• Meetings are always formal, serious occasions and should be treated as such by all sides. To begin, business cards should be exchanged. This should happen before the delegates get down to brass tacks. Your business card will only be respected if it contains as much information as possible on it. Throughout the meeting formal body language and formal terminology should be used, regardless of where the conversation turns. Despite this formality, do not expect the meeting to start on time or end on time. As with many other Asian business cultures, time is seen as a somewhat fluid concept in Indonesia.